Uniting and activating powerful voices for ocean conservation

Ocean exploration that’s out of this world

Koen Vanstaen –

As humans we take the seas around us for granted. Google searches for “space exploration” are twenty times more popular than “ocean exploration”. Yet, the vast majority of our oceans remain unexplored, with just five per cent mapped in great detail.

The space mission by astronaut Tim Peake during the first part of 2016 attracted the attention of many adults and children in Britain. Out of reach and out of sight, space exploration catches the imagination of humans all over the world and whets our appetite to find out more. So close and accessible to us, the seas around us don’t capture humans’ imagination in the same way.

In my experience our oceans have still so much to reveal. Having spent considerable time at sea over the last 15 years, each survey uncovered natural features, biological communities or shipwrecks society didn’t know existed. In June 2016, the Future of the Ocean Floor Forum brought together world experts in charting the oceans and together they developed a roadmap for comprehensive mapping of the ocean floor. Venus and Mars have almost had their entire surface mapped and over 75 per cent of the land surface of the UK has been surveyed. However, only about 30 per cent of the seas around the UK (and as little as five per cent worldwide) have been surveyed in high resolution using modern methods.

The British Virgin Islands is home to Richard’s beautiful Necker Island and neighbouring Moskito Island. The UK Overseas Territories are known for their unique environment and are home to an estimated 90 per cent of the biodiversity found within the UK. The BVI is also known as “the sailing capital of the world” – a prime tourist destination – welcoming some of the biggest cruise ships and highly dependent on shipping for the import of food and goods. Despite this, the seas around the BVI have never been surveyed using modern methods and the most recent survey can date back to the 1850s. In 2014, Cefas, the UK Hydrographic Office and the National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands undertook the first high resolution seabed survey using modern mapping methods.

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