National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala is setting off to explore Franz Josef Land, one of the most remote archipelagos in the world, only 900 km from the North Pole. Home to polar bears, whales, seals and more, the team will investigate how global warming may be affecting this crucial ecosystem in ways we still do not fully comprehend. Follow his adventures throughout the month.
Today we arrived at Tikhaya Bay, a sheltered cove on Hooker Island. Tikhaya is a spectacular natural enclave. It is closed by an island offshore, and Rubini Rock – a massive basalt rock – on its southern end. We could hear the tens of thousands of seabirds nesting at Rubini from a mile away. On the northern end of the bay there are the remains of an old Soviet base, composed of old wooden buildings. And in between, the majestic Sedov Glacier – a massive ice dome with unbelievable textures and colors, from azure blue to ivory white. Our expedition team was on deck, in awe in front of such a natural jewel.
As soon as the Polaris anchored we got ready for what we had been waiting for: diving. Most of our team had not dived previously in Arctic waters, so we were a little nervous, especially because we expected the water to be very cold. There were icebergs floating on the bay! It took us a while to get in our new dry suits, which felt a little uncomfortable compared to our usual tropical wetsuits. We looked like a bunch of rookie astronauts suddenly regretting being sent into space.
We boarded our zodiacs and jumped in the water, and the cold bit into our necks and cheeks. The water was green and full of marine snow, but we went down anyway. Ten meters from the surface the waters cleared up, and then we could see a forest of brown kelps covering all of the bottom. Among the kelps there were patches of mud full of invertebrates: brittle stars, nudibranchs, sea spiders… a wonderful world of large plants and little creatures that will keep us busy for the next few weeks. When our fingers started to seriously hurt we returned to the surface. Now we know that we can handle Arctic diving, and we’re ready for dives focused on documenting the unknown underwater world of Franz Josef Land.
The Pristine Seas: Franz Josef Land expedition is sponsored by Blancpain and Davidoff Cool Water.