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Seychelles and Maldives announce major joint marine research expedition | 06 February 2020

Seychelles and Maldives announce major joint marine research expedition

Seychelles and the Maldives will be undertaking a major joint marine research expedition to explore and conserve the Indian Ocean.

First Descent: Midnight Zone’ is a 35-day mission to support the sustainable governance of the Seychelles and Maldivian ocean including the protection of 629,000 km2.

A team of 50 international scientists, technicians, media and crew will be carrying out research to gather critical data to define conservation and management priorities and the designation of Marine Protected Areas.

The expedition starts in Seychelles on March 16, 2020.

Research is focussed on seamounts in the Midnight Zone. The Midnight Zone describes ocean depths between 1000metres and 4000metres. While biomass peaks in surface waters, biodiversity peaks within the Midnight Zone. The expedition will undertake the first research of seamounts in this area of the Indian Ocean. With high levels of biological endemism, seamounts are often described as ‘undersea Galapagoses’, home to species found nowhere else on the planet.

“A healthy planet needs a healthy ocean. The time to act is now. Seychelles is committed to ocean conservation and by the end of March, we will have 30% of our waters established as protected areas. Seychelles are demonstrating the scientific and economic case for sustainable ocean management and protection and we are delighted that other nations, like the Maldives, are taking leadership,” said President Danny Faure of Seychelles.

“The ocean is a key part of each Maldivian. 71% rely on the ocean for their primary source of income. We have committed to a 5-year initiative to advance ocean protection and sustainably develop the blue economy. This expedition will help us establish the long-term sustainability of our economic growth, livelihoods and jobs through establishing marine protected areas to build ocean resilience,” said President Ibrahim Mohamid Solih of the Maldives.

To support a healthy, resilient and prosperous ocean, scientists are calling for 30% of the ocean to be protected. Currently, only 2% is strongly protected and 8% is designated for protection.

‘First Descent: Midnight Zone’ is one of a series of expeditions that Nekton, a UK charitable research institute, is carrying out across the Indian Ocean documenting changes beneath the waves in a bid to catalyse 30% protection by 2030.

“Having so recently had the pleasure of welcoming the Maldives back into the Commonwealth family, it is very satisfying that our partnership with Nekton will support Maldives and Seychelles in fulfilling their commitment to ocean sustainability. Seychelles is our Commonwealth Blue Charter champion for marine protection, and by safeguarding 30% of its waters for conservation it sets a fine example which we hope will be followed by other countries. This mission is a very practical expression of how Commonwealth Blue Charter values in action are leading to enhanced protection in the Indian Ocean, and to improving ocean health more generally for our planet,” said Commonwealth secretary-general Patricia Scotland.

“The Indian Ocean is the least explored and least protected ocean. It is already home to nearly 2.7 billion people and by 2050 it will be home to half of the world’s population. How the Indian Ocean changes, will profoundly affect the lives and livelihoods of billions of people,” explained Oliver Steeds, Nekton Mission director.

The Indian Ocean Dipole, a climate phenomenon similar to El Niño, magnifies the impact of climate change. It increases the frequency, intensity and impact of extreme climate events throughout the region. Over the past 12 months these have included the bushfires in Australia, cyclone Idai in Mozambique, major flooding in Indonesia and India and drought in Southern Africa, where the Victoria Falls has been reduced to a trickle.

The joint Seychelles-Maldives expedition is led by scientists from Nekton and the University of Oxford working with, and on behalf of the governments of Seychelles and the Maldives. Scientists from Seychelles and the Maldives will be participating throughout the mission.

Dr Lucy Woodall, Nekton’s principal scientist, University of Oxford said: “Seamounts have high levels of biological diversity and biomass with a complex mosaic of habitats. They provide stepping stones between coastal areas that can act as nurseries for juvenile fish and are highly productive fishing grounds.”

Dr Woodall added: “Seamounts are poorly studied across the globe but are being increasingly impacted by human activities as technology allows exploitation of ocean resources at greater depths and distances from land.”

“Every day, as the sun sets, animals rise from the deep ocean to feed. As the sun rises, they descend. This is the Vertical Migration, the largest migration on Earth. Every night, they draw carbon from the surface, into the depths, into the Midnight Zone, the largest carbon store on our planet,” explained Sheena Talma, Seychellois marine scientist, one of Seychelles’ first Aquanauts and the expedition’s science programme manager.

The expedition will be using the world’s most advanced deep diving submersible alongside a dozen research tools including landers, sampling, sensor and mapping technology. In August 2019, the submersible ‘Limiting Factor’ built by Triton Submarines, completed the world's first manned exploration of the deepest point in each of the five oceans (Five Deeps), and is the only human occupied vessel that can visit any place in our oceans.

The expedition’s Mothership, DSSV Pressure Drop, and submersible have just completed sea trials in the Mediterranean before beginning the journey towards Seychelles.

First Descent – Midnight Zone is supported by Nekton’s unique alliance of business, governments, academia and civil society uniting behind a common purpose to explore and conserve the ocean.

The Maldives leg of the expedition is being undertaken to support Maldives Blue Prosperity, in partnership with the Blue Prosperity Coalition.

For updates on the expedition, visit


Source: Office of the President

Photo credits: Nekton


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