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Shedding light on mysteries of deep

Vital research: Oliver Steeds, Nekton’s mission director and founder says a race against time to explore and understand this critically important ecosystem before it’s too late

A deep ocean research mission is set to begin off the coast of Bermuda tomorrow.

Conducted by multidisciplinary organisation Nekton, the scientific programme will create a new standardised methodology to be used by marine biologists for measuring physical, chemical and biological indicators to assess the function, health and resilience of the deep ocean.

The island’s waters are said to be the “perfect location” for the mission, as Nonsuch Island is where deep ocean exploration began.

Oliver Steeds, Nekton’s mission director and founder, said: “From 1930 to 1934, the island was the base for William Beebe and Otis Barton’s record-breaking descent into the ocean using the Bathysphere, a spherical chamber lowered by cable from a ship. They reached a depth of 3,028 feet, or 923 metres.

“The deep ocean is the beating heart of our planet which regulates our atmosphere, water, food and climate. Yet we’ve invested only a tiny fraction of the trillions spent on space research on deep ocean research.

“It’s a race against time to explore and understand this critically important ecosystem before it’s too late.”

The mission is sponsored by reinsurer XL Catlin and partnering with the Ministry of the Environment. The scientific findings will be released as part of the XL Catlin Deep Ocean Survey.

The international team will work together from two research vessels, the Baseline Explorer and the Canadian coastguard ship Hudson, and will include scientists from the environment ministry and the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences.

Alex Rogers, Nekton’s principal scientist and conservation biology professor at the University of Oxford, said: “By working together and developing a common scientific approach, we will develop a better understanding of ocean health.

“The XL Catlin Deep Ocean Survey will create the first standardised methodology for marine biologists across the world to build on.”

The mission will be using manned submersibles and remotely operated vehicles to explore the ocean and, like XL Catlin’s previous ocean research programmes, they have committed to making the data freely available for scientists to use.

“This partnership is confirmation of our commitment to actively learn more about potential emerging risks,” said Patrick Tannock, chief executive of XL Catlin’s Bermuda Insurance Operations and chairman of the XL Foundation.

“Collecting and sharing reliable and impartial data is imperative. As a reinsurance company there is an immediate need to accelerate our knowledge of how the oceans are changing. We need to understand the risks that businesses, society and ecosystems will face in future.”

•The Bermuda Tourism Authority is hosting the launch of the mission today at 5.30pm at the BUEI’s Tradewinds Auditorium. Tickets are complimentary but there are limited spaces available. For more information call 294-0204 or visit BUEI’s gift shop.