British-based scientists have begun a mission to explore the depths of the Indian Ocean, one of the planet’s last great unexplored frontiers.
Ocean Zephyr, the science vessel of the Nekton Mission group, is in the Seychelles for the first stage of a multi-year mission to explore the depths of the ocean and document the effects of global warming.
Researchers from more than 40 organisations will spend seven weeks surveying underwater life, mapping the sea floor and dropping sensors to depths of up to 6,560ft in the seas around the Seychelles.
Their aim is to document changes beneath the waves that could affect billions of people throughout the Indian Ocean region over the coming decades.
The Seychelles, a collection of 115 islands with fewer than 100,000 inhabitants, is already feeling the effects of climate change, with rising water temperatures bleaching its coral reefs.
The scientists are using crewed submarines and remotely operated submersibles to visit the watery world below depths of 100ft, and hope they might even find new species
Nekton is an independent non-profit research institute that works with the University of Oxford to increase scientific understanding of the oceans.
It has chartered the Ocean Zephyr, a Danish-flagged supply ship, to explore the waters around the Seychelles, a collection of islands about 930 miles east of the African coast.
This is the first of half a dozen regions the Nekton Mission plans to explore before the end of 2022, when scientists will present their research at a summit on the state of the Indian Ocean.
Along with 18 crew members there are 33 scientists, technicians and reporters on board.
Researchers have started by heading to the Farquhar Atoll, a group of islands about 480 miles south west of Victoria.
Further stops include Aldabra, a coral atoll which is home to a large population of giant tortoises and other vulnerable species.
By conducting at least 50 “first descents” to map the depths around the Seychelles, scientists hope to better understand the marine ecosystem and the way this vast body of water is changing due to global warming.
The Nekton Mission has become the talk of the Seychelles, a nation of fewer than 100,000 people, since the Ocean Zephyr’s arrival last week.
President Danny Faure visited the ship, calling the expedition “a historical moment” for the nation.
“The scientific community, the academia, the children around the world in schools, they see what’s happening” to the climate, he said. “Why can’t other governments see this? Are they blind?”