SEAmagine Submersibles Critical to Scientists and Citizen Researchers

With only five percent of our oceans explored, the likelihood of observing something new when entering water is high. While most believe scientific discovery solely rests in the hands of marine researchers, there is a rising number of citizen scientists who recreationally explore oceans in personal submersibles and report their observations.

Marine researchers mainly rely upon specialized ships, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) to capture data at sea. Though each is important to research, human-occupied vehicles (HOVs), or manned submersibles, still have an important role to play. Manned submersibles allow humans to enter the water safely, without the risks of SCUBA diving, for deeper and longer periods of time. Occupants ride comfortably in one-atmosphere, temperature-controlled cabins where they can view the underwater world through large, invisible acrylic panes. The human eye observing the underwater world in these conditions is far superior to what a camera can detect. There are key advantages in science in performing underwater observations with an all-around field of view versus camera tunnel vision. Subs use robotic arms and sensors to collect data and samples, record video footage of marine life, and observe underwater habitats up close.

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SEAmagine 3-person submersible discovers ancient Roman amphora at a depth of 135 m near the Aeolian Islands in Italy. (Image credit: SEAmagine)

Notably, submersibles are increasingly being adopted by those outside of the research sector—namely, the yachting community, which seeks to recreationally explore the ocean. This is made possible by the increasing size of private yachts, which have a greater capacity to carry heavy assets and improvements in technology that make subs more accessible than ever before. There are several applications for personal submarines, such as exploration, filming, recreation, research, or tourism. No matter how they are used, however, the end result is that more and more non-scientists are entering the water and making ocean discoveries.

Once you go below 100 m in a sub, there is a good chance you will see something new. The sheer number of new observations that have been made from our subs is astounding.

Sub Led Discovery

SEAmagine subs are recognized as the highest-quality submersibles on the market. Designed to successfully perform 10 dives per day, 300 days per year, the company has a perfect safety record of over 12,000 dives. SEAmagine submersibles have the capabilities of large work-class ROVs but do not require tethering to a support vessel. This means the mother ship does not need dynamic positioning, which helps reduce operational costs.

"Deep-sea penetration technologies, such as SEAmagine’s, are critical for scientific research and a better knowledge of these extremely difficult-to-access environments. They embody the partnership between researchers and private sea enthusiasts, which falls under the aegis of the citizen science concept,” says Dr. Eric Clua DVM Ph.D. of the Center for Insular Research and Observatory of the Environment.

Clua and Kohnen co-authored a scientific article in Cybium, the International Journal of Ichthyology outlining their discovery of a mature prickly shark during a submersible dive at a 500 m depth off Moorea Island—the first sighting in French Polynesia. This extended the species’ range in the Eastern Tropical Pacific.

During a tour aboard the SEAmagine DeepSee sub in Costa Rica, Shmulik Blum, of Undersea Hunter Group, a provider of adventure excursions, discovered a previously unknown seamount, now named Everest. A published paper co-authored by Blum on the subject stated: “The fauna [there] is highly diverse, with many new species likely, including groups of organisms that were thought to be absent in the eastern Pacific Ocean have now been photographed. DeepSee has opened a new window to Isla del Coco.”

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Passengers inside the submersible experience a comfortable dive within a spacious, one-atmosphere, temperature-controlled cabin, from which they can observe the underwater world through the large acrylic spherical window that envelops them. (Image credit: SEAmagine)

In a 2018 issue of Revista de Biología Tropical, Blum and others published another scientific article cataloging the bony fishes they observed during 376 sub dives in 50 to 450 m depths at Isla del Coco National Park and Las Gemelas Seamount. As a result, the ranges of 26 species were expanded beyond previously published records. Three species were observed in shallower water, 22 were observed in deeper water, and one was observed both shallower and deeper than in previous reports. The paper stated: “Increased bottom time with the submersible resulted in additions to the list of documented species. This highlights the importance of maintaining systematic research efforts in the deep waters around Isla del Coco, both for scientific purposes as well as conservation.”

“I have been asked what [is] the coolest thing I have seen during submersible diving,” says Blum. “Maybe a whale, a shark, a ray? But that alone will not tell the full story. Over the years, I have felt that people’s reactions made the dives special, exciting, and surprising. Sharing a small air space in the sub, every vibe, every twitch can be felt. I know for a fact that the sub has affected many decision-makers to step up and protect their part of the ocean thanks to those connections made.”

Prior to this, in a 2012 Systematics and Biodiversity article, sub passengers Odalisca Breedy, Leen P. van Ofwegen, and Sergio Vargas published findings of a new family of soft corals (Anthozoa, Octocorallia, Alcyonacea). The paper stated: “The new species represents the first discovery of a soft coral in an eastern Pacific oceanic island and along the eastern Pacific waters in general and provide[s] hints of the biodiversity of the largely unexplored deep waters of the tropical eastern Pacific—the species was observed and photographed during many dives of the submersible DeepSee.”

More Than Science

Discoveries often have historical value, as well. The late Dr. George Bass, Founder of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, and his survey team used a SEAmagine sub to locate ancient shipwrecks worthy of excavation. In a single month, his crew discovered 14 wrecks and 10 possible targets. Prior to using a sub, weeks would pass without discovery.

The reason the manned sub proved so successful was the team’s ability to make in situ, real-time decisions about a wreck’s worthiness of excavation. This efficiency of identifying targets and determining their value is invaluable during underwater archaeology campaigns, search and rescue missions, and other underwater target search efforts.

Yet another example occurred when passengers aboard a SEAmagine Aurora-3C submersible made an unexpected discovery in Italian seas. At 135 m deep, the crew spotted an amphora, an ancient Roman jar. Careful not to disturb the artifact, the civilian discoverers noted the GPS coordinates for historians.

Any discovery made by citizen-manned submersibles holds value, be it a shipwreck, artifact, or new species.

“The increase of interest and access by citizen science in deep-water observations provide additional knowledge. This can benefit science and enhance our comprehension of the impact we exert on a world that remains largely uncharted.

To learn more about SEAmagine’s superior submersibles, visit: https://www.seamagine.com/

This feature appeared in Environment, Coastal & Offshore (ECO) Magazine's 2023 Deep Dive III special edition Deep-Sea Exploration, to read more access the magazine here.

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