Seychelles: Deep sea research – Seychellois marine biologist wins National Geographic Society grant

Sheena Talma has become the first Seychellois scientist to win a National Geographic Society grant to conduct research in Seychelles waters.

In her research, Talma seeks to fill and bridge data gaps relating to the Seychelles and Indian Ocean deep waters and their habitats.

She told SNA by telephone that when she learned that her application had been accepted, she “was extremely surprised, as I did not think I was qualified to be part of such a prestigious company.

“I had never heard of anyone from the Seychelles having received one before. I applied on a whim, hoping for the best. I am very excited and would like other Seychellois to see this. ‘They can also get a grant from the National Geographic Society like sometimes all you need is one person to be able to enter,’ Talma said.

In 2019, the marine biologist was part of the crew of a deep-sea expedition organized by the Nekton Foundation, where she has worked as a consultant for two years.

She said the project she is embarking on will hopefully complement existing data from the Nekton mission’s First Descent expedition and ongoing marine spatial planning work in Seychelles, an archipelago in the western Indian Ocean.

“In Seychelles, more than 70% of our waters are deep sea and we don’t even really know what lives in the depths of our ocean,” Talma said.

In his project application submitted in 2021, Talma pointed out that there is a lack of data on the deep waters of the Seychelles and those of the Indian Ocean, as well as their habitats.

Talma seeks to fill this gap by collecting data from ocean depths down to 1,500 meters. The project will help shed light on the composition and characteristics of deep-sea habitats in the Indian Ocean, particularly in the Seychelles. This area is known for its high biodiversity and the prevalence of fishing.

Lack of data on the composition of Seychelles’ deep waters, their habitats and marine life is one of the reasons they are not included in national policies and conservation efforts, she said.

Talma said most deep-sea work is currently undertaken by researchers from high-income countries because they can afford the equipment and ship time. Meanwhile, his ambitious project will bring together a group of partners who will use affordable technology on the high seas. Together, they seek to make the data collected accessible to interested parties, “so that in the future we can better understand and integrate the management of deep waters in our marine conservation policies”.

“One of the partner organizations is the Ocean Discovery League and they have a camera that can go down to 1,500 meters. It’s a prototype, which means we’re testing it. “We have been trying to find additional sources. We have raised additional funds that will help us get equipment that will be used to illuminate deep waters. We are trying to find a beacon at the moment,” Talma said.

Data and photographs collected through the project will be used to produce a local film as well as a week-long exhibit for the public to view at the National History Museum in Victoria.

In addition to receiving the grant from the National Geographic Society – headquartered in Washington, USA – 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, mentoring, and more.

Talma was also the first Seychellois to be accepted into the Mandela Rhodes Fellowship Program in 2017 in the United States, where she obtained her Masters of Science in the field of Ichthyology and Fisheries Science.