Landmark deep-sea mission to boost ocean action

Mar 6 2020 (IPS-Partners)

A deep-sea scientific mission to uncharted depths in the
Maldives and Seychelles will gather valuable data to support the
Commonwealth Blue Charter on ocean action and train local

The newest Commonwealth member country, Maldives, has joined
Seychelles to launch a major joint scientific expedition to
investigate unexplored depths of the Indian Ocean.

The ground-breaking multidisciplinary research mission, known as
Descent: Midnight Zone
’, was officially launched at the
Commonwealth headquarters at Marlborough House.

Led by the UK research institute
, the goal is to boost the sustainable governance of
Seychelles and Maldivian waters, including the protection of
629,000 km2 of ocean.

It supports the
Commonwealth Blue Charter
– a shared commitment by member
countries to protect the ocean from the effects of climate change,
pollution and overfishing.

Minister for Fisheries, Marine Resources and Agriculture of the
Maldives, Zaha Waheed, said: “It is vital to comprehensively
understand what lies beneath our waters in order for us to be
informed enough to take necessary actions towards a healthy and
prosperous ocean.

“This mission will, for the first time, show a glimpse of what
the deep sea features and the biodiversity it holds. It will also
contribute to the wider goal of marine spatial planning and ocean

A 50-person crew will set sail on 16 March, using the world’s
most advanced deep diving submersible, equipped with a suite of
research tools including sensor and mapping technology.

The data they collect will help countries define conservation
and management priorities and map out marine protected areas. It
will also help measure the impact of climate change and human
activity in the area.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said: “We
cannot protect what we don’t know and we cannot govern what we
don’t understand. With 95 per cent of the ocean still unexplored
by humans, we are only just beginning to grasp its profound
influence on life, including its effect on global climate and

“It is pleasing to see the commitments of our Commonwealth
Blue Charter leading to such far-reaching and innovative
science-backed ocean action in, with and for our member

The expedition will focus on undersea mountains or
‘seamounts’ in the Midnight Zone – depths from 1,000 to 4,000
metres, where biodiversity peaks. This zone holds critical
indicators to measure the impact of the climate crisis, fisheries
management, heat absorption, acidification, ocean carbon cycle, and
plastic, agricultural and industrial pollution.

The damage or overexploitation of seamounts can have widespread
consequences on ocean health, food security, and other benefits the
ocean provides, such as the discovery of new medicines.

Principal Secretary at the Ministry of Environment, Energy and
Climate Change of Seychelles, Alain Decormamond said: “Seamounts
form some of the most fascinating and richest locations in our
waters and beyond in the wider Indian Ocean. We are therefore
looking forward to exploring even deeper depths of our ocean to
have a better understanding of natural characteristics and richness
of these locations.”

The mission’s principal scientist Lucy Woodall from the
University of Oxford added: “We find the greatest biomass in the
upper few hundred metres of the ocean, but the peak of biodiversity
is in the greater depths, in the Midnight Zone, from 1,000 to 4,000
metres. That said, less than 300 of 170,000 known major seamounts
found in this zone have been researched to date, and they remain
one of the least researched parts of the ocean.”

Nekton is also working with Commonwealth countries to develop
the tools, skills, knowledge and networks to sustainably manage the
ocean. Seychellois and Maldivian scientists will join the
expedition to conduct pioneering research into their national
waters. This is supported by training programmes, research grants
and fellowships with the University of Oxford.

Seychelles champions the Commonwealth Blue Charter action group
on marine protected areas. To date, 13 countries have stepped
forward to lead on 10 topics they identified as priorities.

For updates on the expedition, visit

For more information about the Commonwealth Blue Charter, visit

Notes to Editor

The Commonwealth Blue Charter
The Commonwealth covers a third of the world’s coastal oceans,
45% of coral reefs and the majority of the world’s big ocean
states and territories. Forty-seven out of our 54 countries have a
coastline, and three of the remaining landlocked states border
great lakes. The
Commonwealth Blue Charter
is a landmark agreement that engages
all 54 Commonwealth countries to commit to actively co-operating to
solve ocean-related problems and meet commitments for sustainable
ocean development. Visit
our website
to learn how to join action groups.

The Seychelles Blue Economy Strategic Roadmap and Plan has been
developed and implemented by the Government of Seychelles in
partnership with the Commonwealth Secretariat. A key component of
this, the Seychelles’ Marine Spatial Plan, is being undertaken in
partnership with The Nature Conservancy. By March 2020 this will
result in the sustainable management of all the Exclusive Economic
Zone including 30% within the newly formed Marine Protected Areas
(445,000 km2 of 1,336,559 km2). The implementing partner for the
expedition is the Ministry for Environment, Energy and Climate
Change. Seychelles champions the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action
Group on Marine Protected Areas.

Maldives Blue Prosperity Programme is being undertaken by the
Government of the Maldives in partnership with the Blue Prosperity
Coalition and the Waitt Institute. The Programme begins in 2020
with a goal of the sustainable management of the Maldivian
Exclusive Economic Zone including a spatial target of at least 20%
within newly formed Marine Protected Areas (184,000km2 of
923,000km2). The implementation partner for the expedition is the
Ministries of Fisheries, Marine Resources and Agriculture. First
Descent: Midnight Zone is the third of four expeditions being
undertaken in Maldives in support of Maldives Blue Prosperity.
#KanduFalhuDhiraasaa and #NooRaajje

First Descent: Midnight Zone
First Descent is a series of missions undertaken by Nekton in
partnership with Governments in the Indian Ocean region. Beginning
in Seychelles in 2019, the Mission concludes with a State of the
Indian Ocean Summit in October 2022 to deliver scientific consensus
on the state of the Indian Ocean and to galvanise 30% protection by
2030. Each mission combines national commitments to ocean
protection, marine spatial planning, applied research to inform
ocean policy, inspirational communications to strengthen the public
support for political action and investments in capacity
development to create a legacy of long-term sustainable ocean
governance. #MidnightZone #First Descent

Seamounts are undersea mountains formed by volcanic activity.
Scientists estimate there are at least 100,000 seamounts higher
than 1,000 meters around the world. Recent estimates suggest that,
taken together, seamounts encompass about 28.8 million square
kilometres – a surface area larger than deserts, tundra, or any
other single land-based global habitat on the planet. Seamounts
attract an abundance of marine life, many of which are endemic to
individual locations. Seamounts are productive fishing grounds for
more than 80 commercial species worldwide.


is an independent not-for-profit research institute
working in collaboration with the University of Oxford and is a UK
registered charity. Nekton’s purpose is to explore and protect
the ocean. Nekton’s missions are supported by a unique alliance
of 40 business, government, academia and civil society partners
uniting behind a common purpose to explore and conserve the ocean.
They include:

• Mission Partners (2): Omega,
Kensington Tours
• Strategic Partners (8): The Commonwealth; Teledyne Marine,
Sonardyne (Official Subsea
• Technology Partners), Caladan Oceanic (Expedition Partner),
Associated Press (Official News Agency Partner), Inmarsat (Official
Satellite Communications Partner), Blue Prosperity Coalition, Waitt
Institute (Maldives Blue Prosperity).
• Collaborating Partners (17): CEFAS (Subsea Research Equipment);
Deep Sea Power and Light, Paralenz, Bowtech (Subsea Camera &
Light Partners); Triton (Submersible Partners); Priavo Security
(Maritime Security); Technicolor, AXA-XL & Encounter EDU
(Education); University of Oxford; Institute of Marine Engineering,
Science & Technology – IMarEST; EYOS Expeditions (Logistics);
Great Campaign (UK Government, Foreign & Commonwealth Office);
Ocean Unite, Helly Hansen (Apparel), IUCN, Project Zero, Sky
• Founding Partners of Nekton (3): AXA-XL, Garfield Weston
Foundation, Kensington Tours.

Blue Prosperity Coalition
Blue Prosperity Coalition
is a global coalition of NGO’s,
academic institutions, and foundations working together to promote
growth and prosperity while empowering sustainable management of
marine resources and ecosystems. The coalition assists committed
governments in developing and implementing sustainable marine
spatial plans to protect the environment and improve the economy at
the same time. Primary members in the Maldives partnership include
Waitt Institute, National Geographic Pristine Seas, Scripps
Institution of Oceanography, and Nekton. #BlueProsperity

Waitt Institute
Established by Gateway, Inc. co-founder Ted Waitt in 1993, the

Waitt Institute
, partners with committed governments to develop
and implement comprehensive, science-based ocean management plans
that benefit both the economy and the environment with the ultimate
goal of sustainable, resilient, and thriving seas that benefit

Digital Newsroom
For additional media materials including b-roll, launch video,
still images, briefing notes and press releases, please visit

Nekton’s digital Newsroom

#commonwealth #bluecharter #nekton, #firstdescent #midnightzone
#seychelles #maldives #oneoceanoneplanet #30×30

Media Contact

Josephine Latu-Sanft
Senior Communications Officer
Communications Division
Commonwealth Secretariat
T. +44 (0)20 7747 6476

Join the conversation Tweets by @commonwealthsec

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Landmark deep-sea mission to boost ocean action
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Landmark deep-sea mission to boost ocean action