Saturday 24 August 2019

British-led team explores depths of Indian Ocean

The latest dive took place off a coral atoll called St Joseph in the outer islands of Seychelles.

A manta ray swims near the submersible during a dive off the coast of the island of St Joseph in the Seychelles (David Keyton/AP)
A manta ray swims near the submersible during a dive off the coast of the island of St Joseph in the Seychelles (David Keyton/AP)

By David Keyton, Associated Press

Researchers from a British-led scientific research charity have been using submersibles to dive deep below the waves to document the health of the Indian Ocean.

The Nekton team has been exploring the depths of the ocean for more than a month.

The latest dive took place off a coral atoll called St Joseph in the outer islands of Seychelles.

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The last rays of sunlight cross the sky after sunset off Seychelles (David Keyton/AP)

This body of water is poorly studied and few scientists have ever ventured deeper than the maximum scuba depth of 100ft.

Oceans cover more than two-thirds of the Earth’s surface but remain, for the most part, unexplored.

Their role in regulating our climate and the threats they face are underestimated by many people, so scientific missions are crucial to take stock of the health of underwater ecosystems.

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A manned submersible explores the seabed off the island of St Joseph (David Keyton/AP)

Able to operate down to 1,000ft, the manned submersibles give scientists a unique understanding of changes in habitats as sunlight diminishes through the different layers of ocean.

In the months to come, researchers at Oxford will comb through the footage frame by frame, noting each species encountered.

It was curiosity that drew submersible pilot Robert Carmichael to the ocean.

“I just wanted to know what was down here,” he said.

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Robert Carmichael navigates strong currents during a dive to 400ft below the surface (David Keyton/AP)

“It’s stunning in so many ways.”

A WWF report found that marine vertebrate populations have declined by almost half since the 1970s.

Fishing is no longer the sole cause.

Man-made pollution, global warming and the acidification of the oceans are new challenges.

As the oceans slowly soak up heat from the atmosphere, marine species will be affected in different ways.

Some will adapt, and some will migrate to cooler waters.

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A scientist processes a coral sample retrieved from the Indian Ocean (David Keyton/AP)

Others will disappear, leaving a gap in ecosystems that have existed for millennia.

“I came into the Indian Ocean hoping I’d see a giant Napoleon wrasse,” Mr Carmichael said of one of the world’s largest reef fish.

“Here we are, 35 days into the mission and I still haven’t seen one.”

Mr Carmichael added: “The oceans are all connected and important to the quality of life for all humans.

“It’s worth protecting because the air we breathe and the food we eat and the oceans we swim in really do have a meaningful impact on everyone’s life.”

PA Media

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