Leader in underwater speech urges climate action

  • Apr 15, 2019
  • Taipei Times

In a striking speech delivered from deep below the ocean’s surface, Seychellois President Danny Faure yesterday made a global plea for stronger protection of the “beating blue heart of our planet.”

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, the Nekton Mission.

Oceans more than 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 crewed submersible 121m below the waves, on the seabed off the outer islands of the African nation.

Wearing a Seychelles T-shirt and shorts, the president told reporters 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.”

Small island nations are among the most vulnerable to sea level rise caused by climate change. Land erosion, dying coral reefs and the increased frequency of extreme weather events threaten their existence.

During the seven-week expedition around the Seychelles — the first stop for the three-year Nekton Mission — marine scientists from the University of Oxford have surveyed underwater life, mapped large areas of the sea floor and gone deep with crewed submersibles and underwater drones.

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

By the end of the Seychelles mission, researchers expect to have conducted more than 300 deployments, collected about 1,400 samples and 16 terabytes of data and surveyed about 30km2 of seabed using high-resolution multi-beam sonar equipment.

The data would be used to help the Seychelles expand its policy of protecting almost one-third of its national waters by next year.

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.”

Only about 5 percent of the world’s oceans are protected. Countries have agreed to increase the area to 10 percent by next year.

However, experts and environmental campaigners say 30 and 50 percent of the oceans outside nations’ territorial waters should get protected status to ensure marine biodiversity.

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