The Undersea World of Daniel Ierodiaconou

Research news
11 August 2015
Marine researchers have mapped the sea floor of Victoria's entire coast.

He might not sport a red beanie, but Deakin’s Dr Daniel Ierodiaconou could be Australia’s 21st century answer to legendary French undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Until this decade, the detail of what lay beneath the oceans was mostly a mystery. Today, thanks to sophisticated technology and scientists like Dr Ierodiaconou, the topography of Victoria’s oceans has been unravelled.

3D maps and video now provide in-depth information about exotic underwater worlds, including marine life, underwater valleys and mountains, and geological history, such as ancient river systems and lava flows.

Led by Dr Ierodiaconou, a Deakin team and collaborators have developed a detailed continuous map of sea floor habitats of the entire coast of Victoria – providing the most detailed coastal information of any Australian state.

This data will provide a baseline to support fishery and conservation management of Victoria’s marine environments.

Working in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences at the Warrnambool Campus, Dr Ierodiaconou has spearheaded the development of Victoria’s underwater mapping program since beginning his lectureship in 2010.

He has just been awarded the Victorian Seafood Industry’s 2015 R&D award for contributions to "a sustainable and profitable seafood industry.”

The award is the latest in a string of achievements that include a Victorian Young Tall Poppy Award (2009) and an Australian Hydrographic Office award of merit for contributions to marine habitat mapping.

A strong interest in technology – and the support of an outstanding team of students and research fellows at  Warrnambool – have underpinned Dr Ierodiaconou’s achievements.

He has developed Deakin’s purpose-built $650,000 research vessel “Yolla,” which boasts the most advanced sonar system in the world, to image the seabed, as well as remotely operated vehicles that are tracked underwater to provide video footage from deep below the surface.

“With this technology, we have uncovered seascapes we didn’t know existed, from giant kelp forests, to extensive sponge gardens, to glimpses from a not-too-distant past, including ship wrecks. Over 90 per cent of the marine life in cool temperate waters, such as in Victoria, is unique,” he said.

The team has now mapped over 5,500 square kilometres of Victorian coastal waters, with the biggest data set covering the area between the Twelve Apostles and Aireys Inlet – extending three nautical miles out to sea, in great detail.

Originally from Melbourne, Dr Ierodiaconou has always been fascinated by the sea, spending childhood holidays at Lorne and watching his father spear fish and dive for abalone. He completed his first “Pier to Pub” at the age of 10 and was scuba diving by 14. Then, after high school, he headed to Warrnambool to study aquatic science at Deakin.

“I was very curious about what lay beneath the ocean – and I did watch programs like ‘The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau’,” he said.

Dr Ierodiaconou explained that the data his team collects provides crucial information about changes to Victoria’s coastal marine habitat.

“We’re getting a better understanding of the reef estate that supports our fisheries, including how it is connected to and driving productivity.

“This research is helping us to link oceanography with the movements of fish larvae, so we can sustainably manage fish populations. Like agriculture - where farmers need to understand soil and land use - we are now looking at the seascape underwater and filling in important knowledge gaps.”

An intrepid 21st century explorer, Dr Ierodiaconou is preparing for his next challenge - leading his mapping team over uncharted waters in Bass Strait.

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Exploring new worlds aboard the Yolla: Dr Daniel Ierodiaconou. Exploring new worlds aboard the Yolla: Dr Daniel Ierodiaconou.

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