Earlier this month Oceana and National Geographic launched an expedition to document the marine life and habitat of the waters of the remote and unexplored Desventuradas Islands more than 500 miles off the coast of Chile. Below is an expedition journal entry from Oceana South America Vice President Alex Munoz.
As the DeepSee submarine is towed towards the surface with us inside, in search of the beauty of the deep, through the 10 cm thick acrylic sphere I see Eric pass by in another boat to pick up the drop cameras, thousands of feet underwater. A third boat took the group of Chilean and foreign scientists to the other side of San Ambrosio to follow up on biological data on the most exposed and difficult side of this island. Manu and Eduardo, the underwater photographers, are underwater for a while taking photos with great skill and patience. Each of these actions is prepared, begins and ends with a fluid choreography from the ARGO, the best diving and research platform that we could imagine.
Every day I see the extraordinary display of knowledge, talent, and technology operating simultaneously and I wonder, â€śHow much is this expedition worth for Chile ?â€ť I leave the question open as we begin to descend.
On February 8, Oceana and National Geographic launched an expedition to explore the waters off of the remote Desventuradas Islands more than 500 miles off the coast of Chile. By documenting marine life and habitat the team hopes to persuade the Chilean government to protect more than 60,000 miles surroundinig this archipelago. Below is an expedition journal entry from Enric Sala, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. Click here to view all Desventuradas Expedition blog posts on National Geographic's Explorers Journal.
19 February 2013
When we think of predators, our minds often picture large animals with sharp teeth and scary faces, animals that have evolved just to kill humans. Our collective memory makes us fearful of the night, and almost everyone has been startled by unknown noises in a dark forest. This fear has been engraved in our collective unconscious like carvings in a rock. When it comes to the ocean, many people still fear sharks (despite repeated evidence that sharks are the ones who should be scared of us) or deep alien creatures that hide in the darkness to attack unexpectedly.
The top predator at the Desventuradas is not the typical reef shark, or a grouper with a huge mouth able to swallow a diver. It is not a fearsome animal that kills at night either. The largest predator here is the Juan FernĂˇndez sea lion (Arctocephalus philippi), the cutest carnivore we have found in any of our Pristine Seas Expeditions to date. They spend much of the day hanging out on rocky platforms near the water. When we approach them, itâ€™s like someone brought free candy to a school. The sea lions raise their heads, get indeed very excited, and drag their fat bellies from rock to rock until they jump in the water.
The Juan FernĂˇndez sea lion is the cutest carnivore we have found in any of our Pristine Expeditions to date. (Photo by Enric Sala)
Underwater, the sea lions become torpedoes of enormous grace and elegance. Their eyes are large as a Japanese cartoon characterâ€™s, and their looks pierce us as they swim very fast between us divers. After playing with our bubbles and checking us out very closely, they just hang out, their backsides on the surface and their heads hanging down like bats.
On February 8, Oceana and National Geographic launched an expedition to explore the waters off of the remote Desventuradas Islands more than 500 miles off the coast of Chile. By documenting marine life and habitat the team hopes to persuade the Chilean government to protect more than 60,000 miles surroundinig this archipelago. Below is an expedition journal entry from Oceana South America Vice President Alex Munoz. Photos Â© Oceana
After more than a week of expedition, this place continues to surprise us. Yosy discovered a coordinate on the map very close to San FĂ©lix that corresponds to a seamount whose peak is only 10 meters deep. This means it is the perfect place to go to with our divers and submarine DeepSee.
We leave early in Argo to look for the seamount. After a few hours, the echo sounder detects 10 meters! Yosy had been right! The group of scientists and cameramen quickly get into the water.
Enric, Avi and I are the fortunate ones that will go in the DeepSee to a completely unknown place. As we start to descend, Avi, our pilot, says, â€śThis is the exact definition of exploration!â€ť And wow, was he right. As my colleagues and I are very excited, before we know it, we have reached 130 meters. Thousands of fish, from brecas to Jack mackerel, sharks to vidriolas surround us.
On February 8, Oceana and National Geographic launched an expedition to explore the waters off of the remote Desventuradas Islands more than 500 miles off the coast of Chile. By documenting marine life and habitat the team hopes to persuade the Chilean government to protect more than 60,000 miles surroundinig this archipelago. Below is an expedition journal entry from Oceana South America Vice President Alex Munoz
From the moment we set sail from Antofagasta it was clear that there was no time to lose. There were several briefs on safety measures inside the ship, the use of the submarine and diving, in addition to numerous conversations among almost 20 people, each one an expert in their fields. Everyone wants to share their knowledge and experience and at the same time, is willing to learn from others.
After two and a half days of journey we arrived in San Ambrosio Island on a Sunday. The water is deep blue, similar to Juan FernĂˇndez. The island is a mountain with steep cliffs with no visible place from where to climb to the top.
As soon as we arrive, Enric and the other divers began to prepare the first plunges. You could see both anxiety and happiness in their faces. It is the feeling of being in a place where none of us had been before. Actually very few people have been here, period. The first boat leaves for the island with the divers and an impressive stock of underwater cameras.
At the same time, Eric from NatGeo begins to fit the high definition drop cameras inside a large crystal bubble to record at thousand meter depths. One of them was successfully used in the Marianas trench, 11,000 meters below the sea surface.
Finally, a long-awaited moment comes: the Deepsee submarine is about to touch Chilean waters for the first time. Able to descend to 450 meters crewed with three people and with a 360Â° view, it is the perfect tool to explore the ocean depths with human eyes.
Today weâ€™re proud to announce that Oceana and National Geographic are embarking on a truly unprecedented expedition to one of the most remote and unexplored areas on earth, the Desventuradas Islands.
530 miles west of the desolate Atacama Desert in Chile are the islands San Felix and San Ambrosio, which together make up the Desventuradas. Apart from the occasional lobster fisherman and a small contingent from the Chilean navy the islands are uninhabited and the waters around them unexplored.
Assembling an all-star team of scientists and explorers, including researchers from the University of Hawaii, the University of California, Santa Barbara and Catolica del Norte in Chile, Oceana and National Geographic will launch into the depths of the Desventuradas using the one-of-a-kind DeepSee submarine, a three person vessel that will provide our team with 360 degree views of the underwater environment. The DeepSea can dive almost 1,500 feet, and features a separate tethered camera system that will allow us to investigate depths of over 13,000 feet.
The Desventuradas are one of the last truly wild places in the ocean and little is known about the ecosystem of this nearly pristine area. The expedition will provide the foundation of a scientific report that could help to establish a protected area. Alex MuĂ±oz, executive director of Oceana and co-leader of the expedition, explains:
â€śIf we do not know this ecosystem, we cannot gauge its actual value or whether it is exposed to damage from activities such as fishing. This scientific expedition will give us insight into its ecological importance and will determine if it requires some form of protection.â€ť
The voyage will be similar to joint expeditions between Oceana and National Geographic taken in 2010 and 2011 to Sala y Gomez and Easter Island, also off of Chile, that documented the profusion of life inhabiting Chileâ€™s seamounts, vast underwater mountain ranges where nutrient rich water upwells to fuel a kaleidoscopic abundance of marine life.
As a result of Oceanaâ€™s work in Chileâ€™s waters the Chilean senate recently voted to stop bottom trawling on all 118 of Chileâ€™s seamounts and to overhaul its fisheries with one of the most progressive and scientific management systems in the world.
Sustainability-minded chef and National Geographic fellow Barton Seaver is the latest victim of seafood fraud. He admitted as much in a recent post on National Geographic's Ocean Views blog. Shopping at one of his favorite seafood markets Seaver was taken in by what he thought to be that staple of mid-Atlantic cuisine, the Maryland blue crab. As he tells it, he didn't get what he paid for:
"Back in my kitchen, the container held beautiful giant lumps of meat, larger than I have seen in decades. I was pleased and thought to myself â€śhey, the crabs are doing well if we are catching them this bigâ€ť. I noticed a small red ring on some joints where the muscle had met the leg of the crab, a color that I was not used to seeing. I chalked it up to â€śmaybe I havenâ€™t ever seen crabs this big.â€ť On I went, adding the lemon juice, mayonnaise, and a dusting of breadcrumbs. I texted a picture of the crab to my friend who works with the State of Maryland fisheries congratulating him on the conservation efforts that had obviously worked to bring crab meat this big to my table.
His response, 'Asian! The red tip to the lump gives it away.' I had been beat. Even though I had read the sign, checked the label, and smelled the product, I had been duped."
Seaver also relays how, upon closer inspection, the container attested to the fact that the meat had been pumped with preservatives as well as a water rentention agent. A recent Boston Globe investigation revealed that such chemicals, like sodium tripolyphosphate, are routinely used to plump up seafood, boosting profits for distributors who sell by the pound. Unsurprisingly, Seaver says that the quality of the product suffered as well.
"I tasted the crab and there was a lingering chemical acidity and a muted flavor. Not what I was expecting, nor what I was led to believe I was buying."
Along with U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who earlier this week wrote a letter to the FDA demanding stricter monitoring and enforcement of seafood fraud, Seaver wants to end this deceitful and possibly dangerous practice, and asks readers to sign Oceana's petition to congress for stricter labeling and enforcement. Join the fight against seafood fraud and sign the petition!
Earlier this year, Oceana and National Geographic completed an expedition to Sala y GĂłmez Island, an uninhabited Chilean island near Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean.
It was a follow-up to our first journey in October 2010, which was instrumental in the creation of a no-take marine reserve of 150,000 square kilometers around the island. Sala y GĂłmez is part of a chain of seamounts that are vulnerable to fishing activity.
And after months of patiently waiting, we now get to see some of the biodiversity that our colleagues discovered on their expeditions. NatGeo is releasing a documentary about Sala y GĂłmez, featuring Oceana campaigners as well as Dr. Enric Sala, marine ecologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, who has called Sala y GĂłmez â€śone of the last undisturbed and relatively pristine places left in the ocean.
Check out the trailer:
The dive team glimpses 15 Galapagos sharks and scads of slipper lobsters â€“ and thatâ€™s just in this three-minute clip! You can catch the full documentary on January 19th at 8 pm on NatGeo WILD.
Photographer Brian Skerry calls his new National Geographic book, â€śOcean Soul,â€ť a love story â€“ and he clearly means it. Seeing his photographs and listening to him speak, itâ€™s obvious how deeply he cares about the oceans and their condition.
At a sold-out National Geographic Live event in DC last night to officially mark the bookâ€™s publication, Skerry showed photographs from around the world and shared some of his experiences working for National Geographic documenting some of the 98% of the worldâ€™s biomass that lives in the oceans.
And experiences he has certainly had, from living on the seafloor for seven days straight to being the first photojournalist allowed on a Canadian seal hunting boat in over a decade.
And even more striking was Skerryâ€™s clear enthusiasm for the oceans and all the life they contain. He talked about ocean photography as peeling back layers of mystery. Surrounded by chaos, he said, his solution is to â€śfocus on individual behaviorâ€ť while striving to be an â€śartistic interpreter of all I see.â€ť
Part of that interpretation is to tell a more complete story by showing not only the beauty of the oceans, but also the troubles they face. Photographing bluefin tuna, Skerry said his goal was to foster â€świldlife appreciationâ€ť rather than just document seafood. About overfishing, he said, â€śThe oceanâ€™s not a grocery store, we canâ€™t continue to take without expecting consequences.â€ť
During the talk, Skerry showed photographs he has taken of harp seals, lemon sharks, right whales, leatherback sea turtles, and humboldt squid, in addition to reef fish, shrim, and tunicates.
He ended with images taken in marine reserves, where he said his goal is to show the abundance, diversity and resilience of the oceans when they are protected. â€śAt every level, it seemed to be in harmony,â€ť he said of one such area.
Oceana and National Geographic are currently aboard a Chilean naval ship, the Comandante Toro, on a scientific expedition in the waters of the newly created marine park around Sala y Gomez island (FYI, an alternate spelling is Salas y Gomez). Author Alex MuĂ±oz Wilson is the Executive Director of Oceana Chile. This blog dispatch was originally posted at National Geographic.
We woke up this morning to a startling sight: Overnight, a small commercial fishing boat from Easter Island entered the protected waters of the marine park and dropped its lines within site of the Comandante Toro.
The fishing boat's captain was either brazen (why make an illegal fishing foray in plain sight of a large naval patrol ship?) or unaware of the existence of the new park (which would also be surprising, given the substantial publicity in Chile--particularly on Easter Island--surrounding the park's creation).
The Navy captain dispatched a team in one of the Toro's fast boats to interdict the fishing vessel, inspect it, and put a stop to the illegal fishing. According to the captain's report, this was a small commercial fishing boat with tuna in the boat's hold.
The fishing boat's owner said he was aware of the existence of the marine park, and that he was still planning to fish in this area. The navy showed him maps which made it clear that he was harvesting marine life inside the park in a no-take zone where all commercial fishing is banned.
This was the first enforcement action inside the new marine park.
We were hoping this day would come, and today, it did!
In a huge victory this morning for Chileâ€™s marine health and our Chilean colleagues, Chileâ€™s President SebastiĂˇn PiĂ±era announced the creation of Sala y GĂłmez Marine Park, a no-take marine reserve of 150,000 square kilometers around Sala y GĂłmez island.
Sala y GĂłmez is an uninhabited island thatâ€™s part of a biodiverse chain of seamounts that are vulnerable to fishing activity. Dr. Enric Sala, marine ecologist and National Geographic Ocean Fellow, called Sala y GĂłmez â€śone of the last undisturbed and relatively pristine places left in the ocean.â€ť
Last March, Oceana, National Geographic and the Waitt Foundation conducted a preliminary scientific expedition to the island and found abundant populations of vulnerable species such as sharks and lobsters, much larger than in the depleted ecosystem in nearby Easter Island, which is not protected from fishing. In addition, the scientists found unexpectedly high biodiversity in deeper waters.