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Scientific mission to uncharted depths of Indian Ocean

Scientific mission to uncharted depths of Indian Ocean
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In a first, a deep-sea scientific mission to uncharted depths of the Indian Ocean in the Maldives and Seychelles will gather valuable data to support the Commonwealth Blue Charter on ocean action and train local scientists.

New Delhi: In a first, a deep-sea scientific mission to uncharted depths of the Indian Ocean in the Maldives and Seychelles will gather valuable data to support the Commonwealth Blue Charter on ocean action and train local scientists.

The ground-breaking multidisciplinary research mission, First Descent: Midnight Zone, was officially launched at the Commonwealth headquarters in London on Thursday.

The newest Commonwealth member country, Maldives, has joined Seychelles to launch a major joint scientific expedition to investigate unexplored depths.

Led by the UK research institute Nekton, the goal is to boost the sustainable governance of Seychelles and Maldivian waters, including the protection of 629,000 sq km of ocean.

It supports the Commonwealth Blue Charter -- a shared commitment by 54 member countries to protect the ocean from the effects of climate change, pollution and overfishing.

Maldives Minister for Fisheries, Marine Resources and Agriculture, Zaha Waheed, said in a statement: "It is vital to comprehensively understand what lies beneath our waters in order for us to be informed enough to take necessary actions towards a healthy and prosperous ocean."

"This mission will, for the first time, show a glimpse of what the deep sea features and the biodiversity it holds. It will also contribute to the wider goal of marine spatial planning and ocean governance."

A 50-person crew will set sail on March 16, using the world's most advanced deep diving submersible, equipped with a suite of research tools including sensor and mapping technology.

The data they collect will help countries define conservation and management priorities and map out marine protected areas. It will also help measure the impact of climate change and human activity in the area.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said: "We cannot protect what we don't know and we cannot govern what we don't understand.

With 95 per cent of the ocean still unexplored by humans, we are only just beginning to grasp its profound influence on life, including its effect on global climate and ecosystems."

The expedition will focus on undersea mountains or 'seamounts' in the Midnight Zone -- depths from 1,000 to 4,000 metres, where biodiversity peaks.

This zone holds critical indicators to measure the impact of the climate crisis, fisheries management, heat absorption, acidification, ocean carbon cycle, and plastic, agricultural and industrial pollution.

The damage or overexploitation of seamounts can have widespread consequences on ocean health, food security, and other benefits the ocean provides, such as the discovery of new medicines.

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