Portrait : Line Le Gall

Interview with Line Le Gall, Professor at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (MNHN), Director of Scientific Explorations at MNHN and head of the hyperbaric diving mission during the “Indian Ocean” exploration campaign organised by Monaco Explorations. Back from her first dive on the Saya de Malha bank, Line tells us what she saw this morning underwater. The “invisible island” seems finally ready to reveal some of its secrets. Interview by Stéphane Dugast – Tell us about this first dive? – Line Le Gall : With my partner, we dived to 42 metres, with 40 minutes of actual diving at the bottom and 40 minutes of decompression. Concerning the bottom, it was very white and made of sand with small coral debris. The ground was soft which allowed us to lift and collect elements quite easily. All this was covered with a very rich fauna and flora. – What exactly did you see? – We saw corals of about 60 cm as well as hydraires including hydrozoans but also small gorgonians. In terms of echinoderms, we saw starfish, ophiuroids (editor’s note: a class of echinoderms close to starfish). We also saw large jackfish-like fish, up to 80 centimetres in size. Finally, a magical moment, manta rays did a welcome dance for us during our decompression stop. It is always curious, intriguing and magical to see even if these underwater moments are ultimately very fleeting. – Are these new underwater landscapes for you who have dived all over the world? – Yes, it’s new, surprising and exciting, especially as I was lucky enough to go and observe high seamounts and to dive in 2017 on Walters Shoal Bank, a large seamount discovered in 1962, which rises to 16 metres below the surface, located 700 kilometres south of Madagascar. There we also explored the then unknown benthic fauna and flora[1]. Here, at Saya de Malha, the biodiversity seems at first sight much richer and more varied. If I take the example of a primary forest with a high biodiversity, and a recently planted forest, we are apriori here in an underwater “forest” with a high biodiversity. – As a researcher and diver, you have become an explorer? – Definitely. I am a professor at the National Museum of Natural History (MNHN) and therefore a researcher. I am also director of scientific explorations at the MNHN, and therefore an explorer. Finally, I am the mission leader for the hyperbaric dives during the “Indian Ocean” exploration campaign and therefore a diver. This first dive at Saya de Malha promises to be a great discovery. It is almost useless to say that my team and I are impatient to get into the water tomorrow.