Nature expeditions

Laurent Ballesta scuba-dives down to explore the twilight zone at a depth of 100 to 200m. These expeditions requiring great human and technological investment have resulted in first sightings and pictures of dozens of species across the world, outstanding photos of the Nautilus in its diurnal habitat and, more recently, the legendary Coelacanth, the incredible unapproachable living fossil (“meeting the oldest fish in the world”, a TV documentary currently in production)... Why all this exploration in the twilight zone?

Starting point

Ever since Cousteau, who opened the way to exploration of the oceans, sea-diving has become truly mainstream and anyone can now personally experience what the great man saw,

down to a depth of, say, 60 metres.

A technological revolution

A new scuba-diving apparatus appeared in the late 90s: the electronic recycler. This sophisticated, revolutionary equipment opened the door to a new kind of freedom. Its threshold was gradually crossed by more and more people as the years passed. With the constant improvement of our equipment and methods over the last 10 years, little by little we have witnessed the appearance of virgin territory to explore by this new category of diver: the aphotic zone.

A whole new world to explore

The aphotic zone, below a depth of 100 metres, is permanently in the dark. Ecologically, it is the barrier between the abyss

and the surface. Practically, it is a place of new scenery and new creatures we can now go and meet.

Divers of the extreme

Why dive deeper? Because the ocean is deep…but it’s not only that… The great Himalayan mountaineers, who climb to the highest peaks without oxygen just for the fun of it, “because it’s there”, have always been at a loss to justify the risks they take. So though the risk is every bit as great, deep-diving does at least have the excuse of a rationale: contribute to our compendium of oceanic biodiversity. So why dive deeper? To shed light on our heritage in the shadows. That is the reason for our unreasonable dives.

Pilot divers

No more bubbles, no more compressed air – divers just don’t look the same any more. The dangers are genuine. They must be physically fit, able to master many techniques, keep their heads and be stringent in action. The diving apparatus is equipped with a computer which controls the helium-based air/gas trimix for breathing. Coloured diodes in front of the mask indicate any anomaly – a diver can feel like an astronaut in a meeting of the third type …

Fabulous potential for discovery in nature

Sea serpents and living fossils… some of the persistent myths in popular imagination actually find their source in creatures that really do exist, extraordinary yes, certainly rare and

unobtrusive, but mainly hitherto very hard to find because they are confined to the aphotic zone … And what creatures they are! Coelacanth (living fossil), Giant Oarfish (the origin of the sea serpent legend), Nautilus, sixgill sharks and Mediterranean angelfish… fabulous encounters of the future in the true spirit of the great expeditions of 19th century naturalists.

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