Oceanic research ship Investigator returns to the seas for first time since COVID-19

The research ship Investigator sails the high seas trawling ocean beds in the name of science — but for the past few months, the crew has been fighting the depths of despair, grounded by COVID-19.

Five separate voyages have had to be cancelled or postponed since March.

Investigator’s program director Barbaro Musso said it was a very long time to be absent from field research.

For months, the ship’s data collection has been largely restricted to air quality testing while docked in Hobart.

Finally, Investigator is on course for a return to operations and is sailing once more in a dry run for future missions.

The ship is undertaking a week-long voyage to Maria Island, off the east coast of Tasmania, to test its COVID-19 protocols and ensure any new wave of infections will not sink future missions.

“We have spent the last two months developing protocols to make sure that we don’t bring an infection of COVID-19 on board,” Dr Musso said.

“And in the unlikely event that we did, that we don’t spread it on board.”

Investigator usually sails with 60 people on board and two people per cabin.

This trip it is carrying 42, all based in Hobart, with only one person per cabin.

“If everything goes OK with this voyage and we can demonstrate … that we can implement the protocols for COVID-19 safely and effectively, we will then proceed to restart science voyage operations,” Dr Musso said.

Species named after research ship

It’s been a good week in an otherwise bleak year for the scientists and crew of Investigator.

Investigator usually sails with 60 people on board and two people per cabin.(ABC News: Gregor Salmon)

Two new ocean species discovered by the ship in a 2017 voyage off Australia’s east coast have now been officially named after the ship.

One is a worm named Petta investigatoris, and the other is a carnivorous sponge named Cladorhiza investigator.

The new species were gathered on the ocean bed 5 kilometres beneath the surface.

More than 7 kilometres of wire was needed in the operation.

“It’s important to understand the interconnectedness of all these ecosystems around Australia,” Mr Pogonoski said.

Two species of cod collected by the CSIRO in the Great Australian Bight decades ago have also been recently named — the Small Fin Eucla Cod and the Roberts’ Eucla Cod.

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