From space, Earth is an azure globe festooned with wispy white clouds. It’s no wonder that British inventor, undersea explorer, and science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke once observed, “How inappropriate to call this planet Earth, when it is clearly ocean.” Now scientists are diving (literally!) into one of the planet’s last frontiers.
Scientists say about 71% of the Earth’s surface is water. In a new project, scientists will embark on a years-long mission. It will take them into the Indian Ocean, the world’s third largest body of water. They have much to learn. Only about five percent of the sea has been explored.
Of course, God knows what’s over, under, and inside every ocean and landmass on Earth . . . and beyond. Surely if the heavens and skies declare His glory and power (Psalm 19:1), the seas do too!
Understanding the Indian Ocean’s ecosystem is important not only for the plants and animals that live in it but also for an estimated 2.5 billion people living along its coasts. Those areas include East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Southeast Asia, and Australia.
First Descent is a series of expeditions. They will take place over three years. Researchers will survey underwater life, map the sea floor, and drop sensors to depths of over a mile. They will use artificial intelligence, big data, and new technology in an effort to discover and understand new species, from corals and sponges to larger creatures like types of dog-sharks.
Much of the First Descent research will take place in the Seychelles. That is a country made up of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean. If you put all of its islands together, Seychelles would be about the size of San Antonio, Texas. However, the ocean area in which the country can explore and use resources covers about 540 million square miles. (The entire United States is only about 3.5 million square miles!)
Ronald Jumeau is the Seychelles’ ambassador to the United Nations. He calls First Descent’s research vital to helping the island nation understand its ocean territory. “Key to this is knowing not only what you have in the ocean around you, but where it is and what is its value,” Jumeau says. “It is only when you know this that you can properly decide what to exploit and what to protect and leave untouched.”
From surface to seafloor in the Indian Ocean is approximately five miles—so this sea adventure will be a very deep dive.