Maldivian Aquanauts to explore and protect their ocean nation as climate crisis grips

“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 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”

Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamid Solih

Taking place between 4 September and 7 October, the Nekton Maldives Mission will deploy two of the most advanced human-occupied submersibles to conduct the first systematic survey of ocean life in the Maldives, from the surface to 1000 metres deep. This will enable the Maldivian Government to develop conservation and sustainable development policies, so that the oceans continue to protect and provide for the Maldivian people.

Using robotic and autonomous systems, and more than a dozen research technologies, this will make it one of the most technically varied and advanced missions ever undertaken in the Indian Ocean.

Alongside Maldivian marine scientists, researchers from the Department of Biology at the University of Oxford will join an international team to undertake the first systematic survey and sampling of the Maldives from the surface to 1000 metre depths. Almost nothing is known about what lies below 30 metres. The goal is to establish a baseline health check to inform government policies to protect at least 20% of Maldivian seas — an area of ocean half the size of Germany.

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.

 “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”.

The Maldives, a big ocean state, is 99% ocean and just 1% land, sitting on average 1.5 metres above the sea. As a result, the nation faces a growing threat from the rising seas. But, armed with more knowledge of what their waters contain, work can begin to protect what lives there and safeguard the environment those species inhabit, which in turn makes the country better able to withstand climate change. 

“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 who is leading Nekton’s international scientific team.

“Deep-sea research is an area of science we have barely scratched the surface of. This expedition will allow us to develop themes of important research priorities, by capturing imagery of the deep seafloor and information such as environmental parameters and benthic mapping, for the very first time in this area of the world.”

Lucy Woodall

Throughout the mission, you can follow the team’s progress on InstagramFacebookYouTube, and Twitter. As part of their Submarine Live programme, between 27 – 29 September the team will also give a daily, live educational broadcast from their mothership, feely available to all schools, students and teachers.