By Desmond Davies, GNA London Bureau Chief
London, March 14, GNA – Pioneering scientific research to explore and conserve the world’s least known and least protected ocean, the Indian Ocean, is underway off the coast of Seychelles.
Led by Nekton, a British independent, non-profit research institute, the Frist Descent Mission began last week with 18 crew members and 33 scientists of different nationalities on board the chartered Ocean Zephyr, a Danish-flagged supply ship.
The six-week mission is part of a series of research expeditions from now to 2022 to discover new species, as well as document evidence of climate change and of human-driven pollution.
The scientists on this first seven-week Mission will dive to depths of 30 metres, using two submarines with a crew on board and a remotely operated submersible that can descend up to 3,000 metres.
The researchers will document organisms and habitats up to 500 metres deep, while sensors will offer a glimpse of depths of up to 2,000 metres.
About 50 descents will be made during the expedition that is backed by the Commonwealth Secretariat and the government of Seychelles, which has committed to protect 30 per cent of its ocean territory by 2020.
Late last year, the Commonwealth and Nekton signed a memorandum under the Commonwealth Blue Charter – a commitment by member countries to protect the ocean and sustainably manage its resources.
In February, the project was officially launched at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London.
Nekton Foundation CEO Oliver Steeds said then: “First Descent is aligned to the principles of the Commonwealth Blue Charter, an agreement by all 53 Commonwealth countries to actively co-operate to solve ocean related problems and meet commitments for sustainable ocean development.
“Humankind is poised to make the next giant leap into the deep ocean.
“We need to discover what is there before the ocean’s demise triggers our own.”
Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland spoke of the urgency to address the challenge posed by climate change.
"We face an existential threat as a result of the changes in climate,” she said.
“Unless we map and understand better what is in our oceans, we are doomed to repeat some of the mistakes we made on land.
“Our partnership with Nekton is important because it will assist Commonwealth co-operation and accelerate action by the governments of our member countries to protect the ocean.
“The data gathered from this exploration enable us to test the ocean’s health, and will guide governments and policy-makers in making informed and effective decisions on ocean governance issues relating to climate change, over-fishing and conservation,” she added.
The High Commissioner of Seychelles in the UK, Derick Ally, said: “We also are a leader in the blue economy concept, and with the help of the Commonwealth, which has developed a blue economy roadmap for us, we are taking steps now to make better use of our ocean resources.”
One of the scientists on the research team, Professor Alex Rogers of Oxford University, said it was important to examine beneath the Indian Ocean between 30 and 3,000 meters where there is a huge diversity of species.
“We are in a situation where the ocean is suffering from serious degradation through the damaging effects of over-fishing, pollution, and we are all aware of the growing story of marine plastics and the effect of climate change…,” he said.
“So, it’s really critically important that we understand how life is distributed through the ocean now so that we can make decisions that are actually better informed.”
Mr Steeds, CEO of Nekton Foundation, said the £5 million project was “a bold bid to help accelerate our scientific understanding of how the Indian Ocean is changing”.
He added: “Traditionally it is governments or offshore energy companies that have the financial weight to undertake deep ocean exploration and research.
“It is certainly not the activity of a small charitable research institute in Oxford – like ours.
“…we stand on the shoulders of giants – an alliance of 47 partners from business, philanthropy, subsea technology, media and civil society – who have come together with a shared and common purpose – to explore and conserve the deep ocean.”