Indian Ocean researchers give cyber marine science lessons


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April 13 - Anchored off the Seychelles, scientists from the British-led Nekton Mission are busy exploring the uncharted depths of the Indian Ocean.

They're spending seven weeks surveying marine life and mapping the sea floor by dropping sensors in the seas around Seychelles.

The mission promises a treasure trove of scientific data to inform the Seychelles' government in their task to protect their vast ocean territory.

The 115-island country plans to expand its marine protected area to cover almost a third of its waters by 2020.

But when they're not studying the depths, researchers are taking time out to inspire a next generation of scientists.

Working with education agency Encounter Edu, the Nekton Mission is bringing its story of ambitious discovery and conservation to classrooms around the world.

That includes Sikh faith school Nishkam School in West London. It's over 8,000 kilometres away from the Seychelles and close to the flight path of commercial flights landing at Heathrow Airport.

Today's science class for these pupils aged between eleven and twelve-years-old includes a Q&A with French water chemist Jerome Harlay.

Harlay is working onboard the Nekton Mission's mothership, the Ocean Zephyr.

Schoolchildren write their questions on a piece of paper, which are thne put to Harlay.

One student asks: "What have you discovered?" Another asks: "What was your first discovery, and did you like it?"

As well as learning about Harlay's work, schoolchildren are also being educated about threats facing the world's oceans, including climate change and plastic pollution.

"Climate change is like heating up the glaciers and when they melt, the sea levels can rise by like eight or ten metres. And that could like flood mainlands," says student Arshdeep Sukhija.

"There's been effects around the ocean by fish dying and it's quite sad because in the future there's probably no fish, there's probably not going to be any fish in the ocean, and the people won't even know what fish are," says student Karam Toor.

Over the course of 20 live school broadcasts, the story of Nekton's mission is being brought to over 9,000 students in 16 countries.

This science class included schools in the UK, the US, Spain, Bermuda, Canada and Morocco.

Teacher Nikita Chadha says the interactive experience shows students how they can apply knowledge gained in science classes.

"We don't have a vast range of variety in terms of habitats that we can explore," she says.

"And looking at something like this and speaking to a scientist that's in that area, studying that life, shows them how they can apply the knowledge that they're using and in their classrooms.

"If they are interested in taking science further, how they can apply that and use that."

After the class, students have developed their own ideas on how humans can limit their impact on the oceans.

"I think we should recycle and think a bit more when using plastic and recycling and where it actually goes," says student Karam Toor.

"I hope we'll be fine because otherwise, we've barely discovered anything in the ocean and if all fishes and marine animals get extinct, we wouldn't have really known anything about it," says student Arshdeep Sukhija.

Water chemist Harlay, who works as a senior lecturer at the University of the Seychelles, says it's important for scientists to share their knowledge.

"It's important to share this with youth, to share with them our passion," he says.

"A passion for nature, a passion for natural sciences, so that they understand how life is fragile, and to give them the opportunity to participate in research that can move things forward."

Once the hour-long Q&A is over, students at Nishkam School head to another class and Harlay goes back to work on the Ocean Zephyr.

Thousands of kilometres apart, but connected by a desire to preserve our oceans.

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