Expedition update: Great Detatched Reef

We finally arrived at our destination this morning - Great Detached Reef on the northern tip of the Great Barrier Reef. We have steamed about 500km north and are in a true wilderness - very few people are lucky enough to visit this part of the GBR. After all that time on the boat everyone was very keen to get in the water, but firstly we needed to launch the ROV robot for a site reconnaissance. The first site was not suitable - too shallow and sandy but after some more searching the trusty robot found us the perfect spot - nice reef going all the way from the shallows to 80m, all within reach of the boat. The ROV was quickly retrieved and finally it was time... We dropped quickly to 40m and began our first task - putting down "quadrats" - 3m by 3m frames which we attach to the reef. Tomorrow we will photograph all the corals in these quadrats and we plan to return in a year or two and re-photograph the quadrats. In this way over time we will build up a picture of how the mesophotic reef works: how fast the different corals grow, how they change over time, how other organisms such as algae, sponges and soft corals compete with corals etc. This information is fairly well known in the shallows but we have no idea what happens in these deep reefs. Once the quadrats were dealt with there was time for a quick look around the site before we returned to the surface - the deep reef here is quite different to anything we have seen before - more coral species and some quite strange corals which we plan to study over the next few days. One quite spectacular coral formed a great tier of fine plates covering an area the size of a good house - no idea yet what this could be. Perhaps tomorrow we will have another new species!