It amazes me that a programme that has immortalised lecture content from my degree has become the most-watched British television programme of the year. Two years after being totally captivated by Dr Jon Copley’s lecture about the ecology of deep sea hydrothermal vents, whale falls and trenches, he was directly involved in helping the BBC bring these same environments to the public’s attention. As usual, many of the stars of the episode had never been filmed before – a six-gill shark feeding frenzy, the deepest fish ever discovered, and the deepest ever dive in Antarctica. Dr Copley was inspiring enough just talking about scientific theory, but to see him embarking on an adventure to the Antarctic benthos will truly cement a heroic status among marine science students at Southampton – current and future.
Additionally, I was blown away that some of this footage could even be captured. A major reason the world’s largest habitat is understudied is that just getting equipment down to such depths is unbelievably time consuming, expensive, and if submersibles are manned, dangerous. Cables to lower equipment to the deep ocean must be even longer than the depth itself (that’s several kilometres of cable) and winching up and down takes several hours. The ability to capture aesthetically beautiful and detailed footage of organisms here is even more astonishing considering these tremendous bathymetric hurdles.
The deep sea scientists who I have learned from have always highlighted that demand for natural resources has greatly increased the economic incentives for deep sea mining, and so a challenge for the future will be ensuring that any such ventures are sustainable. This is made even more difficult by the minimal knowledge of these habitats. Ancient deep ocean coral reefs being destroyed had greatly concerned me when I learned about them earlier in my degree, and it is heartening to know that this issue has hit the largest audience possible. Being able to communicate science is as important as conducting it, and Blue Planet is doing us a tremendous favour.
I hope that this episode encourages more public engagement with the deep ocean – there is this widespread idea that it is totally isolated from our life on land, but this is not the case. Even with little known about the deep ocean, there is no debate that life there is inextricably intertwined with our world above