The DeepSee submersible embarked aboard the MV Argo on March 1st, 2022 with our friends from National Geographic Pristine Seas on a special expedition to Columbia. The submarine played an instrumental role in exploring the hills and seamounts in the Yurupari area, the Gulf of Tribuga and also the Colombian Caribbean.
When you deploy dropcams or any type of remote-operated camera, the ability to scope out the surroundings is extremely limited because every deployment shows only a very narrow angle of wherever the camera happened to land. Once deployed, such a camera can’t move or swim around – it can’t do anything. It is completely static.
The submarine on the other hand, is versatile. The sub pilot can take along two scientists to collect samples. On a single good dive they can evaluate a habitat, its biodiversity and abundance of wildlife – and also understand the different zoning within it (as well as many other factors).
The Yurupari area is situated about 80km north of Malpelo Island. The intrigue of this seamount comes from its utter remoteness. A seamount is, by definition, an underwater mountain that starts deeper than 1,000m and does not break the surface (if it broke the surface, then it would be classified as an island!).
This does not resemble a coastal ecosystem, so it harbors very different animals than those closer to the mainland. Being completely disconnected from the continental shelf, we had no idea what we would find there. Descending into the abyss in such virgin seas was just exhilarating! This was the first time humans had ever laid eyes on this place.
We can’t give too many details here (the results will be revealed at a later date by the Pristine Seas team), but suffice it to say that we discovered some extremely important findings. We saw lots of prickly sharks – far more than we see at Cocos or Malpelo – as well as thresher sharks, hammerheads and a huge quantity of bottom-dwellers like reef fish.
Utilizing the DeepSee sub, the Pristine Seas scientists documented this biodiverse area and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is well-worth protecting.
Throughout the voyage, both the President of Colombia and the country’s Minister of Environment came by to experience the DeepSee firsthand.
The team of Colombian scientists onboard collected dozens of samples including corals and sponges, which they analyzed and preserved to take back home to the university for further study.
The DeepSee recorded endless scientific transacts at the bottom, so later they can recount all of the animals and other bottom dwellers that live on the sea floor – the camera catches anything human eyes may have missed during the dive.
This was a huge achievement, and a milestone for Pristine Seas to visit this place for the very first time. They succeeded in highlighting the importance of this seamount as an individual, standalone ecosystem – if this area receives legal conservation and protection we have no doubt it will be highly successful. We strongly hope the government will bestow the conservation status of “no-take zone.”
Lastly, on the other side of the Caribbean we encountered inclement weather and completed only two immersions. Although these waters were clearly overfished, the sponges and corals were nevertheless amazing.
We discovered a very rich twilight zone between 100m and 150m, dense w/sponges, octocorals and seabed growth. We did find some sharks there, but very few compared to the relative size of the area, and few fish larger than a dinner plate.
We set sail with high hopes that, with proper conservation measures, the basic foundation currently exists to rebuild this ecosystem which is currently missing the apex predators and charismatic animals that long ago used to inhabit these waters.