Desventuradas Expedition: The Thrill of the Dive

National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala is setting off on his first big expedition of the year: to explore and record the underwater life around the remote Desventuradas Islands, hundreds of miles off the coast of Chile. This post is by expedition member Alex Muñoz, Executive Director of Oceana.


By Alex Muñoz

Translated from Spanish. Leer el original aquí.

From the moment we set sail from Antofagasta it was clear that there was no time to lose.  There were several briefs on safety measures inside the ship, the use of the submarine and diving, in addition to numerous conversations among almost 20 people, each one an expert in his or her field. Everyone wants to share their knowledge and experience and at the same time, is willing to learn from others.

After two and a half days of journey we arrived in San Ambrosio Island on a Sunday. The water is deep blue, similar to Juan Fernández. The island is a mountain with steep cliffs with no visible place from where to climb to the top.

As soon as we arrived, Enric and the other divers began to prepare the first plunges. You could see both anxiety and happiness in their faces. It is the feeling of being in a place where none of us had been before. Actually very few people have been here, period. The first boat leaves for the island with the divers and an impressive stock of underwater cameras.

At the same time, Eric begins to fit the high-definition drop cameras inside a large crystal bubble to record at thousand-meter depths. One of them was successfully used in the Marianas trench, 11,000 meters below the sea surface.

Finally, a long-awaited moment comes: the DeepSee submarine is about to touch Chilean waters for the first time. Able to descend to 450 meters crewed with three people and with a 360° view, it is the perfect tool to explore the ocean depths with human eyes.

I was the first one to go down in the submarine along with Claudio, observer from the Chilean navy. Argo’s crew, exceptional as always, prepared the Deepsee and asked us to go in carefully. They shut the 10cm-thick acrylic dome and the exciting dive began.

Even in a huge school of fish, each one is still an individual, ready for a close up. (Photo by Alex Muñoz/Oceana)


At first we saw only the blue waters and how the sunlight easily reaches great depths. In only a few minutes we touched the ocean floor and began to move horizontally. We saw marine life almost immediately. First there were sharks, then huge lobsters and after a few minutes, hundreds of fish came to look at us. Claudio wondered: Who’s in the aquarium now? And truly, fish were looking at us as if we were in a human aquarium. The pilot turned off the lights to help them feel at ease and literally, a cloud of fish surrounded us. They even hit the dome, which, at that point, was only an invisible barrier. It seemed that nothing separated us from life underwater.

Lobsters of all sizes scurry along the sea floor. (Photo by Alex Muñoz/Oceana)
Lobsters of all sizes scurry along the sea floor. (Photo by Alex Muñoz/Oceana)

The beginning of this expedition couldn’t have been more intense. How many times in life can you say that you’ve been to an oceanic island almost unknown to the rest of the world and, on the same day, go below the ocean surface 130 meters in a submarine, all of it for the first time?


This expedition is supported by Blancpain and Davidoff Cool Water.

Learn More

Léelo en Español

Follow All Desventuradas 2013 Blog Posts

Enric Sala’s Pristine Seas Expeditions

Changing Planet

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Meet the Author
Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. In 2018 he became Communications Director at Adventure Scientists, founded by Nat Geo Explorer Gregg Treinish. Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010. He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history. You can follow him on Twitter @anderhowl and on Instagram @andrewjhowley.