A British research vessel is set to begin an almost 14,500-kilometer expedition on Thursday to the South Atlantic Ocean to survey previously unexplored depths and search for unknown species.
The Royal Research Ship (RRS) Discovery is all geared up to depart from Southampton, Hampshire, for the six-week voyage to the remote British Overseas Territories of St Helena and Ascension Island.
The ship is undertaking the project as part of the Blue Belt Programme supervised by the UK government — an international maritime conservation project.
Scientists on board the Discovery will use underwater cameras to explore hydrothermal vents on a seabed that is 4,000-meter deep.
The team expects to encounter a range of marine wildlife, including fishes like inflated rattails, viperfish, and the common fang tooth identified on previous trips. They further hope to find species unknown earlier.
St Helena and Ascension have been chosen for the mission as they are home to two of the most extensive Marine Protected Areas in the world and host a variety of species, like whale sharks, humpback whales, green turtles, and yellow-fin tuna.
The survey will gather data to enhance scientific understanding of the unique marine environment.
They will collect water samples to monitor properties and quality while assessing the species that are key to local fisheries regarding sustainable management quotas.
The team will monitor human activities like illegal fishing in protected waters.
Globally about 5% of the oceans have been explored until now, at a time when it has never been more essential that they are safeguarded, explained Paul Womersley, the scientific lead for Discovery 159 associated with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries, and Aquaculture Science.
The most recent Discovery expedition offers a fresh opportunity to advance scientific understanding of some of the most remote and unexplored areas of the oceans on Earth.
By using the data collected and expanding the understanding of biodiverse marine ecosystems, they can support St Helena and Ascension governments in their mission to sustainably manage the huge Marine Protection Zones.
The team of 50 crew members and scientists will spend 60 days on board RRS Discovery at sea — a 100-meter-long research vessel weighing 600 tonnes with facilities including a mini cinema, cafeteria, and gym.
The ship contains wet and dry labs for scientists to analyze and store the collected samples and next-gen survey equipment like deepwater cameras.
The vital expedition is deploying cutting-edge technology for exploring new zones of the ocean and will potentially uncover rare habitats and species, permitting us to protect and safeguard our marine biodiversity for the future, said Scott Mann, the International Marine Minister.
It reflects how scientists are experts in their field and mark a crucial step forward in our mission to protect 30% of our international ocean by 2030, contributing to the global fight against climate change.
Lord Goldsmith, the Minister for Climate and Environment, reported that this is the most recent instance of British science that leads the way in understanding and safeguarding our oceans for future generations.
The knowledge that the survey yields will help us understand the abundance of rare species in need of protection, and I’m excited to see what scientists find.
References: The National News, ITV