Why do we need to explore the deep ocean? | Ocean Rescue News
Humankind is poised to make its next giant leap: into the deep ocean.
Nekton mission director and submersible pilot Oliver Steeds why it is so important for explorers to delve into the unknown and discover the secrets of the seas.
The deep ocean – beneath 200m (656ft) – is the beating heart of our planet and its largest and most vital ecosystem, yet we don’t fully understand how it functions or how healthy it is.
We have better maps of the surface of Mars than we do of our own seabed. Less than 5% of the ocean is comprehensively monitored, and at least a staggering 95% remains unexplored.
We do know that human activity has disrupted the deep ocean and is damaging its ability to support life.
The resulting changes directly impact us all on many levels, affecting our climate, our food security, our livelihoods, our homes, our natural resources, and even the very air we breathe. We still have an opportunity to change course before we cross multiple points of no return.
Throughout human history, exploration has driven progress. The majority of our planet still remains unknown. Whenever we have travelled beyond the horizon, what we discover there has changed what we know and how we choose to live.
Millions of species are yet to be discovered. New cures for diseases are to be found. The ocean’s potential for sustainable development can be unlocked. The power of ocean data can be realised. The origins of life itself are within our grasp.
When we journey into the unknown, we move forward.
The deep ocean is the final frontier. It’s the largest wilderness on our planet and a place we have only just begun to explore. The deeper we go, the more astonishing the life-forms we find
The Bathyal Zone is home to the greatest biodiversity of ocean species. It encompasses the area of the ocean between 200m (656ft) to 3,000m (1.86 miles) deep.
The greatest biomass is found in the shallows where plentiful food at shallow depths allows competitive species to assert dominance.
As we enter the Bathyal Zone, reduced access to food lowers the potential for competitive exclusion, allowing for greater numbers of species to coexist.
It is home to the greatest diversity of marine species found anywhere in the ocean, an estimated 300,000 to 10 million unique species. As we go deeper, beneath 3,000m (1.86 miles), food scarcity lowers population numbers and hinders diversity, with the exception of thermal vents, which teem with life.
Down in the Bathyal Zone we find complex ecosystems from cold-water coral reefs to sponge beds and seamounts along with unique communities of life including deep-sea squid, whales, and sharks. The vast majority of the Bathyal Zone remains largely uncharted.
This layer of the ocean provides critical indicators of change enabling scientists to measure and understand the effects of climate change, heat absorption, acidification, the ocean carbon cycle, the impacts of resource extraction, and the degree of plastic, agricultural and industrial pollution.
As the leading marine conservation scientist, Professor Callum Roberts, a Nekton Trustee, said: “Our ocean is undergoing rapid ecological transformation by human activities.
“The scientific consensus is that we must have an enforced protected area covering at least 30% protection of the ocean by 2030 to support a resilient ocean and a resilient planet.
“Having over-fished the majority of the surface waters, we are now gaining the industrial capacity to empty the Bathyal Zone before we discover what is there. We face a race for the deep.”
From 1872 to 1876, the global Challenger expedition transformed our understanding of the ocean and resulted in the birth of marine science. With the systematic exploration of the Bathyal Zone, we have the opportunity to create another step change.
:: The Age of Submersibles: New technology unlocks access to new knowledge
We now have the ability to discover more of our planet in the next 10 years than the last 100,000 of human history. We have collected more data on our oceans in the past two years than throughout all of human history.
From Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) to Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), from seabed mapping systems and a proliferation of sensors above, on the surface of, and beneath the ocean to the initial DNA sequence library of marine animals, technological developments are now unlocking extraordinary new research capabilities.
As the cost of new technology falls, the volume, diversity, and frequency of ocean data is accelerating our understanding of the sea. But it is not enough. We need greater capacity to discover and manage the sustainable development potential of the ocean and drive new policies to protect its critical ecosystems.
The immersive transparent pressure hulls of cutting-edge new manned submersibles or human operated vehicles (HOVs) provide a revolutionary new perspective for scientific observation and storytelling.
With the aqualung pioneered by Jacques Cousteau, we’ve been able to explore some of the Sunlit Zone of the ocean’s upper 100m (328ft). As the shuttle became an icon of space exploration, the submersibles and their Bathynauts will embody our next global odyssey.
:: Sky’s Ocean Rescue campaign encourages people to reduce their single-use plastics. You can find out more about the campaign and how to get involved at www.skyoceanrescue.com