It may not be as famous as its neighbour the Great Barrier Reef, but the Coral Sea is a global “biodiversity hotspot” for ocean predators, according to the first comprehensive study of the region.

It may be a little known region, but that could soon change. The Coral Sea is packed full of large predatory sharks, tuna and marlin and contains — along with the Great Barrier Reef — the only known spawning aggregation of black marlin.

A report on the Coral Sea, titled Australia’s Coral Sea: A Biophysical Profile, was written by Dr Daniela Ceccarelli, a marine ecologist. It was commissioned by the Pew Environment Group-Australia on behalf of the Protect our Coral Sea coalition — a group of influential conservation organisations including the Australian Conservation Foundation, Wildlife Queensland and the National Parks Association of Queensland.

Ceccarelli discovered that marine life — including tuna, marlin,swordfish and sailfish — travelled average distances of 370 to 1,482 kilometres in the Coral Sea.

Other threatened marine life in the Sea include humpback whales, dwarf minke whales and green turtles, but it’s the sharks in the Coral Sea that are among the most interesting and at risk of the marine species in the area. The report explains that large numbers of oceanic and reef sharks have been found in some areas, particularly those regions protected from exploitation.

“Deep-water sharks are known to dwell on the deep continental slopes andplateaux. Fifty-two species of deep-water sharks, rays and chimaeras have been recorded in the Coral Sea, 18 of which are known only from there,” says the report.

A whopping 341 species recognised by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature for their conservation significance live in the Coral Sea, with 51% of these showing declining populations. Those species include 219 species of coral, 46 speicies of sharks and rays, 26 types of cetaceans (whales, etc), 24 species of birds, 21 species of fish and 5 species of marine turtles.

The Coral Sea also serves as a migratory corridor for marine life including cetaceans, sharks, fish, turtles and seabirds, many of which are identified as being at risk.

To clarify just where the Coral Sea is, the report explains the geography of the area: “Coral Sea Conservation Zone (referred to in this report as the Coral Sea) is bounded on the west by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, on the east by the edge of Australia’ Exclusive Economic Zone, on the north by the Torres Strait Protection Zone and on the south by the same southern latitude line as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The area comprises 972,000 km2.”

“The report confirms that the Coral Sea is healthy and relatively intact. In light of this report, conservation groups call on the federal government to establish a very large, world-class, highly protected marine park in the Coral Sea to provide a safe haven for its spectacular marine life”, said Imogen Zethoven of the Pew Environment Group and member of the Protect our Coral Sea coalition.

But one big issue about the Coral Sea is the lack of information and research on the region. “…there are likely to be further important areas for feeding, breeding, migrating and resting that have yet to be clearly identified, and which may act as critical habitat for many species,” writes Ceccarelli.

The Coral Sea might not get the marine spotlight in Australia, but it’s importance as a scientific area — particularly since research is only in its infancy — is likely to only get more significant.

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