Changing Planet

An Uncharted Sea

We are about to achieve a dream: to explore and survey one of the last unknown places on the planet—a mare incognitum, an uncharted sea—after a year of preparation, many hurdles, and a great team effort.

The southern Line Islands are a blank spot on the ocean map. We believe it is one of the last pristine archipelagos left on the planet. At a time when satellites can photograph every square meter of the globe and make it available to anyone on Google Earth, it is unbelievable that there are still spots for which we have virtually no information. Our goal is to fill this gap.

We are at the port of Papeete, in Tahiti, about to depart. We are almost, almost ready to sail off, but we cannot yet! Organizing an expedition is a complex business, and our to-do list is composed of several hundred items that seem to multiply over time: The more we do, the more is left to do. I feel like a space explorer entering a new dimension where the laws of physics we are comfortable with do not apply anymore.

Preparing our ship, the Hanse Explorer, for the expedition has been one of the most fun challenges. We have received extraordinary support from the ship’s owner, Peter Harren, captain Martin Graser, and his terrific Ukrainian crew. “Nitrox” Bob Olson is finishing the last touches on the diving compressor as I write, and Dave McAloney is preparing the recompression chamber that we have on board in case of a diving accident. National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Mike Fay arrived this morning from Mozambique, and the rest of our team is also here, unpacking the hundred cases of equipment and gear we shipped. We cannot contain our excitement, and our words are blurred by it.

We hope to depart tomorrow morning, March 27, 2009.

Marine ecologist Dr. Enric Sala is a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence who combines science, exploration and media to help restore marine life. Sala’s scientific publications are used for conservation efforts such as the creation of marine protected areas. 2005 Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow, 2006 Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation, 2008 Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum.

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