A major international effort to explore and document deep sea life in the Antarctic Ocean and the effects of climate change there is underway. It is part of International Polar Year activities that continue through 2008. VOA's Paul Sisco has more.

The Aurora Australis, now cruising the Antarctic Sea, left the Australian port of Hobart last month to assess the effects of climate change on the many life forms in Antarctica.

Martin Riddle is leading the discovery voyage. He says, "We're hoping to find many things never known, never seen before, never documented before. There will be fishes. There will be sponges, starfish, even corals down there."

With trawling nets, underwater cameras and an onboard laboratory, researchers are taking a census of the various forms of life that thrive on the ocean floor and in waters as deep as 2,000 meters below the surface.

"They are living really on the edge of existence for their metabolism and we know that some of the processes that are changing with climate change are going to make it harder for them to survive in the future," Riddle said.

The Aurora is an Australian research vessel, one of three ships involved in Antarctic marine census expeditions. A French and a Japanese vessel will begin collecting Antarctic marine samples over the next few months.

"We have people onboard those ships from America, Norway, Alaska, if you count that as a separate country for the United States, as well as Japan, Spain, Argentina and Belgium," says Graham Hosis, who is with the Australian Antarctic Division.

The missions are aimed at discovering, cataloging, and protecting the great diversity of life in Antarctic waters.