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Gloucestershire Business News

Going DEEP: Forest of Dean's £100m subsea project

An ambitious vision to "make humans aquatic" and open up the little-known world of our oceans has taken a big step forward - with the Forest of Dean winning a global search to be at the heart of the pioneering research.

Closed last year, the former National Diving and Activity Centre, based in Tidenham, has been taken over by DEEP,  with £100m to be invested in the 50-acre site to transform it into an underwater research and development facility.

Steve Etherton, DEEP President, said Tidenham will be a "core part of a regional ecosystem in the South West of England" for development exercises.

He added: "We need to preserve the oceans. To do that we need to understand them. Through our innovative technology DEEP will enable scientists to operate at depth for extended periods of time and we hope, in some small way, will contribute to our understanding of this life-giving environment."

Revealing more details of the project on BBC Radio Gloucestershire today, Mike Shackleford, president of DEEP's global services, said that the mission of the project was to trial a system so that humans "can live and work subsea"

Mr Shackleford said: "We had been looking for a facility in places like Japan and Poland. In the old Dayhouse quarry, we found a 600m long by 80m deep limestone filtered-through water quarry which is a world class, one-of-a-kind facility."

With prototype building already under way for human subsea habitation facilities at Avonmouth, DEEP already had a close connection with the South West.

"It's a marine engineering powerhouse, so it was a natural space to put our design facilities."

The challenge of the project, he explained, was to play catch-up with advances in space exploration: "We know so little of the ocean and what's down there... one out of every two breaths we take is provided by it, it's provided hundreds of life-savin pharaceuticals, but it's estimated that 91% species are yet to be discovered. It's hard to go down at depth, it's dangerous, it's dark, there's lot of pressure down there; the difficulty from engineering and a tech challenge perspective is to overcome that."

DEEP's specific goal at Tidenham, he added, was to take marine bioogists and train them to be undersea researchers.

"We've started our production, design and technical facility at Avonmouth to create a habitat and undersea lodge, where people can live and work on cycles of 28 days; by the end of 2025's test run [at Tidenham] we will have a crew living in there for 28-day cycles.

The work will spell significant job opportunities in Gloucestershire, he added, equating to 100 new roles: "We will need a tremendous amount of topside support, from marine officers to safety engineers and dive support, submersible technicians... ideally, these people will come from the local area."

DEEP has already begun consulting with Gloucestershire and Monmouth county councils.

Both have been "incredibly supportive" over helping to upskill local people through education facilities and curriculum. He said: "by the end of 2025, when we have this thing in the water, we will have a full contingent to support."

Councils are also helping DEEP with technology partnerships: "They are helping us find an advanced manufacturing facility in the South West for additive manufacturing, 3D printing with metal, if we can find a facility that meets our economic needs.

"We estimate 100 jobs will be needed at the campus facility to support the 24/7 operations during testing phase."

For the pioneering work at Tidenham, he said the mission was clear: "By 2027, we will have a permanent human presence in the ocean, not the same people, but cycled through - the goal is to always have a human presence in the ocean after then."

The first prototype subsea habitats will be dropped into Tidenham's quarry by the end of 2025.

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