Beneath the Pole: Exploring the Animal Marine Forests of the West Indies in a Submersible Capsule

It resurfaces under the pole. As part of their exploratory and scientific research programs, the French Emmanuelle and Ghislain Bardout were in Paris this Thursday, January 12, 2022, to review their current and future projects and present their new caravan for educational purposes. . Their mission began fifteen years ago, after working with Jean-Louis Étienne. In particular, the Under the Pole program, supported by Rolex and the Brittany Region, aims to combine their passions for diving, the oceans, the polar regions and scientific research.

Greenland, Svalbard, Canary Islands… they cross the seas in their own boats. Between expeditions, their stay in French Polynesia near Moorea allowed the team to complete nearly 1,000 deep dives around 12 islands (24 sites) over 14 months, some to depths of 120 meters. The result is new scientific discoveries about corals. “We found that the greatest diversity of corals is at a depth of 40 to 60 meters and not at the surface as previously thought.”, notes Ghislain Bardout. The next goal: to confirm several scientific hypotheses by analyzing the underwater life in the West Indies.

Under Pole III at Mura in French Polynesia. With a revolutionary saturation diving program that allows divers to stay underwater for days and nights. Her name ? “Capsule” program. Ghislain Bardout’s vision is to break the technical and physiological barriers that currently limit immersion times to just a few hours. This innovative and lightweight technology is dedicated to the scientific exploration of oceans and marine life. Credit: Franck Gazzola / Under the Pole

DeepLife: 9-year scientific program (2021-2030)

Emmanuelle and Ghislain Bardout have surrounded themselves with a solid scientific team to support this fourth installment since the creation of the work Under the Pole. Among them is Lorenzo Bramanti, a researcher at the CNRS in Banyuls-sur-Mer. He co-leads this DeepLife mission with Laetitia Hédouin, a CNRS researcher and expert on coral reefs in French Polynesia.

Lorenzo Bramanti
The scientific team operates on the boat Why during an expedition to the Canary Islands as part of the DeepLife program. Right, Lorenzo Bramanti. Credit: Franck Gazzola / Under the Pole.

“During our explorations, we realized that there are underwater forests. They are different from those that exist on Earth, such as coral reefs. Generally, they have different populations. They are called forests because they have their own ecosystem and characteristics. As special currents. “During our explorations, we created several hypotheses that we now want to confirm by studying marine forests at different latitudes and in different oceans.”Lorenzo Bramanti explains.

A capsule that allows you to spend more time underwater

The difficulty of the dives is that they are timed and the divers are constantly on the move. Ghislain Bardout therefore imagined a submersible capsule where two divers could rest between sessions without returning to the surface. In Polynesia, this capsule was placed at a depth of 20 meters. The gas mixture of the scuba tanks and the interior of the capsule allowed divers to explore the environment 15 meters above and 15 meters below.

While the diver explores the environment, another member of the team relaxes in the underwater capsule and observes the underwater life. Credit: Under the Pole.

At the beginning of the experiment, the divers could stay in the capsule for 24 hours. As the experience was satisfactory, the team was then able to hold 3-day rotation sessions in teams of two. “Staying below sea level for a few days was a childhood dream come true. Getting down from the capsule and spending time observing the underwater life is quite magical and something we don’t normally get to do while diving.” Ghislain Bardout explains.

Why not: A custom-built boat dream for Beneath the Pole

To continue their program and take advantage of conditions more suited to their ambitions, the Under the Pole team envisioned a boat specially designed for all-ocean expeditions and scientific research to be carried out on board. This ship, which will be called Why Not, will need 8 million euros to see the light of day. Plans have already been drawn up in Concarno, the Pole’s home port, and will be carried out in Vietnam due to construction costs.

why not a boat
Why not. Credit: Under the Pole.

But to see the light of day, “Under the Pole” must first convince new sponsors to join the adventure. “Our annual budget is about 1.3 million euros per year. To finance the “Why not” program, it should be increased to 2.3 million per year. This would allow us to have more people on board – 18 instead of 14, have two science laboratories on board and also carry two extended immersion capsules., explains Ghislain Bardout. With two capsules placed at different depths, divers spent several days in deep water, and as a result, no doubt, they still managed to make new scientific discoveries.

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