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Searching the Coral Sea

Dr Merrick Ekins hopes to discover new species in the Coral Sea Islands. Source: 612 ABC Brisbane: Jessica Hinchliffe.

Jessica Hinchcliffe, Queensland scientists searching for hitchhiking organisms on debris in Coral Sea, ABC News 10 June 2016

Queensland scientists are set to explore life beyond the Great Barrier Reef in the hope of finding new marine species and “hitchhiking” organisms.

Dr Merrick Ekins, collection manager of sessile marine invertebrates at Queensland Museum, will join Dr Barbara Baehr and photographer Gary Cranitch on the Coral Sea Clean Up and Biodiscovery Voyage.

Their vessels, the Odyssey and the Iron Joy, will depart from Mackay over the weekend, transporting more than 440 kilometres (235 nautical miles) from the mainland.

Ten Australian scientists will be travelling on board to the Coral Sea islands. Dr Ekins plans to focus on life under the water.

He said he planned to study small organisms that attached themselves to foreign objects such as plastic bottles and rubbish.

“We’ll look at the marine debris and see what organisms have hitched a ride on the debris and see if they are native or exotic ones,” he said.

“I’ll also look at man-made articles like pieces of plastic or foam that wash up and have travelled across the ocean.

“We will look at the tiny colonies attached to these, as well as snorkelling around the reef looking for them on rocks or sand.”

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