A recent AP release read on MSNBC goes on to describe ocean exploration at its finest moment – where 17,650 species have been discovered living below 656 feet, the point where sunlight ceases, according to a recent update on a 10-year census of marine life.
The process of biological discovery such as this defines the promise that ocean exploration holds for humanity. These far reaches of our planet hold new life…and it is just as alien in nature as finding life on another planet. This life, subject to extremely harsh, by human standards anyway, environmental and physiological pressures are uniquely adapted. By understanding these unique adaptations, we can learn more about life on this planet, and beyond.
It is this type of discovery that sparked my interest in diving and exploration to begin with nearly a decade ago. The fact that these alien like species have unique physiological adaptations, means that they likely have body chemistries, or chemical responses to their environment that are not seen elsewhere on Planet Earth. In some instances, these novel chemistries have alternate uses, such as in combating cancer and other human conditions. This field, called natural products discovery, is one with much promise, and the ocean is a truly untapped resource.
The MSNBC article references the expense of deepwater exploration at nearly $50,000 per day. This is naturally the primary obstacle in routine exploration of these ocean depths. However, one might note the focus of the study, that is below 600 feet. One might ask, what about these first 600 feet? Well, the vast majority of benthic marine science as we know it has taken place in the first 100 to 200 feet of water, due to limits placed on wet manned diving.
Today, new innovations in technologies AND techniques for deeper manned excursions are making it cost effective to study depths in excess of 200 feet, and up to 600 feet for scientific exploration. This region of our ocean has been overlooked until relatively recently, and is still not the primary focus of many research programs.
Investigating this area is a priority for me personally, and exposing discoveries such as those mentioned from the deep will be a focal point as expeditions begin to take shape in the coming year and beyond. Taking this next step for science means contributing to filling in a major knowledge gap for our species, and taking us just one small step closer to a symbiosis with the sea that is yet to come.