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By Associated Press
BREMEVERHAVEN, Germany ̵
The expedition will plunge into one of Earth's last major unexplored borders, a vast body of water that is already feeling the effects of global warming. Understanding the Indian Ocean ecosystem is important not only to the species living in it, but also to the estimated 2.5 billion people living in the region – from East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, South and Southeast Asia.
The Nekton Mission, supported by over 40 organizations, will conduct more dives in other parts of the Indian Ocean for three years. The research will contribute to a summit on the state of the Indian Ocean scheduled for late 2021.
The Ocean Zephyr prepares to leave Bremerhaven on the first leg of the journey. Researchers will spend seven weeks surveying the underwater world, mapping the ocean floor, and mapping sensors down to depths of up to 6,560 feet in the seas around the Seychelles.
Little is known about the water world below 100 feet, which scientists from Britain and the Seychelles will explore in March and April with two manned submarines and a remote-controlled submersible.
Ronny Jumeau, Ambassador of Seychelles to the United States said that such research was crucial to help the island nation understand its vast marine area.
While the country's 115 islands together make up only 176 square miles of land – roughly the same as San Antonio, Texas – its exclusive economic zone extends to 540 million square miles of ocean, an area almost as tall as Alaska.
Jumeau said the Seychelles are seeking leadership in developing a "blue economy" based on the ocean's resource. The archipelago relies on fishing and tourism, but has recently been exploring the possibility of extracting oil and gas under the seabed.
The island nation with less than 100,000 inhabitants is already feeling the effects of climate change with rising water temperatures that bleach its coral reefs.
"Our ocean is undergoing rapid ecological transformation through human activity," said Callum Roberts, a marine biologist at the University of York, England, who is a trustee of the mission. "Seychelles is an important beacon for the protection of the oceans in the Indian Ocean and worldwide."
The Mission's chief scientist, Lucy Woodall of Oxford University, said researchers expect dozens of new species, from coral and sponges to larger creatures such as shark species.