Research ship on a voyage of discovery in the South Atlantic Ocean

A British research vessel is setting sail on a 9,000-mile expedition in the South Atlantic Ocean to explore unexplored depths and search for unknown species.

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

Sailing under the British government’s Blue Belt program, an international maritime conservation program, scientists aboard Discovery will use underwater cameras to explore hydrothermal vents on the 4,000-meter (13,123 ft) deep seabed.

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

The team plans to encounter a wide range of marine life, including fish such as bloated mice, viper fish, and common fang teeth, which have been identified on previous trips. They also hope to find previously unknown species.

St. 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 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 will 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 Journey to discover the Island of Ascension and Sant'Elena

A whale shark (Martin Collins / PA)

Paul Whomersley, Chief Scientist of Discovery 159, at the Center for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), said: “Globally only about 5% of the oceans have been explored, at a time when they have never been so important to protect them.

“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.

“Using the data collected and expanding our understanding of these biodiverse marine ecosystems, we can directly support the Ascension and St. Helena governments in their work to sustainably manage their vast marine protection zones.”

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

RRS Journey to discover the Island of Ascension and Sant'Elena

A newly hatched green turtle (Paul Whomersley / PA)

The ship contains dry and wet laboratories where scientists can store and analyze collected samples, as well as state-of-the-art sensing equipment such as deep-sea cameras.

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

“It demonstrates how our scientists are among the best in their field and marks a crucial step forward 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 Environment, said: ‘This is the latest example of British science that paves the way for understanding and protecting our oceans for future generations.

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

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