The Maldives’ “Trapping Zone” environment, which was discovered, has created a haven for life

Researchers from the University of Oxford and the Nekton Maldives Mission have discovered evidence of an ecosystem known as “The Trapping Zone” that is fostering an oasis of life 500 metres beneath the surface of the Indian Ocean. The Maldives government has welcomed the discovery as being of the utmost importance. In this area, predators like sharks and other large fish feed on swarms of tiny organisms known as micro-nekton, according to sonar mapping, biological samples, and video evidence from the Omega Seamaster II submersible’s nekton scientific cameras.

These aquatic creatures can swim against the current and often migrate from the deep water to the surface at night before returning to the depths in the morning (known as The Vertical Migration). However, at 500 metres, the micro-nekton in this region get pinned up against the subaqueous terrain.

The Maldivian atolls’ volcanic subsea layers and fossilised carbonate reefs combine high vertical cliffs and shelving terraces. These seem to be the cause of these animals’ inability to dive further when the sun rises.

Huge pelagic predators such as schools of tuna, sharks, and well-known, large deep-water fish like the spiky oreo (called after the biscuit) and alfonsino subsequently go after the trapped animals. The mission recorded tiger sharks, gill sharks, sand tiger sharks, dogfish, gulper sharks, scalloped hammerhead sharks, silky sharks, and the extremely rare bramble shark.

Both the geography and the marine organisms in the ocean define marine ecosystems. Professor Alex Rogers (University of Oxford), who has spent more than 30 hours down in the mission’s submersibles watching The Trapping Zone during the voyage, said “This has all the markers of a separate new ecosystem.”

The Maldives are becoming a haven for life thanks to the Trapping Zone, and it’s very conceivable that other oceanic islands and the sides of continents will also have it.

According to Lucy Woodall, Principal Scientist at Nekton and Associate Professor of Marine Biology at the University of Oxford, “At this point, we’re particularly curious as to why this is happening. Does this life go any deeper, is this something that is special to 500 metres, what is this transition, what is there, and why? The crucial question that needs to be asked next is that. Why are we experiencing the patterns that this trip has revealed? We will be able to comprehend the deep ocean much better as a result of this.”Even though a trapping effect has been related to biodiversity hotspots on subsea mountains or seamounts, it has not yet been connected to the unique geomorphology and biological characteristics of oceanic islands like the Maldives. In the Maldives, Oxford, the UK headquarters of Nekton, and other partner laboratories, analysis of the video and biological data is currently underway. The discovery may have significant ramifications for managing sustainable fisheries, burying and storing carbon, managing slopes of continents, other oceanic islands, and ultimately mitigating climate change.President of the Maldives H.E Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, says that “the discovery of The Trapping Zone and the oasis of life in the depths surrounding the Maldives provides us with critical new knowledge that further supports our conservation commitments and sustainable ocean management, and almost certainly support fisheries and tourism.”The Nekton Maldives Mission is organised and run by Nekton, a non-profit research organisation with offices in Oxford’s Begbroke Science Park. Along with a dozen local groups and a global alliance of technology, philanthropic, media, and scientific partners, the mission is a collaboration between the Government of the Maldives, Nekton, and the University of Oxford. The first comprehensive study of ocean life in the Maldives will be carried out, from the surface to 1,000 metres below the surface, with the aim of informing conservation and sustainable development policy. Almost nothing about what was below 30 metres deep in this area was known before the mission.

According to Oliver Steeds, CEO and Mission Director of Nekton “With all data and biological samples owned by and vested in the Maldives, the Maldives Mission was developed in collaboration with our Maldivian colleagues to address national concerns. Our research team from the University of Oxford serves as the foundation for Nekton’s scientific leadership, and it is this scientific partnership between Oxford and the Maldives that is key to the mission’s success and long-term effects.”

The mission sailed on September 4 and spent 34 days at sea. Other findings so far from the mission include:

Terracing and wave erosion at depths of 122 metres, 101 metres, 94 metres, 84 metres, and 55 metres revealed evidence of various beach lines from sea level rise during the previous 20,000 years since the end of the last glacial maximum.

Coral reefs: To help guide the Maldives Government’s conservation and management policies, the mission thoroughly mapped, surveyed, and determined the location, health, and resilience of coral reefs in six key areas. The Maldives’ reefs are vital to life and aid in minimising the effects of storm frequency and severity increases as well as sea level rise brought on by climate change.

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