‘We are running out of excuses, time’ – Seychelles president’s plea for protection of oceans in underwater speech


Desroches
Island – In a striking speech delivered from deep below the ocean’s surface,
the Seychelles president on Sunday made a global plea for stronger protection
of the “beating blue heart of our planet”.

President Danny Faure’s call for
action, the first ever live speech from an underwater submersible, came from
one of the many island nations threatened by global warming.

He spoke during a visit to an
ambitious British-led science expedition exploring the Indian Ocean depths.
Oceans cover over two-thirds of the world’s surface but remain, for the most
part, uncharted. We have better maps of Mars than we do of the ocean floor,
Faure said.

“This issue is bigger than
all of us, and we cannot wait for the next generation to solve it. We are
running out of excuses to not take action, and running out of time,” the
president said from a manned submersible 121 metres below the waves, on the
seabed off the outer islands of the African nation.

Wearing a Seychelles T-shirt and
shorts, the president told The Associated Press after his speech that the
experience was “so, so cool. What biodiversity.” It made him more
determined than ever to speak out for marine protection, he said. “We just
need to do what needs to be done. The scientists have spoken.”

The oceans’ role in regulating
climate and the threats they face are underestimated by many, even though as
Faure pointed out they generate “half of the oxygen we breathe”.
Scientific missions are crucial in taking stock of underwater ecosystems’
health.

Vulnerable small island nations

Small island nations are among
the most vulnerable to sea level rise caused by climate change, and some have
found creative ways to express their concerns. Faure’s speech came a decade
after members of the Maldives’ Cabinet donned scuba gear and used hand signals
at an underwater meeting highlighting global warming’s threat to the
lowest-lying nation on earth.

Land erosion, dying coral reefs
and the increased frequency of extreme weather events threaten such countries’
existence.

During the expedition, marine
scientists from the University of Oxford have surveyed underwater life, mapped
large areas of the sea floor and gone deep with manned submersibles and
underwater drones.

Little is known about the watery
world below depths of 30 metres, the limit to which a normal scuba diver can
go. Operating down to 500 metres, the scientists were the first to explore
areas of great diversity where sunlight weakens and the deep ocean begins.

By the end of the mission,
researchers expect to have conducted over 300 deployments, collected around 1 400
samples and 16 terabytes of data and surveyed about 30 square kilometres of
seabed, using high-resolution multi-beam sonar equipment.

The data will be used to help the
Seychelles expand its policy of protecting almost a third of its national
waters by 2020. The initiative is important for the country’s “blue
economy”, an attempt to balance development needs with those of the
environment.

“From this depth, I can see
the incredible wildlife that needs our protection, and the consequences of
damaging this huge ecosystem that has existed for millennia,” Faure said
in his speech. “Over the years, we have created these problems. We can
solve them.”

Conservation treaty

Currently, only about 5% of the
world’s oceans are protected. Countries have agreed to increase the area to 10%
by 2020. But experts and environmental campaigners say between 30% and 50% of
the oceans outside nations’ territorial waters should get protected status to
ensure marine biodiversity.

Researchers hope their findings
also will inform ongoing United Nations talks aimed at forging the first high
seas conservation treaty, scheduled to conclude this year.

Environmental groups argue an
international treaty is urgently needed because climate change, overfishing and
efforts to mine the seabed for precious minerals are putting unsustainable
pressure on marine life that could have devastating consequences for creatures
on land as well.

Oceans will be one of the seven
main themes of this year’s UN climate summit in Chile in December.

While scientists with the Nekton
mission are nearing the end of their expedition, much of their work is just
beginning. In the next few months, researchers at Oxford will analyse the
samples and video surveys and put them together with environmental data.

“When we pull them together
we can understand not just what we see in the areas that we’ve visited, but what
we might expect in other regions in the Seychelles,” said Lucy Woodall,
the mission’s chief scientist.

This is the first of a half-dozen
regions the mission plans to explore before the end of 2022, when scientists
will present their research at a summit on the state of the Indian Ocean.
Billions of people live along the ocean’s shores in Africa and Asia.

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Publish date : 2019-04-16 06:09:37

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