National Geographic just finished up their journey to Clipperton Island on the Argo, and the expedition was a huge success. Here is the trip report straight from the log of our lead dive officer, Federico Pochet.
We left the port of Manzanillo, Mexico, heading toward the Clipperton Atoll – a donut-shaped island 12 kilometers in circumference with a freshwater lake in the middle. This little island is known by many names, including “Isle of Passion” and “Island of the Damned.” This is due to its turbulent history – in 1914 over 100 men, women and children working in the guano industry were left stranded here to die (only 11 people survived the ordeal). The story is so tragic that several books and plays have been written about the incident.
While 100 years ago the island was known for its haunted past, today it is renowned as one of the most isolated and thriving marine hotspots on the planet.
The crossing on the Argo took 3 days from Manzanillo, but our travel time was well spent. We worked closely with the Pristine Seas group from National Geographic, taking the opportunity to prepare their diving equipment, review notes and information, and to set up camera rigs. We also offered a refresher first aid course, just in case, so everyone was as prepared as possible for any circumstance that might arise.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Pristine Seas initiative, it is a National Geographic project that draws attention to the world’s greatest ocean hotspots. This encourages governments to create marine sanctuaries to protect these precious areas. Since 2009, Pristine Seas has helped secure 2.2 million square kilometers of ocean protection worldwide – including Desaventuradas, Chile as well as the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Now, Clipperton Island is on their radar.
We arrived at Clipperton to a spectacular sunrise and a beach of brilliant white sand. Impossibly blue and turquoise waters made it clear why this remote place is of such great interest to the Pristine Seas project. Upon completing my first dive, I saw with my own eyes just how healthy this reef truly is. Visibility was practically unimprovable, and the number of juvenile silvertip sharks, Galapagos sharks, eels and fish was downright breathtaking.
Clipperton is home to one of the largest colonies of boobies in the world, and they excrete vast amounts of waste as white as snow – which was a hot agricultural commodity back before chemical fertilizers were invented. The mainland smelled, well, exactly like you’d expect an island covered in bird poop to smell. Embarking on the island, we felt like we had traveled back in time as we walked past rusty mechanical parts and remnants of the guano trade – an economy that thrived here decades ago.
The expedition itself couldn’t have gone more smoothly. Pristine Sea’s charismatic leader, Paul Rose, painstakingly anticipated every detail during our time at the island. He kept me and the Argo staff well-informed at all times, and everything ran like clockwork. We were available 24-7 to help Paul’s diligent team of scientists and videographers in whatever they might need.
For me on a personal level, the best moment of the expedition took place on our way back to Manzanillo – when Paul and his team pulled me aside and told me just how thrilled he and the Nat Geo team were with both our service aboard the Argo and their findings at Clipperton Island.