Sky to broadcast first live TV news coverage of underwater world

23 January 2019, 22:56 | Updated: 24 January 2019, 10:08

Sky News is to broadcast the first live TV news bulletins from under the sea to draw attention to the plight of the world's oceans.

Working with scientists from the Nekton mission we will use small submarines to descend past coral gardens into the dimly lit and little explored 'twilight zone' at a depth of 300m (984ft).

The three one-hour programmes in the Deep Ocean Live series will use pioneering technology to beam live pictures up to the surface.

The dives, announced on the second anniversary of the Sky Ocean Rescue campaign, will take place around Aldabra, one of the world's largest and most remote coral atolls, 600 miles southwest of the Seychelles.

The island is known as the "Galapagos of the Indian Ocean" because it has so many endemic species. The large number of sharks and other predators in the area are a sign of a healthy reef.

But plastic pollution and climate change are major threats.

John Ryley, head of Sky News, said: "Broadcasting pictures from so far under the sea will take our audiences to places no one has been before.

"It's with tremendous excitement but also trepidation that our team will embark on this ambitious project; excitement about uncovering an area of the planet that has yet to be fully explored, trepidation that the scale of the problem may be even greater than we fear it to be."

The ocean covers more than 70% of the planet, yet less than 5% has been explored. We have better maps of Mars than we do of the seabed.

While shallow waters have been catalogued by scuba divers, the depths below 40m are rarely visited.

Oliver Steeds, the Nekton mission director, told Sky News: "I think we have been looking up when we should have been looking down.

"We have had this great era of space exploration and that has pushed back the frontiers of our knowledge.

"But the deep ocean is the last great frontier, the last great piece of our planet that we still don't know about."

Coral reefs are the most diverse ecosystem on the planet. They cover just 1% of the ocean floor, yet harbour 25% of marine species.

Not only do they support an extraordinary variety of life in the nooks and crannies of the coral, but open water fish are also drawn to the reefs to spawn.

However, global warming is causing catastrophic damage. Just a 1C to 2C rise in water temperature can cause coral to eject the algae it contains, on which it depends for energy. If the conditions persist for as little as four weeks, the coral can die.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently warned that even if global action to limit greenhouse gases succeeds in keeping the rise in the Earth's temperature to 2C, 99% of shallow reefs will die.

Without coral, the fish and so much other life will disappear.

Paris Stefanoudis, Nekton mission scientist, said researchers are racing to document species before it is too late, adding: "This change is happening very quickly.

"Over the last 50 years coral reefs have experienced change they have not experienced for thousands of years.

"So we are in a rush to have baseline information of coral reefs so we understand how they will change in future."

Aldabra is on the edge of the Indian Ocean gyre, a rotating mass of water that draws in huge amounts of plastic rubbish from as far away as southeast Asia. Several tonnes of debris have washed up on the island.

The government of the Seychelles, which is collaborating with the mission, recently set aside an area of its territorial waters as a marine conservation zone. Aldabra is within the protected area.

The president, Danny Faure, is positioning the island nation as a world leader on ocean governance.

:: Sky's Ocean Rescue campaign encourages people to reduce their single-use plastics. You can find out more about the campaign and how to get involved at www.skyoceanrescue.com