An underwater robot has captured a rare glimpse beneath the Antarctic sea ice, revealing a colourful world filled with coconut-shaped sponges, dandelion-like worms, pink algae and spidery starfish.
The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) recorded footage on a camera attached to a Remotely Operated Vehicle sent down through a small hole drilled in the ice.
“When you think of the Antarctic coastal marine environment, iconic species such as penguins, seals and whales usually steal the show,” says AAD biologist Glenn Johnstone. “This footage reveals a habitat that is productive, colourful, dynamic and full of a wide variety of biodiversity, including sponges, sea spiders, urchins, sea cucumbers and sea stars.”
These species live in water that is -1.5ºC year round and covered in nearly 5 feet of sea ice for ten months of the year.
“Occasionally an iceberg may move around and wipe out an unlucky community, but mostly the sea ice provides protection from the storms that rage above, making it a relatively stable environment in which biodiversity can flourish,” he added.