Scientists will venture into the twilight zone in a never-before-seen part of the ocean to search for new forms of life.
The mission, called First Descent, will take scientists from the research organisation Nekton down to a depth of 300m (984ft), where sunlight barely penetrates yet thousands of undocumented species could flourish.
Sky News’ Deep Ocean Live Project will be with the team on the Ocean Zephyr vessel in March as they make at least 50 dives in remote coral reefs of the Seychelles, first around Farquhar and then Aldabra.
We will broadcast the first ever live programmes from submersibles in the twilight zone – the middle layer of the world’s oceans which receives only faint sunlight, in the series called Deep Ocean Live.
Nekton scientists will survey the health of the coral in the area and assess the biodiversity of the reefs, in an area believed to be teeming with sharks.
The data will be used as a baseline in the rapidly changing environment of the Indian Ocean, where climate change, overfishing and plastic pollution are major threats to coral and the life it supports.
Nekton will work with the Seychelles government, which is developing a world-leading Marine Spatial Plan that aims to ensure a sustainable future for its seas.
The nation recently set aside 15% of its ocean territory – an area the size of the UK – as a marine conservation zone, and plans to double that by 2020.
Nekton’s principle scientist Lucy Woodall said: “I am delighted to share this opportunity with the Seychelles government and citizens to document unexplored waters to create a baseline for future generations and be a beacon for future marine conservation and management globally.”
Shallow water coral reefs in the Indian Ocean, and elsewhere, have been badly hit in recent years by rising sea temperatures and acidity caused by climate change.
Data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows warm water is once again spreading from east to west, causing coral bleaching and even death.
A temperature rise of 1-2C (34-36F) for more than four weeks can cause coral to eject the symbiotic algae that they depend on for the vast bulk of their energy, causing reefs to turn ghostly white.
A quarter of all marine life depends on coral reefs for food, shelter, or as a nursery – if the coral dies it threatens the whole ecosystem.
Scientists at the University of Derby are studying the impact of warm water on coral.
Dr Michael Sweet, who heads the coral laboratory, said the outlook looked bleak.
He told Sky News: “I don’t think many other generations will see the reefs as I’ve seen them.
“I’ve seen near 100% coral cover in many instances all around the world and it is a beautiful thing to behold.
“Unfortunately it is becoming a rarer event. You have to go further afield, usually far off shore to still see this.”
New research by the Met Office suggests there’s now a 10% chance of global temperatures hitting 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels at some point in the next five years.
This is seen by many scientists as the threshold beyond which climate change will have a major impact.
The Nekton team hopes that dives down to reefs in deeper, cooler water will reveal evidence that they are protected from the impact of climate change.
Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC, secretary-general of the Commonwealth, which is supporting the mission, said: “We are the first generation really to see and experience the aberrant impact of climate change.
“And just as human genius got us into this mess, human genius is going to have to get us out of it.
“So saying it’s too late is not an option; we have to act now.
“Our partnership with Nekton is important because it will assist Commonwealth co-operation and accelerate action by the governments of our member countries to protect the ocean.”
(c) Sky News 2019: Deep Ocean Live: Mission to take scientists into the ocean’s twilight zone