Changing Planet

Salas y Gómez Expedition: The Sunken Cathedral

The team continues to explore at Salas y Gómez, including diving at a spectacular site south of the island where the reef evokes a gothic cathedral. Lobsters and coral abound, but big sharks and other large fish are less prevalent than expected–suggesting something may have happened here to reduce their numbers.
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Waves crashing against rocks at Salas y Gómez Island
By Enric Sala
Salas y Gómez has revealed some of its secrets, but also raised some questions. We conducted three dives today in quite difficult conditions. The swell was large and when we were doing our shallow work, it moved us up and down as though we were in a washing machine.
Our first dive was at a reef off the southeast corner of the island. We spotted this site because of the tremendous waves breaking on top of it. (You can actually see the break in the high-resolution satellite imagery of the island on Google Earth and GeoEye obtained for the expedition.)
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Image of Salas y Gómez Island from Google Earth
The reef there was supported by three ridges that disappeared in the deep water. It looked like a buttresses supporting a cathedral’s walls and ceiling.
Visibility is so extraordinary here (today more than 50 meters/roughly 150 feet) that it is deceptive. The water feels shallower than it actually is, by as much as ten meters (about 30 feet). So diving down one of the ridges we actually reached an arch, six meters (20 feet) high and ten meters across. On the ceiling and walls of the arch, Michel Garcia, a seasoned Salas y Gómez diver, pointed out a slipper lobster and a dozen spiny lobsters.
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The team heads out for their dive
What puzzled us the most is the relative scarcity of fish. Salas y Gómez has more fish than Easter Island. Here we see jacks, trevally, and sharks on every dive, but we expected to see more and larger sharks in such a remote, uninhabited island. Were our assumptions wrong, or has something happened at Salas y Gómez?
Photos by Ford Cochran

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
View all dispatches from the Salas y Gómez expedition here

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