Comonwealth expedition to explore Indian Ocean

AFP, LONDON

Fri, Feb 08, 2019 - Page 3

A mission to explore uncharted depths in the Indian Ocean was launched on Wednesday, hoping to discover hundreds of new species and find out what impact plastic is having way below the surface.

The First Descent expedition, led by British-based ocean research institute Nekton, is set to send submersibles as deep as 3,000m off the Seychelles from next month to test the health of the ocean.

The project was launched at a news conference at the Commonwealth headquarters in London.

“The mission is focusing on 30 meters down to 3,000 meters. This is where you get the peak diversity of species,” said Alex Rogers, a professor of conservation biology at Oxford University who is part of the scientific team.

“In the Indian Ocean, the deeper zones are almost completely uninvestigated. We simply don’t know what’s there,” he said.

“The more you zoom in, the more diversity you’re going to find. I’m really confident that we’ll discover many new species,” he said.

“The ocean is suffering serious degradation from overfishing, pollution and climate change. It’s critically important to understand how life is distributed in the oceans now, so we can make decisions better to manage the oceans,” he said.

The US$5 million collaboration brings together 47 partners from business, philanthropy, sub-sea technology, media and civil society.

The Ocean Zephyr mothership is on its way from Bremerhaven, Germany, to the Seychelles.

Its two submersibles will take 17 different research tools and technology into the deep, along with 18 cameras to create the first three-dimensional maps of deep sea ecosystems.

Ocean campaigner Emily Penn, a Nekton trustee, said the expedition could shed light on the impact of plastic thousands of meters below the surface.

“We really don’t know what’s going on in the deep ocean when it comes to plastic,” she said.

“We know 8 million tonnes of plastic is going into the ocean every year and we’re only finding a fraction of it on the surface. The big question is: Where is all the rest of it going,” she said.