On one of the most remote tropical islands on Earth, a million hungry crabs share a thin ring of dry land with tens of thousands of birds, 2,000 invasive rats, the rusting remains of a guano industry, and the occasional adventurous visitor. M/V Argo ,DEEPSEE submersible and National Geographic Pristine Seas documented this remote Atoll.
Located 1,120 kilometers southwest of Mexico, French-administered Clipperton Island is the only atoll in the tropical eastern Pacific. It’s named for English pirate John Clipperton, who’s said to have used it as a hideout in the early 18th century. Later, the island proved to be inhospitable during attempts to establish guano mining operations and small settlements there, and it remains uninhabited today.
An extraordinary feature of the island is its biologically significant interior lagoon, which has no outlet to the sea. Characterized by a strong vertical salinity gradient (the water at the top is nearly fresh), the lagoon is rich in nutrients and supports an abundance of plant life, including extensive seagrass beds covering 45 percent of its surface.
For their expedition to Clipperton, conducted in partnership with the University of French Polynesia, M/V Argo and DEEPSEE Submersible the Pristine Seas team packed an impressive array of state-of-the-art tools and equipment. Among the items on their checklist: dive and camera gear, drop cameras, pelagic cameras, underwater video stations, science sampling kits, shark and tuna tagging gear—and a three-person submarine.
Traveling a thousand kilometers from the coast of Mexico, they set out to better understand the island’s reefs, unexplored deep waters, and surrounding seamounts. After 140 scuba dives, 14 submarine dives, 58 remote camera deployments, a five-day land survey, and a two-day snorkeling study of the lagoon algae, the team achieved a comprehensive assessment of the ecosystem.