Expedition Near Easter Island, Chile

National Geographic and Oceana scientists, in collaboration with the Chilean Navy, are traveling to their next expedition location–the remote Salas y Gómez Island, some 200 miles (about 323 km) east of Easter Island, Chile, where they will discover what lies beneath these largely unexplored waters.
Their backs to the sea, enormous figures called moai carved at least five centuries ago stand sentinel at Ahu Tongariki on Easter Island’s southeastern coast.
By Enric Sala, National Geographic Fellow
The Chilean government has created a new marine park around Salas y Gómez island, which is a rock–a very remote rock–200 miles east of Easter Island. So in the middle of nowhere. The park is 150,000 square kilometers, which is larger than the entire country of Greece, or three-and-a-half times the size of Switzerland.
We are going with our friends from Oceana and in collaboration with the Chilean Navy to conduct the first baseline survey of marine biodiversity in the new park.
A team of 18 scientists and filmmakers will be looking at everything from algae to corals to fish and sharks. We will satellite-tag sharks for long-term tracking to learn where they go over the coming months. We will use robots that go down hundreds of meters in the ocean to see what’s there. A National Geographic colleague is bringing some really cool Dropcams–big glass spheres with high-definition cameras inside–that can be deployed over the side of the boat and descend to 12,000 feet (3,657m). Nobody has ever seen what’s down there. It’s going to be like sending a spaceship to Mars or Jupiter: We will be the first to record life in the park at those depths.
Oceana’s Matthias Gorny explains plans to deploy an ROV (remotely operated vehicle) in waters near Salas y Gómez Island as National Geographic and Oceana teammates look on.
Easter Island has been inhabited for many centuries. What I expect to see there is what we have seen nearly everywhere else around the world–a place with very few fish and most of them small. From what I’ve heard, there has been so much fishing near the island that the large fish are gone. It’s very difficult to see sharks or lobsters near Easter Island.
What we hope to see at Salas y Gómez is just the opposite, because it’s so remote and it is not fished. We expect to see lots of sharks and large lobsters and large fish. We expect a really dramatic contrast between these two marine environments.
Boats line the dock at Hanga Roa, Easter Island’s only town. Many believe the island–known as Rapa Nui in its Polynesian islanders’ language and Isla de Pascua in Spanish–to be the most remote inhabited island on Earth.
Ours will be the first systematic survey of life in the waters around Salas y Gómez, using scuba diving and remote imaging. National Geographic and Oceana Chile are helping the Chilean government to conduct this first baseline survey. The Chilean Navy is allowing us to come aboard one of their ships so we can conduct our research.
So far, it’s been a wonderful collaboration. We’ve brought some of the scientists we work with and our outreach capabilities, and they have an amazing network of decision makers in Chile. Together, we hope to inspire and reinforce the key decision makers who worked so hard to make this park happen.

The science team will share frequent updates and media from the expedition, including photographs, videos and links to Google maps, here on the National Geographic News Watch blog. You can also follow the expedition on Google Earth by clicking on the blue ship icon located where the expedition begins near Easter Island, roughly 2,000 miles (3,300 km) northwest of Santiago, Chile. (Make sure the “Places” layer is turned on).

National Geographic and Oceana are members of Mission Blue
Read the first article about the expedition in today’s edition of La Tercera (Spanish). View Oceana’s press release on the expedition (Spanish).
Photos by Ford Cochran

Changing Planet