National Geographic : 2012 Sep
A diver explores a shallow, coral-encrusted seamount slope near Raja Ampat, Indonesia (le ); the remotely operated vehicle can descend to survey deeper reaches. An abandoned trawl net blankets part of the El Bajo Seamount in Mexico's Gulf of California, destroying corals. Over shing has depleted the once vibrant ecosystem here and at seamounts worldwide. jellies glide gently in the dark, bouncing o the sub in every direction. A black-and-white manta ray exes its wings and soars past for a look. We are still in the photic zone, where sunlight pen- etrates and provides energy for countless micro- scopic, photosynthetic ocean plants that create much of the Earth's oxygen. en we descend farther. e ocean is pitch-black. At about feet the sub's dazzling lights bring the bottom into view. Klapfer maneuvers de ly, but the current is strong, and we may not be able to stay down for too long. Suddenly something just beyond the lights rises from the otherwise featureless sea oor. We joke that maybe we've found a new wreck, but instead it is a volcanic remnant, perhaps millions of years old. Within minutes a mu ed whir tells us that Klapfer has reversed the thrusters and is bring- ing the sub into position to hover inches from the bottom, inside an ancient, circular vent of the now extinct volcano that forms Las Geme- las. Its sculptured walls look like the facade of a deep-sea cathedral. is is the last of our ve dives in DeepSee, a er a week of calling Las Gemelas home. Dur- ing our time here, we have observed the animals that live on the summit of this seamount and the pelagic, or marine, invertebrates that occupy the water column around it. Our sub surfaces after five hours---all too soon. We stow our gear aboard Argo and begin the long haul back to our landlocked lives, where we will analyze our data and add one more piece to the puzzle of our global ocean. j Take a voyage of discovery of our ocean planet with scientist Robert Ballard in Alien Deep, a five-part series airing in September on National Geographic Channel.