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Seychelles president in underwater speech pleads to protect world's oceans from climate change

President Danny Faure's call, the first-ever live speech from an underwater submersible, came from an island nation threatened by global warming

Danny Faure, president of the Seychelles, addresses the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit September 24, 2018. AFP
Danny Faure, president of the Seychelles, addresses the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit September 24, 2018. AFP

In a striking speech delivered from deep below the ocean's surface, the Seychelles president on Sunday made a global plea for stronger protection of the "beating blue heart of our planet".

President Danny 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. Oceans cover over 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, Mr 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 manned submersible 121 metres below the waves, on the seabed off the outer islands of the African nation.

Wearing a Seychelles T-shirt and shorts, the president said 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 Mr Faure pointed out they generate "half of the oxygen we breathe." Scientific missions are crucial in taking stock of underwater ecosystems' health.

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 expedition, marine scientists from the University of Oxford have surveyed underwater life, mapped large areas of the sea floor and gone deep with manned submersibles and underwater drones.

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

By the end of the mission, researchers expect to have conducted over 300 expeditions, collected around 1,400 samples and 16 terabytes of data and surveyed about 25,000 square metres of seabed using high-resolution multi-beam sonar equipment.

The data will be used to help the Seychelles expand its policy of protecting almost a third of its national waters by 2020. 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," Mr Faure said. "Over the years, we have created these problems. We can solve them."

Only about 5 per cent of the world's oceans are protected. Countries have agreed to increase the area to 10 per cent by 2020. But experts and environmental campaigners say between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of the oceans outside nations' territorial waters should get protected status to ensure marine biodiversity.

Updated: April 14, 2019 02:49 PM

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