Dive into Deep Oceans!
Bringing the Museum’s Deep Oceans exhibition to life has been an 18-month voyage of discovery for project coordinator Em Blamey.
If someone asks ‘what lives in the deep?’, we’d have to answer with a shrug. Although we’ve already found countless creatures there, less than 10 per cent of the deep ocean has been explored, and new species are discovered every time we take a look. Or, as a favourite quote puts it, ‘We know more about the Moon’s behind than the Earth’s bottom!’
The deep oceans make up more than 95 per cent of the living space on this planet, and its biodiversity is thought to be on a par with rainforests or coral reefs. There’s lots of room for things to live – but we know hardly any of them. Only three people have ever been to the deepest point in the oceans (nearly 11 kilometres deep): two in the 1960s and film director James Cameron in March this year – so it’s quite correct to say more people have been to the Moon.
Far from ‘out of sight, out of mind’, the unknown is hugely attractive; people have always been fascinated by what lies beneath, from ancient mariners returning with tales of sea serpents and mermaids, to unfathomable ‘globsters’ (mysterious gelatinous beasts) found washed up on beaches.
Our imaginations have been filling in the blanks. Deadly denizens of the depths star in our monster movies, books and comics. We’ve yet to find Godzilla down there, but we’ve found the massive (500-kilogram) Colossal Squid, its tentacles full of vicious hooks – and it may well have friends we don’t know about yet.
New technologies are gradually opening up this mysterious realm. Over 3000 autonomous submersible robots are currently adrift worldwide, transmitting invaluable data on ocean temperature, salinity and currents whenever they surface.
Underwater cameras enable us to see the creatures alive and at home in the depths, rather than dead and distorted after being collected in nets; animals adapted to deep-ocean pressures of 400 atmospheres tend to explode long before they reach the surface. We add to our knowledge every day, but there’s still much more to be discovered.
What we do know is that deep-ocean environments are already under threat. Pollution, ocean acidification, trawling and mining are all damaging the deep, though we don’t know enough to fully appreciate their impacts. What do we stand to lose? As just one example, certain deep-sea sponges contain compounds that may help patients fight breast cancer; one drug made from them, Halaven, is just going on the market overseas. There may be other beneficial compounds yet to be discovered – but they could be wiped out by a trawl net before we get the chance to find them.
The deep oceans are a varied, fascinating and vital part of our world – one we need to understand, appreciate and protect before it’s too late. The Deep Oceans exhibition showing at the Museum from 16 June allows visitors to get a taste of this enthralling world. We’ve worked with our partners at Questacon to make it exciting and innovative, combining interactive exhibits, multimedia and real specimens. We hope the result will give visitors a unique experience of what we know and what we don’t, how we’re discovering more and why we should care.
EM BLAMEY, EXHIBITION PROJECT COORDINATOR
Deep Oceans is a new exhibition developed by the Australian Museum and Questacon, the national science and technology centre. Find out more at www.deepoceans.com.au.
Brendan Atkins , Publications Coordinator