Investigator breaks new scientific ground off Coffs Coast

DISCOVERIES: Oceanographers from the University of New South Wales release satellite drifters into eddies as part of research undertaken off the Coffs Coast.
DISCOVERIES: Oceanographers from the University of New South Wales release satellite drifters into eddies as part of research undertaken off the Coffs Coast.

GROUNDBREAKING insights have been discovered in waters off the Coffs Coast by Australia's newest marine research vessel, RV Investigator.

The 94-metre boat undertook research at Solitary Canyon North in June, during the same deployment which discovered a series of volcanos off the coast of Sydney.

The chief scientist for the voyage, UNSW marine biologist Professor Iain Suthers, said research off Coffs Harbour had focused on small eddies along the edge of the powerful East Australian Current.

"We found that eddies are regular offshore nurseries for juvenile fish, plankton and other marine life," he said.

"It was astounding to find juvenile commercial species like bream and tailor 150km offshore, as we had thought once they were swept out to sea that was end of them."

The CSIRO managed RV Investigator has been conducting research this week off the Coffs Coast.
The CSIRO managed RV Investigator has been conducting research this week off the Coffs Coast.

Research also provided insights into this season's bountiful prawn harvest which has provided a boon for the region's anglers.

Mr Suthers said a large eddy had formed north of Coffs Harbour; pushed the East Australian Current further east and causing prawn populations to increase locally.

But perhaps the most significant discovery of the new vessel was the unexpected find of four extinct volcanoes 250km off the coast of Sydney.

While towing a plankton trawl for larval lobster, the vessel's swath mapper detected the 20km cluster almost 5km below the sea level.

The volcanos could lead to further exploration to unlock answers about how New Zealand and Australia separated around 40-80 million years ago.

"This new vessel has to be a vessel to all the sciences and we've never had to ability to look below 3000m," Prof Suthers said.

The $120 million Investigator was commissioned in December 2014 and is managed by CSIRO on behalf of the nation.

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