‘Aquanauts’ to explore 1,000-metre depths in Maldives ocean mission

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UK marine research institute Nekton is launching an ambitious ocean mission for the first systematic survey and sampling of Maldivian seas from the surface to unexplored depths of 1,000 metres.

Due to set sail on 4 September with local and international scientists, the Nekton Maldives Mission will deploy human occupied submersibles alongside robotic and autonomous systems to gather data from the underwater frontier, which will help establish a “baseline health check” to inform the government’s goal of protecting at least 20% of Maldivian territorial waters.

“Ten Maldivian marine scientists have been selected as the first ‘Maldivian Aquanauts’ to lead over 30 first descents in submersibles to explore Maldives unknown deep ocean. The first descent of the Mission will be led by an all-women team of Aquanauts,” according to the mission.

“We are determining the location, health and resilience of our coral reefs, especially the deeper ecosystems which we know very little about, so that key habitats may be identified for protection and management,” explained Shafiya Naeem, Director General of the Maldives Marine Research Institute, who is leading the Maldivian team on the mission. “The reefs that surround our atolls help reduce the impacts from sea level rise and the increasing frequency and intensity of storms, and forms the basis of our economies, livelihoods and sustenance”.

“We expect to locate and document critical nurseries for fish and coral that can inform Government plans to strengthen the sustainability and resilience of Maldives’s ocean resources,” explained Professor Lucy Woodall, Nekton Principal Scientist, Department of Biology, University of Oxford, leader of Nekton’s international scientific team.

The mission was organised in collaboration with the Maldives government with support from 16 Maldivian and 24 international partners.

Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih observed that 71% of Maldivians rely on the ocean for their primary source of income and assured commitment to “a 5-year initiative to advance ocean protection and sustainably develop the blue economy.”

He added: “This Mission will help us establish the long-term sustainability of our economic growth, livelihoods and jobs through establishing marine protected areas to build ocean resilience.”

Minister of Fisheries, Marine Resources and Agriculture Dr Hussain Rasheed Hassan called for urgent action to combat climate change: “There is still time. To protect our nation, we need to protect what is in our ocean. Doing this meaningfully requires deeper understanding of what is in our oceans, and this is what we are launching with the Nekton Maldives Mission. We hope that this Mission will inspire other nations to do the same.”