Diving extremes for Dunbeg scientists

A Tritonia diver using fluorescence photography to identify coral recovery in the Indian Ocean.

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A Dunbeg diving company called Tritonia Scientific has been contracted to study coral reefs in the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean – but before you get too jealous, they then have to research seaweed at the bottom the freezing Antarctic.

The two scientific diving projects will investigate the world’s temperature extremes, first in the Indian Ocean where the water is often warmer than 30 °C, and then an expedition to South Georgia where, even in the austral summer, air and seawater temperatures are rarely much above zero.

Dr Martin Sayer, managing director of Tritonia Scientific, said: ‘These two contracts capture the range of scientific diving knowledge and experience contained within the company. Since establishing the business in 2018 we have maintained support for academic research at levels similar to when we operated as the UK National Facility for Scientific Diving. As we enter the UN’s Ocean Decade, we recognise the essential contribution that scientific diving makes to supporting global marine science.’

The first contract, a collaborative programme run by the Zoological Society of London and the Bertarelli Foundation, brings together experts to research and improve understanding of how best to protect the ocean.

The diving supported by Tritonia is concerned with the health of coral reef systems in the region, and involves investigating how different reef types are contending with climate-driven changes. The coral reefs have been affected badly by a series of bleaching events over a 20-year period, caused by rising sea temperatures, and research is concentrated on examining their recovery and ongoing resilience.

Rachel Jones, the programme manager for the Bertarelli Marine Science Programme at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), said: ‘ZSL coordinates a complex programme of science at sites that are remote and challenging but also some of the most fascinating places in the Indian Ocean for studying coral reefs, sharks, seabirds and turtles. Our work focuses on delivering science in support of one the world’s biggest Marine Protected Areas.’

A typical seaweed ecosystem found in South Georgia (courtesy of the Falklands Shallow Marine Surveys Group).

Environmental change is also a central theme of the diving expedition to South Georgia, led by the Natural History Museum. This will be the first major field expedition to understand seaweed diversity and distribution around South Georgia. Seaweed-dominated ecosystems constitute a huge proportion of South Georgia’s unique and charismatic marine biodiversity, but they are also highly vulnerable.

Professor Juliet Brodie, project leader for the Natural History Museum, said: ‘Documenting the diversity of these seaweeds is vital for managing these habitats yet we have almost no knowledge of the species or their relationships with related areas. It is logistically difficult and challenging to undertake the work necessary to fill this knowledge gap. This baseline, including molecular-assisted identification, will develop tools for future monitoring and protection.’