The recently-announced expedition will send 10 Maldivian “aquanauts” to study an underwater region uniquely vulnerable to climate change.

When someone ventures up into space to expand the limits of human knowledge and experience, we call them an astronaut. But what do we call the person who goes below the surface, into the unknown depths? An international research team that just began an ambitious underwater survey of the Maldives went with the term, “aquanauts”. 

On September 4 2022, a group from the UK-based research institute Nekton was joined by 10 Maldivian aquanauts and scientists to begin a 35-day survey of the ocean surrounding one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change

The Maldives are 26 atolls (coral reefs on the cratered summits of a chain of submerged volcanoes) and include just over 1,000 islands scattered across 570,000 square miles of the Indian Ocean. The vast majority of the country sits only five feet above sea level, leaving its 560,000 residents highly vulnerable to climate change-driven sea level rise, fish and reef-killing ocean acidification, and more intense storms.