Expedition to uncover secrets of New Zealand's unexplored Bounty Trough

An expedition to discover new species in one of the most remote parts of the deep ocean is departing from Wellington today. 

An expedition to discover new species in one of the most remote parts of the deep ocean is departing from Wellington today. 

An Ocean Census Alliance, New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, a team of scientists will spend 21 days investigating the unexplored Bounty Trough ocean system off the coast of New Zealand’s South Island. They will search depths down to 5000 metres for undiscovered marine species.

Ocean Census is a global alliance of the world’s leading marine science institutions with the ambitious goal of discovering and protecting 100,000 new species across the global ocean over the next decade.

Ocean Census Science Director Professor Alex Rogers says New Zealand’s Bounty Trough has been selected because it is one of the world’s least explored deep ocean ecosystems with significant potential for discovering new life.

NIWA's research vessel RV Tangaroa docked at Wellington Harbour

“It’s urgent we survey the unexplored deep ocean for new life as human activities including climate change are now impacting this vast ecosystem. The ocean sequesters more carbon dioxide than rainforests and produces the majority of the oxygen we breathe. It supports the discovery of breakthrough medicines and provides a sustainable food source for billions of people.

“We chose to come to New Zealand because of its world-class marine scientists and their track record in deep ocean species discovery. The remarkable collections of species identified and housed by NIWA and Te Papa are among the marine science world’s greatest treasures,” says Rogers.

Although it’s estimated that between 1-2 million species inhabit our ocean, a staggering 75-90% remain undiscovered, making this mission crucial for marine biodiversity understanding.

NIWA marine biologist and voyage co-leader Sadie Mills says the partnership with Ocean Census is expanding the frontiers of knowledge in ways that would not otherwise be possible.

“Most of the area we're surveying is still a mystery. It’s fascinating because it's right between the Chatham Rise and the Sub Antarctic Zone, with a unique mix of conditions for discovering new marine fauna.

“The vision of The Nippon Foundation and Nekton to make this scientific mission possible is a gift to New Zealand and the world. We were selected because of the work of scientists in many New Zealand organisations. We see this as an accolade for the entire New Zealand marine science community,” says Sadie.

Te Papa Curator of Invertebrates, Kerry Walton, says the expedition will truly be exploring one of Earth’s final frontiers.

“The few points of information we have from the shallower margins of the Bounty Trough indicate an interesting array of life to be discovered.

“The collections at Te Papa and NIWA that result from expeditions like this are essential for understanding the vast diversity of life in the deep ocean," says Walton.