Gabon Expedition: Oil Rigs Are a Haven for Marine Life

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 have now conducted two more dives on oil rigs owned by the oil company TOTAL. The last one was the best we’ve seen so far. We jumped in the water and saw dozens of large barracuda, and schools of rainbow runners and small tuna. The water was quite clear, since this was the farthest oil rig from shore, yet the sea here is very productive and full of comb jellies and lion mane-like jellyfish, which harbor schools of little silvery fish. The perfect shelter from predators!

These rigs are industrial structures, but the sea is taking them back, little by little. As my fellow explorer Mike Fay has posted on his most recent update, these platforms could be the core of a large marine national park that would protect biodiversity and act as a source of fish for replenishment of Gabon’s fisheries. I cannot think of a clearest win-win conservation success.

A small school of fish weave between the supports of an encrusted oil platform. (Photo by Enric Sala)


Underwater there is amazing life, like this jellyfish with dozens of silver little fish among its long tentacles. (Photo by Enric Sala)


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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.