ALPHONSE ATOLL, Seychelles (AP) – An unprecedented mission to explore the Indian Ocean and documenting the changes taking place in the Seychelles waters.
The British-led Nekton Mission arrived at the tiny atoll of Alphonse in the early morning hours. The ambitious expedition will be one of the last major unexplored frontiers on the planet, a vast body of water that is already feeling the effects of global warming.
Understanding the Indian Ocean's ecosystem is important for an estimated 2.5 billion people in the region – from East Africa to the Arabian peninsula, to the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia.
But the mission will be used in the field of submersible hi-tech, in a research project.
"When you actually finally begin doing science, it's a bit of a relief and a lot of fun," said team member Louise Allcock, a University of Ireland zoologist.
Alphonse is a tiny atoll, the tip of a submerged mountain, located in the capital city of Victoria. Within two miles of its shores, the ocean is as deep as 3 miles.
Little is known about the biodiversity of Alphonse Atoll, as it has been unexplored beyond scuba depth.
Mission member Stephanie Marie, a marine researcher from the Seychelles, said she was excited to find out what's down there.
"It's going to be eye-opening, because I've never seen it so deep," she said. "It's really important. Fish feed on zooplankton, so we need to see its quality, because the ecosystem changes it can have an impact on the fish we feed on. "
The mission expects to discover new species, and evidence of climate change and human-driven pollution.
The data will be used to help the Seychelles consolidate and expand its policy of protecting a third of its national waters by the 2020. The sea area to be protected is larger than Germany. The initiative is a key component of Seychelles "blue economy," which attempts to balance development needs with those of the ocean environment.
The Associated Press is the only news agency working with British scientists from the Nekton research team on its deep-sea mission that aims to unlock the secrets of the Indian Ocean. AP video coverage will include exploring the depths of the Seychelles in two-person submarines that will search for underwater ranges and previously undiscovered marine life. The seven-week Seychelles expedition is expected to run until April 19.