Research vessel on voyage of discovery in the South Atlantic Ocean

A British research vessel embarks on a 9,000 mile expedition in the South Atlantic Ocean to survey previously unexplored depths and search for unknown species.

The Royal Research Ship (RRS) Discovery is due to depart Southampton, Hampshire, on Thursday for a six-week voyage to the remote British overseas territories of Ascension Island and St Helena.

Sailing as part of the UK government’s Blue Belt program – an international maritime conservation programme, scientists aboard the Discovery will use underwater cameras to explore hydrothermal vents on the 4,000-meter-deep (13,123-foot) seabed ).

RRS Discovery Trip to Ascension Island and Saint Helena

Swollen rattails have been identified on previous trips (Blue Belt Discovery 100/PA expedition)

The team expects to encounter a range of marine animals, including fish such as puffy rattails, viperfish and common toothed fangs, which have been identified on previous trips. They also hope to find previously unknown species.

Saint Helena and Ascension were chosen for the mission as they are home to two of the largest marine protected areas in the world and are home to a variety of species, such as whale sharks, yellowfin tuna, humpback whales and green sea turtles .

The survey will collect data to improve scientific understanding of the unique marine environment.

They will also take water samples to monitor quality and properties and also assess the number of key species for local fisheries to inform sustainable management quotas.

The team will also monitor human activities, such as illegal fishing in protected waters.

RRS Discovery Trip to Ascension Island and Saint Helena

A whale shark (Martin Collins/PA)

Paul Whomersley, chief scientist for Discovery 159, at the Center for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), said: “Only around 5% of the world’s oceans have been explored, at a time when it has never been important that they are protected.

“This latest Discovery Expedition offers a new opportunity to advance scientific understanding of some of the most remote and unexplored ocean areas on our planet.

“By using the data collected and deepening our understanding of these biodiverse marine ecosystems, we can directly support the governments of Ascension and Saint Helena in their work to sustainably manage their vast marine protected areas.”

The team of 50 scientists and crew will spend 60 days at sea aboard the RRS Discovery – a 100-meter-long research vessel weighing 600 tonnes with facilities including a gym, mini cinema and cafeteria.

RRS Discovery Trip to Ascension Island and Saint Helena

A newly hatched green sea turtle (Paul Whomersley/PA)

The ship contains wet and dry labs for scientists to store and analyze collected samples, as well as state-of-the-art survey equipment such as deep-sea cameras.

International Marine Minister Scott Mann said: “This vital expedition is using cutting-edge technology to explore unspoiled areas of the ocean and will potentially discover rare species and habitats, enabling us to protect and enhance our marine biodiversity for the future.

“This demonstrates how our scientists are among the best in their field and marks a crucial step in our mission to protect 30% of our international ocean by 2030, contributing to the global fight against climate change.”

Lord Goldsmith, Minister for Climate and the Environment, said: “This is the latest example of British science paving the way to understanding and protecting our oceans for future generations.

“The knowledge the survey provides will help us understand the abundance of rare species that need our protection and I’m incredibly excited to see what scientists will find.”

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