Deep-sea research: Seychellois marine biologist wins National Geographic Society grant
Talma will become a member of the Society's global community of National Geographic Explorers. (Sheena Talma)
Sheena Talma has become the first Seychellois scientist to win a National Geographic Society grant to conduct research in the waters of Seychelles.
In her research, Talma seeks to bridge and close gaps in data relating to Seychelles and the Indian Ocean's deep waters and their habitats.
She told SNA via telephone that when she learned that her application had been accepted, she "was hugely surprised, as I didn't think that I qualified to be part of such a prestigious society.
"I hadn't heard of anyone from Seychelles having received one before. I applied on a whim, hoping for the best. I am very excited and I would like other Seychellois to see that they can also get a National Geographic Society grant as sometimes all you need is for one person to get in," said Talma.
|Talma was part of the crew in a deep-sea expedition organised by the Nekton Foundation. (Sheena Talma) Photo License: All Rights Reserved|
In 2019, the marine biologist was part of the crew in a deep-sea expedition organised by the Nekton Foundation, where she has been working as a consultant for the past couple of years.
She said the project she is embarking on will hopefully complement existing data derived from the Nekton Mission's First Descent expedition and the ongoing marine spatial planning work being conducted in Seychelles, an archipelago in the western Indian Ocean.
"In Seychelles, more than 70 percent of our waters are deep sea and we don't really even know what lives in the depths of our ocean," said Talma.
In her project application submitted in 2021, Talma outlined that there is a lack of data about the deep waters of Seychelles and that of the Indian Ocean, as well as their habitats.
Talma seeks to close this gap by collecting data from the ocean depths up to 1,500 meters. The project will help shed light on the composition and characteristics of the deep-sea habitats within the Indian Ocean, especially in Seychelles. This area is known for its high biodiversity and fishing prevalence.
|Talma said that most deep-sea works are currently undertaken by researchers from high-income countries as they can afford the equipment and ship time. (Sheena Talma) Photo License: All Rights Reserved|
The lack of data on the composition of Seychelles' deep waters, their habitats and marine life is one of the reasons why they are not included in national policies and conservation efforts, she said.
Talma said that most deep-sea works are currently undertaken by researchers from high-income countries as they can afford the equipment and ship time. Meanwhile, her ambitious project will bring together a group of partners that will use affordable deep-sea technology. Together they seek to make the collected data accessible to interested parties, "so that in future we can better understand and incorporate deep-sea management into our marine conservation policies."
"One of the partnering organisations is the Ocean Discovery League and they have a camera that can go down to 1,500 metres. It is a prototype which means that we are testing it. For the past couple of months, we have been trying to source additional equipment. We fundraised additional funding that will help us get equipment that will be used to light up the deep waters. We are trying to source a beacon at the moment," said Talma.
Data and photographs collected through the project will be used to produce a local film as well as a week-long exhibition that the public will be able to view at the National History Museum in Victoria.
In addition to receiving the grant from the National Geographic Society – which is headquartered in Washington, United States - Talma will become a member of the Society's global community of National Geographic Explorers and will be offered unique opportunities for training, networking, coaching, mentorship, and more.
Talma was also the first Seychellois to be accepted on the Mandela Rhodes scholarship programme in 2017 in the US, where she completed her Masters of Science in the field of ichthyology and fisheries science.