Gabon Expedition: Diving in an Alien World

Mike Fay’s exploration of Gabon’s untouched wilderness led to 11 percent of the country being named national park land. This inspired Enric Sala to explore and help protect similarly pristine areas of the ocean around the world. Now the two explorers go back to the beginning to explore the murky waters off the coast of this African nation.

We did the first three dives of our Gabon expedition. The oil company TOTAL kindly authorized us to dive on several of their oil rigs, and we were quick to jump in the water. These were the first scientific dives on oil rigs in Gabon, so we were very excited.

The oil platforms look eerie at night, with flares lighting the sea with a hellish glow. During the day, they are imposing structures that made us feel very little. But as soon as we jumped in the water all worries disappeared. The pilings were covered by orange and yellow cup corals, contrasting strikingly with the deep blue. Fish schools were swimming around the platform, including large red snappers, barracudas, jacks, and rainbow runners. These oil rigs are the only hard substrate on the sandy seafloor of Gabon’s central coast, and therefore they attract a large abundance of fishes, both migratory and sedentary.

Tomorrow we will dive in three more oil rigs, which are larger than those we saw today. We are already dreaming about seeing more and larger fishes—and maybe some sharks?


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Changing Planet


Meet the Author
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.