The DeepSee is back from an epic expedition to the Galapágos Islands, after hosting the Pristine Seas Project led by Dr. Enric Sala, National Geographic Explorer-In-Residence. This is our 3rd expedition over the years with Enric and his team.
The Pristine Seas project is a conservation effort to protect the most pristine places in our oceans.
Cocos Island was chosen back in 2009, and as a result an extended management area was declared around the seamount areas 40 miles west of the island.
Then in 2013 we visited the remote Desventuradas islands 800 miles off the coast of Chile. Collecting scientific data about this marine habitat’s health status produced compelling visual media materials that encouraged the government to protect this precious area.
In total the Pristine Seas project has so far succeeded in protecting close to 40,000 square kilometers of ocean surface.
The Galápagos expedition, similar to the expeditions before it, involved collecting scientific data about the biodiversity and pristine ocean habitats of utmost importance. Filming and documenting the rich biomass is crucial in order to showcase the region’s importance and to sway local government to commit to legal acts of protection.
Surprisingly, as of this writing the oceans of the Galápagos Islands are not protected at all. Very little management over fishing activity and over-exploitation of fishery resources has brought the archipelago to include many of its endemic species on the highly endangered IUCN Red List.
Many scientific expeditions have studied the Galapagos before; however, we have not come here only to do scientific work. We joined Enric to help in creating a realistic protection plan for this unique place for the very first time.
Working with scientific experts in different marine disciplines, along with the DeepSee’s new 4K video documentation equipment and cutting edge 360-degree camera custom made by Nat Geo’s engineering team will bring the Galápagos experience to viewers in a way that has never been seen before.
For 20 days we used the DeepSee as Nat Geo’s platform of choice to learn about the deep waters around the islands – pristine deep-water corals, sponges, anemones, brittle stars, and many endemic Galapagos fishes.
We even found and documented a likely new species of a cat shark at 400m below the surface. Enric used the sub as part of his strategic plan, bringing the decision maker to the field to take a firsthand deep dive in the sub, and to witness the very same wonders he’s asking the government to protect.
The Ecuadorian ministers of environment and tourism joined us during the expedition. We invited them to dive the depths of the Galapagos in the DeepSee, and witness for themselves the magic and mystery of the underwater world. Back on deck, both described a once-in-a-life time experience, surrounded by majestic fish, sleek sharks and graceful sea turtles.
Enric believes that this might be just the breaking point needed to get them to commit to a protection act.
On the media front, the production team worked closely with the DeepSee, using our new 4K video camera installed on the sub. A new custom built 360-degree camera named the “lollipop” was installed on the sub for the first time. Using this new technology enabled viewers to experience the underwater world as close to reality as possible – all without getting wet.
Two brand new documentary disciplines were utilized during the expedition to complete our comprehensive understanding of species around these waters. The Pelagic Cams, a set of cameras mounted of floating tripods drifting the shallow open ocean, recorded anything to cross its lens. Then we had the Drop Cam, a glass sphere housing a video camera, computer, lights and batteries.
The sphere dropped to the bottom of the ocean, and it was programmed to stay there for 3 hours per deployment. When the time was up, it released its anchor and floated back to the surface.
The DeepSee has completed 34 sub dives at the Galápagos, surveying kilometers of benthic habitats and completing an extensive report of the different species to live in the twilight zone. This information will be crucial in setting the Galapagos baseline.
Enric and his team hope to get the protection act firmly in place, which the Galapagos desperately needs for the future of its ocean habitat.
We will follow up closely and wait for the TV Galápagos episode to air on the NatGeo Wild Channel. Our next adventure with Pristine Seas will start in March 2016: this time Socorro and Clipperton Island. This is truly an honor for us to be the platform of choice for Nat Geo for the 4th time. We simply can’t wait for new explorations to come.