National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala is setting off on his first big expedition of the year: to explore and record the underwater life around the remote Desventuradas Islands, hundreds of miles off the coast of Chile. This post is by expedition member Alex Muñoz, Executive Director of Oceana.
By Alex Muñoz
Translated from Spanish. Leer el original aquí.
[Updated 2/20/2013] After more than a week of expedition, this place continues to surprise us. Yosy discovered a coordinate on the map very close to San Félix that corresponds to a seamount whose peak is only 10 meters deep; the perfect place for our divers and the DeepSee submarine to explore.
We left early in Argo to look for the seamount. After a few hours, the echo sounder detected 10 meters! Yosy had been right! The group of scientists and cameramen quickly got into the water.
Enric, Avi, and I were the fortunate ones that went in the DeepSee to a completely unknown place. As we started to descend, Avi (our pilot) said, “This is the exact definition of exploration!” And wow, was he right. As my colleagues and I were full of excitement, before we knew it, we reached 130 meters. Thousands of fish, from brecas to Jack mackerel, sharks to vidriolas surrounded us.
Into the Deep
In a matter of minutes, Avi brought us down to 250 meters. A wall full of corals and gorgonians (or sea fans) got our attention for quite a while. With incredible precision, Avi maneuvered the submarine’s high definition camera and we recorded each species that crossed our path.
We continued the descent… 300, 340, 365 meters deep! Although there were less fish between 320 and 340 meters, a large quantity of different types of lobsters appeared; smaller than those of Juan Fernández that one normally sees in shallower waters.
Enric focused his view on a timid but beautiful orange and green fish. It was easily frightened by the lights and hid in a hole of an imposing rock on the seamount. “This is a new species,” he said to us. Avi turned off the motors and the lights and we were completely in the dark. The excitement of being at this depth with no lights or sound is incredible, and at the same time, the peace that you feel is unparalleled. With a small red flashlight we saw this beautiful fish dare to leave its hiding place. After a good while trying, three of them appeared and we were able to record them! With this footage in hand, we continued our travels of the deep.
We started the ascent slowly by a wall different to that of the descent and the marine life sprung from all sides. We viewed a precious nudibranch, with an intense orange color, at 300 meters. A little bit above this, in one of the most beautiful scenes of the trip, a crab on a terrace held in its two claws what could be a glass sponge.
Power of the Seamount
Later, more and more corals started to appear with clouds of juvenile fishes living among them. All of the articles that I have read about the importance of seamounts and how they are areas of reproduction and nourishment and how the populations of small fish support the life of the largest fish are made clearly evident in this image. As we arrived at the surface, after being so excited, I hadn’t even realized we had been submerged for five and a half hours!
During the immersion, I could not help but think that just a few days ago, the new law in Chile that protects all seamounts from bottom trawling took effect. Four years ago, Oceana began a strong campaign that culminated in the banning of this type of fishing in vulnerable marine ecosystems, including the immediate and preventative closure of all seamounts, 118 total in Chilean waters, which covers a surface of almost 150,000 km2. During this time, how many times did they say to us that there was nothing in the seamounts, that the Chilean sea contains almost only sand and that bottom trawling would not have any impact on the sea floor? Now I have seen with my own eyes what a seamount really is without the impact of bottom trawling – using the typical phrase of our Costa Rican friends that make up Argo’s crew – I can say that in the seamounts, there is “Pura Vida!” (Pure Life!)
This expedition is supported by Blancpain and Davidoff Cool Water.
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