Tunnicliffe and her team are exploring uncharted depths for the Victoria Experimental Network Under the Sea (VENUS)—a seafloor observatory between Vancouver Island and the mainland. They are trying to understand ocean problems like dead zones—areas where oxygen is too low for marine life to survive. Although some occur naturally, pollution is also producing dead zones on an unprecedented scale around the world and in Canadian waters, threatening millions of organisms, and the economic livelihoods of many communities.
“When you clear cut a forest, everyone can see it. But the damage to the oceans is hidden. We have to make sure that human activity isn’t damaging our oceans beyond repair,” Tunnicliffe says.
In the past, data on the health of the world’s oceans was hard to come by. But today, with the help of a unique new fibre-optic cable attached to a state-of-the-art submersible, Tunnicliffe and other researchers are traveling deeper into the ocean than ever before—as deep as 5,000 metres. This is producing a tidal wave of information that could help bring dead zones back to life and solve other deep sea mysteries before it’s too late.