Two Maldivian women will make history as part of a ten-strong science team from the Indian Ocean nation, when they join an international science mission and venture deep into the waters off their homeland to discover exactly what needs to be done to ensure their country remains habitable in the face of global warming.
The Nekton Maldives Mission set sail on September 4th to undertake the first systematic survey and sampling of the ocean surrounding the Maldives from the surface to 1000 meters/3,281 feet below sea level.
Almost nothing is known about what lies beneath 30 meters/98 feet, so the women and their colleagues will literally be entering uncharted waters. The mission is a joint endeavor by UK marine research institute Nekton and the Maldivian Government.
Four of the 10 Maldivian scientists taking part are women.
Shafiya Naeem, director general of the Maldives Marine Research Institute who is leading the Maldives scientists on the mission and Farah Amjad, a research assistant to the Nekton Maldives Mission have been named in the crews of the Nekton mission’s first descent. They will join submersible pilot Kimly Do.
Naeem, whose research is focused on aquatic animal health, explained:
“Our objective during our submersible dives is to discover and better understand what our waters contain, so we can begin to protect what lives there and safeguard the environment more meaningfully. We have 40 shark and 18 ray species at the apex of the food chain in our ocean and for the first time we’ll be able to identify their relative abundance at depth – which is a critical indicator to determine ocean health.”
At depths around 120 meters/394 feet, the scientists expect to locate the old beach line from 20,000 years ago when sea levels rose following ice melt from the Last Glacial Maximum. Part of their mission is to investigate how ocean life has adapted to rising sea levels.
According to Amjad, whose research is focused on reef rehabilitation and deep sea biodiversity:
“The submersible’s transparent pressure sphere will give the perfect platform for observation, the basis of scientific enquiry. Combined with nearly a dozen cameras for video surveys and advanced technologies for sampling, we’re going to be able to explore and discover immense new parts of the country for the first time.”
And Lucy Woodall, Nekton’s principal scientist and a professor in the Department of Biology at Oxford University who is leading Nekton’s international scientific team, added:
“One of the highlights will be mapping and documenting life on the first seamount in the Northern Indian Ocean, descending down the underwater mountain’s flanks to 1000 meters. We expect to find some strong current whipping around the subsea mountain, which will likely make submersible dives quite challenging.”
Of the 100,000 seamounts above 1000 meters across the global ocean, only 300 have ever been biologically sampled. Maldives’ 34 seamounts are often mentioned in Maldivian folklore, and provide critical breeding grounds for local fisheries such as tuna.
The mission is deploying two of the most advanced human-occupied submersibles, alongside robotic and autonomous systems, and over a dozen research technologies supported by 40 partners — 16 Maldivian and 24 international.
For more about the Maldives mission, go to nektonmission.org.