Paralenz Teams Up with Nekton Mission to Map Deep Reefs

2/10/2020

Nekton just announced their upcoming expedition “First Descent: Midnight Zone”. It is one of a series of expeditions that Nekton are carrying out across the Indian Ocean documenting changes beneath the waves in a bid to catalyze 30% protection by 2030. Paralenz is involved again, providing cameras to help collect ocean data.

Read our recap about the previous expedition in this series, “First Descent: Seychelles”.

It’s a lofty goal, but achieving it seems ever-more crucial as our ocean struggle in the face of ongoing environmental challenges: Nekton, an independent, non-profit research institute based in Oxford, U.K., aims to support the protection of at least 30 percent of the ocean by 2030. Nekton’s scientific goal is to gather critical scientific data about the health of the ocean to inform and galvanize conservation action. And that’s where Paralenz comes in.

In March 2019, Paralenz joined the 48-day Nekton expedition ‘First Descent: Seychelles’ to help image, map and generate scientific datasets of the reefs around the Seychelles Islands. Very little research has been conducted in the Indian Ocean and one of the goals of Nekton’s Indian Ocean Mission which consists of 3 expeditions (one of which was Seychelles), which runs until October 2020, is to change that. So little is known about the state of the Indian Ocean, in fact, that this area of our seas has become known as the “Forlorn Ocean” in scientific literature.

“First Descent is a series of expeditions combining innovations in technology, AI, big data and communications, in a bold bid to accelerate the scientific exploration and conservation of the Indian Ocean, the world’s least explored and least-protected ocean,” says Dr. Paris Stefanoudis, a postdoctoral marine biologist with Nekton Oxford Deep Ocean Research Institute. 

“The Seychelles are a beacon for marine conservation in the Indian Ocean and globally,” he says. “There is an urgent need to support the successful implementation of 30 percent protection of Seychelles Exclusive Economic Zone by 2020 and support Seychelles to develop critical skills and capacity to support their long-term conservation goals. This area ecologically distinctive, with a number of species unique to the region, including the world’s largest population of giant tortoises at Aldabra.”

The expedition saw Nekton’s team undertake over 100 deep descents, focusing on the area from 650 to 9,800 feet (10 – 450m), into the Bathyal Zone. One of the expedition’s key aims is to develop local research expertise and to add to the collective body of knowledge when it comes to protecting these vital environments. Nekton and its partners hope the data can help underpin the Seychelles’ commitment to protect 30 percent of its 529,000 m2 (1.37 million km2) of national waters by 2020, an area equivalent in size to twice the UK. 

“Our multi-disciplinary research investigates biological systems and their physical and chemical environment enabling us to improve our understanding of the patterns of biodiversity, their environmental drivers and the impacts of human activities on these ecosystems,” says Stefanoudis.

During the course of the Seychelles expedition, researchers completed 15.5 miles (25 kilometers) of visual transects at six depths, from 30 to 1,475 feet (10 to 450 m) and generated 30,000 square miles (77,777 km2) of high-resolution 3D seabed maps.

Role of the Paralenz

Paralenz dive cameras were essential in terms of recording the massive quantities of data collected on the mission. 

“The Paralenz cameras were used to record underwater habitats ranging from 30 to 820 feet (10 to 250 m),” says Stefanoudis. “The video data will enable us to monitor changes of coral and fish faunas across depth and location and assess the effect of human impacts in these remote locations.”

In terms of findings, Stefanoudis was effusive. The Seychelles expedition has been very successful,” he says. “We believe we have found evidence near several coral islands of a so-called rariphotic zone, or “rare light zone,” located between 427 and 984 feet (130 and 300 meters). The rariphotic zone has been shown in a number of papers in the Atlantic and Caribbean but has never previously been shown in the Indian Ocean. However, it will take months of analysis to confirm the discovery.”

Stefanoudis hopes the discoveries will help create a new baseline for data regarding marine life and ocean health in the Seychelles. “All data is being given freely and open-sourced to the Seychelles government,” he says. Through collaborations with Seychellois and other international research centers, we aim to fast-track the analysis of the data and generate peer-reviewed, open-access publications and reports that will help marine managers, conservationists, and policy-makers alike to make informed decisions about the sustainable use and management of their ocean territory.”

Read more about Nekton First Descent: Seychelles here and about First Descent: Midnight Zone here.

Written by Rebecca Strauss

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