New England Aquarium ocean explorer, Dr Greg Stone, is preparing to take a journey back in time, 25 million years, into the unknown depths of a sea that might offer scientists a glimpse as to what the prehistoric oceans were like.
Stone is part of an undersea expedition which will explore the unique Celebes Sea, just south of the Philippines. The Celebes Sea is unlike anywhere else on the planet. With a shallow rim that protects it from deep-running frigid currents, it is one of the only deep ocean areas filled with warmer, life-sustaining water from its surface to its great depths. Scientists believe that most of the Earth's oceans were similar 25 million years ago. The deep waters of the Celebes Sea just might be an ancient, biological time capsule. There has been little exploration of the deeper waters of the Celebes Sea. From September 24 to October 16, a joint expedition of the New England Aquarium, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Geographic Magazine, in cooperation with the Philippine government, will do a top-to-bottom exploration of the twisted trenches and seafloor basins of this strange sea. Operating from a 175 foot research vessel, the scientists will use a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that can descend to 10,000 feet and is also outfitted with HDTV and biological collecting equipment. They will also use baited deep sea cameras and deep sea trawl nets. Dr Stone is a veteran National Geographic expedition leader, yet he exclaimed, 'We expect to make spectacular findings, including discovering new species and capturing images of beautifully strange creatures.'
The Celebes Sea and adjacent waters have more different shallow water species of marine life than any other place on Earth. Dr Stone stated, 'The coral reefs of the Celebes Sea are almost like an underwater rain forest as the variety of shallow water corals, fishes and invertebrates is unlike anywhere in the world.' In fact, the ocean between the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia might be called the 'ancient heart of the sea' as it is the geographic centre for the development and diversity of marine shallow water species. The next logical question for Dr Stone and his colleagues is how many more species are to be found in the unexplored deeper waters.
Why is species diversity so high in this region? During past ice ages, when sea levels dropped hundreds of feet, the Celebes and other nearby seas became isolated ocean pools unaffected by the newly developing deep polar currents. This undisturbed, warm water bath became a prolific incubator for all different kinds of marine life.
This expedition, which is called the Inner Space Speciation Project, is both a hunt for new marine creatures and a search for more understanding on how prehistoric global climate change affected the evolution of life in the sea.
Dr Stone is the Vice-President for Global Marine Programs at the New England Aquarium in Boston and an inveterate ocean explorer and conservationist. He is trained as a marine biologist and is a specialist in undersea technology and exploration, using deep-sea submersibles, undersea habitats and SCUBA diving in all oceans of the world, with over 5,000 dives. Greg has published in leading science journals, including Nature, he has written popular books and articles, and he has produced an award-winning series of marine conservation films. His most recent National Geographic article was on his expedition to study the effects from the Sumatra tsunami on the coral reefs of Thailand. He was recently credited with leading the effort to create the world's third-largest marine protected area around the Phoenix Islands in the country of Kiribati and was named one of the National Geographic Society's Heroes of 2007 for this accomplishment. Dr Stone will be writing a blog while on the expedition.