Changing Planet

Gabon Expedition: Dive Under a Super Tanker

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.

The Super Tanker loomed gigantic in the gray seas of southern Gabon. Our Surfer boat approached the solid steel wall like a Coke can clanging alongside. A Russian voice came over the VHF from the deck 100 feet up. He said they would send the basket. Basket I thought, looking up to see a mini version of what you would see on the bottom of an air balloon. The voice said that we should put one foot on the ground, one on the edge of the basket, hold on to the netting on the outside and he would hoist us up—yeah right!

As we went up I reminisced about climbing redwood trees on vertical ropes, it takes the breath out of you slightly. Then we were there, high up on what looked like a petro-chemical plant at sea. I was told not to use flash taking pictures because detectors could shut the whole rig down.

The voice said that we should put one foot on the ground, one on the edge of the basket, hold on to the netting on the outside and he would hoist us up—yeah right! (Photo by J. Michael Fay)

 

We were on the FPSO Petróleo Nautipa, a ship built in the 1970s in Japan that could hold more than a million barrels of oil. In the oil industry I have learned an FPSO is a Floating Production Storage and Offloading platform. This is the mother ship for a new field discovered by Vaalco, a small oil company out of Houston, that struck black gold 20 miles at sea on the border between Gabon and Congo. The ship collects oil from wells on the sea bottom, separates the water and gas from the oil and stores it waiting for a tanker to offload once a month. This is a slick way to get oil out of a small field; there are four such operations in Gabon today.

We were on the FPSO Petróleo Nautipa, a ship built in the 1970s in Japan that could hold more than a million barrels of oil. (Photo by J. Michael Fay)

 

We met with a Tunisian, an Indian, and another Russian speaker who gave us the safety briefing for diving below the super tanker and their two platforms. Their biggest worry was that the divers stay away from the water intakes that could suck one of them into the hull.

Soon we were back in the basket. An hour later Enric and team were diving in the black abyss below the tanker. They said the water was like pea soup, the result of the gigantic plume of fresh water that comes into the ocean from the Congo River, still a couple of hundred miles to our south.

 

Read All Gabon Expedition Posts

Mike Fay has spent his life as a naturalist—from the Sierra Nevadas and the Maine woods as a boy, to Alaska and Central America in college, to North Africa and the depths of the central African forest and savannas for the last 25 years.He has worked for the Wildlife Conservation Society of the Bronx since 1991.In 1996, Fay flew over the forests of Congo and Gabon and realized there was a vast, intact forest corridor spanning the two countries from the Oubangui to the Atlantic Ocean. In 1997, he walked the entire corridor, over 2,000 miles, surveying trees, wildlife, and human impacts on 12 uninhabited forest blocks. Called Megatransect, this work led to a historic initiative by the Gabonese government to create a system of 13 national parks, making up some 11,000 square miles (28,500 square kilometers).In 2004, he completed the Megaflyover, an eight-month aerial survey of the entire African continent. He logged 800 hours and took 116,000 vertical images of human impact and associated ecosystems, many of which are now visible on Google Earth.In 2008 Fay completed the Redwood Transect, a new project to learn more about the redwood forest. He walked the entire range of the redwood tree, over 700 miles.Since then he has participated in the 2011 BioBlitz at Saguaro National Park, and is a regular team member of fellow NG Explorer Enric Sala's Pristine Seas Expeditions, recording the life and land above the waves.
  • Kimberly C. Harris (Kimmy)

    I can’t express in words how Dr. Mike Fay’s MegaTransect changed my life. Thank you so very much for all you do for our environment. I am very grateful to have found some updated material on your projects. If there is any other resources to follow your work, I would love to have the information. God Bless.

  • Kimberly C. Harris (Kimmy)

    I can’t express in words how Dr. Mike Fay’s MegaTransect changed my life. Thank you so very much for all you do for our environment. I am very grateful to have found some updated material on your projects. If there is any other resources to follow your work, I would love to have the information. God Bless.

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (dbraun@ngs.org)

Social Media