Desventuradas Expedition: Bizarre and Wonderful Sub Dive

National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala is setting off on his first big expedition of the year: to explore the remote islands of Desventuradas, hundreds of miles off the coast of Chile. Follow his adventures throughout the month.

13 February 2013

The Argo, our ship, was anchored on the northern side of San Ambrosio Island, sheltered from the strong swell from the southeast. San Ambrosio is small, invisible on a satellite photo of the Eastern Pacific, yet to us it is our whole world. The island and its rocky cliffs are a wall between the powerful ocean and us. There is always a refuge, on the lee side of the island, no matter how small, where we can anchor and rest.

From our little refuge we deployed the little yellow DeepSee to conduct the first submersible dive ever at San Ambrosio. This expedition is full of ‘firsts,’ and they are all exciting. Eli the pilot, Neil Gelinas – our film producer – and I entered the submarine. The support team immediately locked us in our acrylic bubble, and towed us off DeepSee’s berth on the stern of the Argo. We bobbled on the surface, while juvenile masked boobies aggregated around the sub, dipping their heads in the water to check us out. They were like a bunch of teenagers gathering around a flashy new car that just arrived in their little town.

We dived to 138 meters, landing on a reef in the middle of a sandy bottom. The reef was connected to another one by a volcanic dike, a sort of underwater Hadrian’s wall. We stopped the sub on the bottom, and we were surrounded by fish and dogfish, a kind of deep shark. Because the refraction of light on the acrylic is similar to seawater’s, the barrier protecting us was nearly invisible and we had the impression of being right there in the water with all the fish. It is one of the most bizarre and at the same time wonderful feelings.

We spent three hours on the bottom, and came up with a long list of species of fish and invertebrates, some probably new to science – and more than an hour of footage, which will take many hours to analyze. But we also need to download our photos, enter the data in the computer, and discuss the plan for tomorrow. There is no idle time on an expedition. It’s 10pm while I send this blog post using our portable satellite antenna – which does not always work perfectly. What long, and full, days…


This expedition is supported by Blancpain and Davidoff Cool Water.

Learn More

Follow All Desventuradas 2013 Blog Posts

Watch Google Science Fair Hangout With Enric Sala From Chile

Enric Sala’s Pristine Seas Expeditions

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.