Since ages man has been on a mission to explore the mysteries that oceans contain within their depths. Despite unearthing of innumerable findings over the years, much of the ocean secrets have remained unexplored. In a bid to study various aspects of the ocean floor in an integrated framework, India has started working on Deep Ocean Mission, an ambitious project which envisages exploration of minerals, energy and marine diversity of the underwater world among others. It will put India in the company of nations like China, Korea and Germany.
At a time when most of the first world countries have tested their technologies in shallow waters and are yet to start deep-sea extraction, Sunday POST talks to a few scientists to ascertain India’s prospect in this ambitious mission.
Siddhartha Pati, IUCN specialist and Researcher at University of Malaysia, says, “Probably one of the best-known episodes of Indian mythology is Samudra Manthan or the churning of the ocean mentioned in many scriptures like the Mahabharata, Vishnu Purana and Bhagavata Purana. Mythologists such as Georges Dumézil and Jarich Oosten contrasted the churning of the ocean to acquire nectar (amrita) with European myths regarding ambrosia. We look at how the mythological ‘churning of the sea’ is an invitation to focus as an untapped unconscious on the vastness of the ocean, its unlimited potential, its majesty and the opportunity of its life within us.”
He is of the opinion that diseases are changing their characters while new ones emerge due to changing environments. On the other hand, the rapid growth in world population is putting existing resources under tremendous pressure for manufacturing of drugs. This always makes the pharmaceutical companies on the lookout for new resources to develop effective and safe drugs for the increasing demands of the world population, he added.
Siddhartha further explains that 75 per cent of earth’s surface is covered by water but research into the prospect of marine organisms is limited, and most of it still remains unexplored in Odisha.
He continues: “Marine environment represents countless and diverse resources for new drugs to combat major diseases such as cancer or malaria. It also offers an ecological resource comprising a variety of aquatic plants and animals. These aquatic organisms are screened for antibacterial, immunomodulator, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, antimicrobial, neuro-protective, analgesic, and antimalarial properties. They are used for new drug developments extensively across the world. Marine pharmacology offers the scope for research on these drugs of marine origin.”
On the future of India’s ambitious Deep Ocean Mission project, he say, “North-East coast of Odisha is unique due to its extensive riverine systems resulting in high salinity fluctuations and harbours a rich biodiversity. The oceans have thus inspired human exploration for hundreds of years and this project would allow this exploration to be continued to new breadths and depths with all the amazing tools of science.”
According to Siddhartha, highly specialised habitat and unique biodiversity along the coast of Odisha will give an opportunity to explore and utilise the knowledge of biological processes for developing new technologies. The vast marine bio-resource of the state needs to be first conserved and the knowledge base generated from research on this bio-resource needs to be put to optimal use, for betterment of mankind. In this context, The Deep Ocean Mission will definitely serve a great purpose. It will help the people in the local vicinity understand the science in their surroundings; develop newer facilities for development of coastal areas and a lot of advancement for the coast of Odisha, he concludes.
Nabin Dhal, Chief Scientist-Head, CSIR-IMMT, says, “The Deep Ocean Mission would explore ocean resources through innovative technologies for economic growth and development. And India is going to be benefitted by it largely. It would meet the requirements of our country in the field of energy, drugs, extraction of metal values, exploration of natural resources prediction and decision on climate change.
Asked about the role of his organisation, Dhal adds, “CSIR-IMMT is presently working on development of technology for extractive metallurgy of polymetallic nodules, one of the deep sea mineral resources under PMN programme funded by the Ministry of Earth Sciences, Government of India. CSIR-IMMT has carried out the project ‘Drugs from Sea’ under a national programme sponsored by the Ministry of Earth Science, Government of India. In this project the work is carried out mainly on mangroves and marine sponges for search of bioactive compounds. The work components of this project were mainly collection, extraction, fractionation, isolation and study of different biological activities of the extracted, fractionated components of marine samples. And we should explore the ocean resources with respect to sustainable development achievement.”
Bishnu Prasad Dash, Director, R&D, FM University, says, “Two third of earth is covered by the ocean. Humans have explored the living and non-living resources of the land and utilising those for its benefits. Like the land mass the oceans have also valuable biodiversity and mineral deposits. To understand their distribution and functional attributes it is highly desirable to explore it fully. The Deep Ocean Mission has been envisaged to achieve this goal.”
On being asked about how India is going to be benefitted by it, he says “India has bestowed with Bay of Bengal and Arabian sea which have lots of polymetallic nodules and unique plant, animal, microbial diversities. By exploring these India can enrich its resources and which can benefit the huge human population at large. But this can be achieved by developing cutting edge technology and ambitious fruitful missions.
“Odisha has about 480 km coast lines. The special economic zone of the state has valuable resources and valuable biodiversity also. Certain animals like fish, arthropods, molluscs, coelenterates and microbial diversities have been found from the sea having biomedical, biotechnological, ecological values. In the meantime India has already set up the technological facilities and trained human resources to start the mission. The Central government has already sanctioned funds and is going to initiate the project soon. Our technological advancement and trained manpower with international collaboration will help to get the maximum benefit of the proposed mission,” he signs off.
Anil Chatterji, a retired scientist of Biological Oceanography Division, National Institute of Oceanography, says, “Deep Ocean Mission (DOM) is a highly ambitious programme that will help in improving the economy of India. This mission aims at developing technologies to harness minerals in the deep waters and development of autonomous underwater vehicles among others. The mission proposes to explore the deep ocean similar to the space exploration started by ISRO about 35 years ago. The usage of space technology for various activities in India has helped in shaping the national life and development. Through this Mission, we aspire to bring a similar revolution in the usage of ocean science and technology to shape the national life and developmental activities.”
On Odisha’s perspective, Anil says, “The proposed mission will be advantageous to all coastal states of India, including Odisha which is having unique biodiversity. Some of the important coastal and marine eco-systems of Odisha have been neglected but a major change shall be expected soon. Prof. Deenabandhu Sahoo who has recently joined as a vice-chancellor of Fakir Mohan University, Balasore is a renowned marine biologist. His vast experiment and expertise in some of the key areas of marine ecosystem will certainly help in bringing up the image of Odisha to a great extent.”
About Deep Ocean Mission
Indian government has drawn up a five-year plan with a cost of Rs 8000 crore to mine, research and study about the ocean floor that can help in forming solid decision on climate change and develop a desalination plant, powered by tidal energy and a submersible vehicle that can explore depths of at least 6,000 metre. To accomplish this mission, Indian Space Research Organisation has developed the design of a Submersible Capsule capable of travelling up to this depth.
Incredible Ocean facts
- The oceans cover more than 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface
- An incredible 94 per cent of the Earth’s living species exist within the oceans.
- Less than five per cent of the planet’s oceans have been explored.
- Earth’s longest chain of mountains, the Mid-Ocean Ridge, is almost entirely beneath the ocean, stretching across a distance of 65,000 kilometres. It’s said that this mountain chain is less explored than the surface of Venus or Mars.
- There are more historic artefacts under the sea than in all of the world’s museums. Around 1,000 shipwrecks lie off the Florida Keys alone.
- According to the World Register of Marine Species there are now 240,470 accepted species, but this is believed to be just a small proportion of the species that exist, with new marine life being discovered every day.
- It’s thought that between 70 and 80 per cent of the oxygen we breathe is produced by marine plants, nearly all of which are marine algae.
- When salt water and hydrogen sulfide combine, it becomes denser than the rest of the water around it, enabling it to form a lake or river that flows beneath the sea.
- Around 50 per cent of the US lies beneath the ocean.
- With 25,000 islands lying within it, the Pacific Ocean has more islands than anywhere else on the planet
Rashmi Rekha Das, OP