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T&T woman wins international deep-sea research award

BY KIMONE THOMPSON
Asscociate editor — features
thompsonk@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, July 27, 2018

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THE Secretary General's Award for Excellence in Deep Sea Research is more than a personal accolade for Dr Diva Amon; it represents validation for scientists from the developing world who are under-represented in international science fora, more so females and people of colour.

Dr Amon, a 30-year-old marine biologist and deep sea ecologist from Trinidad, won the inaugural award during the International Seabed Authority's 24th session in Kingston.

Making the presentation Monday, ISA Secretary General Michael Lodge said while all nine nominations submitted were of the highest quality and could all have been selected, Dr Amon's withstood exhaustive and rigorous reviews by an advisory committee of internationally recognised experts.

He explained that the award is intended to recognise and encourage the achievements of researchers under 35 from developing countries who have made outstanding contributions to the advancement of scientific knowledge of the deep-sea environment or to the development of environmentally sustainable regulatory frameworks.

Being named was “amazing and unexpected” for Amon, but rather than be swept up in flattery, she used the platform to make the case for diversity and inclusion in science.

“While these nominations could be viewed as incredibly flattering, I instead see them as a reflection of a system that is not yet inclusive or accessible to those from developing countries, to persons of colour, or to women. It would benefit us all to change this,” she told the assembly.

“We should commend the ISA for [its] efforts in changing the status quo, but more can be done to build real and lasting marine-scientific capacity in developing countries not just by the ISA, but by states, contractors, and research institutes. Diversity matters, and we should strive to a time when scientists from developing countries are commonplace on deep-sea expeditions, when they are being hired to do baselines, EIAs (environmental impact assessments) and monitoring, and when they are the experts brought here to talk science,” Dr Amon argued.

“We should strive to a point when the presence of a scientist from the developing world in this setting is no longer considered unique or remarkable, but instead is a normality,” she continued.

Dr Amon is currently a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow at the Natural History Museum in the UK and is pursuing research on human impacts on deep-sea megafaunal communities. Her curriculum vitae lists 25 research publications and shows a long teaching, outreach and public-engagement record, including being co-founder of marine-focused NGO SpeSeas. It also reveals extensive research and exploration experience at sea, including remotely operated underwater vehicles, autonomous underwater vehicles, and submersible cruises. She completed a PhD in Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southhanmpton in 2013, and is interested in increasing the capacity of low- to middle-income countries to explore their deep oceans, as well as in bridging the gap between science and policy.

One of her nominators, CEO of Blackbeard Biologic: Science and Environmental Advisors, Dr Andrew Thlaer, said Dr Amon's work on the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone is indicative of a decade of excellence in the foundational field ecology that is critical for informing mining and management in the deep sea.

“Her studies...are essential contributions to our understanding of the biodiversity and ecology of this area, and are invluable to both the International Seaned Authority and the deep-sea research community,” he said, according to a quote referenced by Secretary General Lodge.

Kristina M Gjerde, senior high-seas advisor to the IUCN Global Marine and Polar Programme and executive board member of Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative, of which Amon is a member, described her as an obvious choice for the award and a whirlwind of productivity, talent and dedication to sharing her knowledge, skills and insights with the wider community.

“From her bone-chilling PhD thesis titled 'Bone-eating worms and wood-eating bivalves: characterising the ecology of deep-sea organic falls from multiple ocean basins', to her subsequent flurry of well-received scientific articles, she has already fostered a step change in how we view the deep ocean. Her publications have, among other things, helped to document the discovery of entirely new orders of marine life in the Clarion Clipperton Zone in the Pacific Ocean and advanced understanding of the hitherto unknown role of methane seeps off of Trinidad and Tobago in a region of oil and gas production interest,” Gjerde said Monday.

The ISA registered the Secretary General's Award for Excellence in Deep Sea Research as one of its seven voluntary commitments at the UN Oceans Conference in June last year.

Lodge said it was a novel, risky undertaking, but that the authority is very encouraged by the quality and number of nominations, especially in this introductory year.

The physical award, designed in glass-coloured to represent the different layers of the ocean and affixed with the cross section of a polymetallic nodule — one of the minerals from the sea floor — was sponsored by Tonga Offshore Mining Limited.

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