Calgarians can explore deep end of the ocean with biologist Diva Amon at Nat Geo event

·4 min read
Exploring the deepest parts of the ocean requires resources and high-tech equipment that deep sea biologist Diva Amon, pictured here, says make it inaccessible to many. (Submitted by Arts Commons - image credit)
Exploring the deepest parts of the ocean requires resources and high-tech equipment that deep sea biologist Diva Amon, pictured here, says make it inaccessible to many. (Submitted by Arts Commons - image credit)

Few places remain as mysterious and unknown as the deepest parts of the sea — after all, more people have walked on the surface of the moon than ventured into its extreme depths.

But Calgarians can get a glimpse into some of the ocean's deepest habitats and the creatures that live there on June 7, when deep sea biologist Diva Amon will be present at a National Geographic Live virtual event called Mysterious Seas at Arts Commons.

According to Amon, less than one per cent of the deep ocean has ever been seen by human eyes or even photographed.

She told The Homestretch on Monday that factors including the deep ocean's vastness, crushing pressures, breathing temperatures and darkness are what make it such a difficult subject to study.

"It's a wild experience," Amon said.

"There is something incredibly humbling about being able to go to somewhere that no one has ever been before, see something that no one has ever seen before, and answer questions that no one has ever answered before."

The deepest part of the planet

Amon grew up on the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago, and was surrounded by water.

"I often used to wish I could just pull away all the water to reveal what was down there, but that was kind of where my interest in the deep sea sort of ended," Amon said.

Her fascination truly sparked in university, when she discovered it was the largest ecosystem on the planet — and a mystery.

"It provides over 96 per cent of all the living space on planet Earth [and] we knew next to nothing about it. There's a lot of questions to answer, and I mean, who doesn't want to do that?"

The life that can be found in the deep sea is unusual, Diva Amon says, such as the dumbo octopus, named for the ear-like fins on its head, or the sharks that glow with light they create themselves, or the yeti crabs that have fur on their arms and chests.
The life that can be found in the deep sea is unusual, Diva Amon says, such as the dumbo octopus, named for the ear-like fins on its head, or the sharks that glow with light they create themselves, or the yeti crabs that have fur on their arms and chests.(NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research)

Today, Amon is a scientific associate at the Natural History Museum in London, and was named National Geographic's Emerging Explorer in 2020.

She participates in deep sea expeditions around the world that have included the Gulf of Mexico and the Mariana Trench, which descends to nearly 11 kilometres to the deepest part of the planet.

"People just imagine the trench as being almost like a chasm that just has really steep sides, and shoots downwards, and there's just nothingness at the bottom. And actually, that is not true. The trench is very gradual," Amon said.

"And all down the sides of the trenches, there are a variety of habitats."

Life at the bottom of the sea

Those habitats, Amon said, include coral gardens, submarine volcanoes and hydro-thermal vents that gush hot, chemical-rich fluid that power what she describes as an "oases of life" in the deep sea.

The life that can be found there is unusual, she said, such as the dumbo octopus, named for the ear-like fins on its head, or the sharks that glow with light they create themselves, or the yeti crabs that have fur on their arms and chests.

"[Yeti crabs] grow bacteria on the hairs, and then when they get hungry they just scrape them off and eat them," Amon said. "I mean, genius, right?"

The human impact

But in spite of the remote and diverse environments where her work takes place, every single expedition Amon has been on has something in common.

Garbage, she said, is found every time, from the Mariana Trench to the Caribbean Sea to the Antarctic.

"It is always there, and … there's other impacts that we're having," Amon said.

"We've fished it for decades and … we're even seeing the impacts of climate change in the big sea already, just like the rest of the planet.

"So even though the deep ocean is one of the most pristine places on earth, it still isn't pristine, unfortunately."

To book a free ticket for National Geographic Live, Mysterious Seas, visit artscommons.ca/natgeolive or call the Arts Commons Box Office at 403-294-9494.

With files from The Homestretch.