Insight | First Descent


First Descent


Nekton Mission CEO Oliver Steeds explains how our ground-breaking satellite connectivity is helping to speed up marine data transfer and accelerate global efforts to improve the sustainability or our oceans.

“Citizens of the world…. …. We are running out of excuses to not take action and running out of time….The time to act is now”.

April 2019. President Danny Faure of Seychelles was hundreds of feet below the ocean’s surface in a two-person research submersible on Nekton’s First Descent mission broadcasting from our vessel, via Inmarsat’s satellite network, live to the world. It was the first subsea Presidential address and became the biggest news story of the day globally.

We launched Nekton in 2016 by bringing scientists and journalists together with a shared purpose: to work for and with ocean nations – to explore and protect their sea.

Our missions combine inspirational storytelling with applied research to gather actionable data to inform the designation of new marine protected areas. Our goal is to help catalyse action towards protecting at least 30% of the global ocean by 2030 – an essential requirement to ensure a healthy, resilient and prosperous ocean.

Discover how Inmarsat space technology enabled the Nekton First Descent mission to share groundbreaking and breathtaking images from the deep ocean with live audiences around the world.

Having begun in Bermuda and the North-west Atlantic, since 2018 we are now focused on the Western Indian Ocean (WIO), beginning with Seychelles. The region is home to 240million people, rising to 1 billion in the coming decades and covers 8% of the global ocean. A prosperous and resilient Western Indian Ocean is essential to ensure sustainable economic growth, to enhance food security and to strengthen resilience to climate change consequences.

Beyond their astonishing scientific research capability, the transparent pressure spheres of the two Triton submersibles we utilise have another important quality. We can witness people in the deep. In partnership with Sonardyne, supported by news agency partner - Associated Press, media partner - Sky and powered by Inmarsat’s satellite network and hardware from Cobham, we developed a new wireless underwater transmission system to enable the world’s first live subsea submersible broadcasts.

Together, First Descent was broadcast live to a global audience of millions. The first live subsea newscasts and documentary series were carried on the airwaves in 121 countries. Live lessons were conducted by scientists, subsea engineers and submersible pilots on the Mission’s mothership to school children globally.

Our pioneering collaboration has been recognised globally with multiple awards including from the Royal Television Society, the IBC for broadcast innovation, Boat International’s Ocean Awards for public engagement and a BETT Award for Submarine STEM, our educational programme.

But recognising the challenges that our ocean, and our planet and humanity faces, these events are just small ripples and we need to go far further and far faster.

Many low- and middle-income, along with small and developing ocean nations, are unable to address pressing ocean-climate challenges, or achieve their national ambitions to support global targets for a sustainable ocean that underpins their lives and livelihoods.

As we have done in Seychelles and now underway with the Maldives, the first step is for international organisations like ours, is to be invited to work with, and for ocean nations. This ensures that host nations co-develop and co-deliver the outcomes based on national priorities. Marine scientists, conservationists, fishers, storytellers and policy makers are hard wired into all aspects to build on local skills, indigenous knowledge and access to technology so they can lead the protection and sustainable governance of their own ocean.

Not only does this help overturn inequity and disparity but it provides the foundation for long-term sustainable governance and achieves specific goals that meet local economic, political and cultural needs.

Whilst our host nation partners, scientists, policy-makers and Heads of State participate in all aspects of the missions, we need to go further to ensure that these journeys of scientific discovery are not journeys by a few, but journeys shared with many.

On our forthcoming missions with the Maldives and onto the High Seas in the Western Indian Ocean, we are planning on pushing the boundaries of live transmission far further.

Telepresence has been used for many years with remotely operated vehicles to allow scientists to join the live exploration of the ocean simultaneously from their institutes and laboratories around the world. We can now do this with submersibles and combine the human presence in the deep sea to engage and empower far greater scientific and public involvement in these journeys of discovery.

As we are all aware, the ocean is experiencing radical, rapid and transformative change. From a data perspective, governments, academia, industry and civil society organisations need access to ocean data that is current and applicable to inform more rapid decision on the sustainable governance and management of the ocean.

Currently, the majority of marine data is gathered during complex marine research cruises or through remote sensing, ocean observing systems and the use of other data collection systems. The analysis of the data can then take many months, or more often years, before being published.

By that point, the data may be less relevant and with less application. This is the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development and one of the key challenges the marine research, ocean management and conservation communities must address is to find innovative ways to accelerate the analysis and publication of ocean data to address global needs.

On our forthcoming missions and in partnership with Inmarsat and using their ground-breaking technology, we are going to transmit specific data-sets from the High Seas – including related to water chemistry and geophysics (multibeam) - using a new data transfer system – Fleet Data - that has not previously been utilised for marine science.

These datasets will be made available to marine scientists internationally to participate in a virtual Hackathon. Their task will be to interrogate and analyse the data, draw conclusions and then publish within a two week period.

To make a difference, we need to do things differently. Our hope is that this initial pilot project can provide a pathway to scale up marine data-transfer and be a catalyst for more marine data to be open-sourced for more rapid analysis and publication. If we can achieve this, we can help to accelerate global efforts to improve the sustainable management and governance of the ocean.

It will, in many ways, be pure exploration. No one has done this before and so we will be making it up as we go along. We need inspired partners to join us and make it all happen. Please do get in touch if you would like to join us on this journey into the unknown.

Inmarsat Fleet Xpress, the world’s leading high-speed maritime broadband service, has once more been chosen by the deep ocean research institute, Nekton, to provide the connectivity backbone enabling images captured from the floor of the Indian Ocean to be transmitted to audiences worldwide. Inmarsat’s maritime IoT platform Fleet Data will be used for the first-ever transmission of water chemistry and Geophysics data sets to international research institutes for a unique virtual ‘hackathon’. 

About the author

Oliver Steeds is the CEO and Mission Director of Nekton, a charitable foundation with a mission to explore and protect the ocean. First Descent aims to conclude with a regional Western and Central Indian Ocean to galvanise 30% regional ocean protection.