Changing Planet

Gabon Expedition: Dive Under a Super Tanker, Part 2

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 dove under an oil tanker off the southern coast of Gabon. It was a massive ship, with a hull that looked like a gigantic wall (see Mike Fay’s blog and photos to get a better idea). The water was green and murky, because the Congo River sends its water full of organic matter hundreds of miles north. The organic matter is a powerful natural fertilizer that makes planktonic algae bloom. To us, it was like diving in pea soup, but we were very excited because this area of Gabon’s coast may be the most productive.

We jumped in the water and started descending down the hull. It was covered by invertebrates and algae, with barely a square inch without life. A school of jacks darted in and out of our short visibility range, making our hearts accelerate.

The lower edge of the hull was covered by marine invertebrates like these cream-colored bryozoans. Below the hull it was pitch black. (Photo by Enric Sala)

Below the hull, it was pitch black, but we could not venture into it because the swell was almost 2 meters high. Outside the hull we were being brought up and down like yo-yos. Under the hull, our heads might have been crushed. I peeked under it, hanging on a colony of giant barnacles, and my flashlight revealed a large grey grouper, which disappeared into the darkness. Even under a massive industrial ship there is astonishing marine life.


Read All Gabon Expedition Posts

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.

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