23 July 2021
Gombessa 6 Cap Corse. Back to the surface in Monaco
Return to the surface in Monaco on 20 July 2021
After a 20-day expedition to try and unravel the mystery of the corallogenic rings off Cap Corse, the Gombessa 6 expedition flotilla, composed of the support and assistance vessel Pionnier, the catamaran Victoria IV and the barge from the French National Institute of Professional Diving (INPP), arrived in the port of Monaco late on Monday 19 July. The expedition ending in Monaco acknowledged a long-standing collaboration with the Principality. The Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation and Monaco Explorations were indeed among the main partners of the last two Gombessa 5 and 6 expeditions.
The four aquanauts: Laurent Ballesta, Antonin Guilbert, Thibaut Rauby and Roberto Rinaldi exited the “bathyal station” the next day, Tuesday 20 July at 6 pm, after completing their decompression cycle.
The aquanauts' exit
The four deep-sea explorers were welcomed on their exit by H.E. Mr. Pierre Dartout, Minister of State of the Principality, H.E. Mr. Bernard Fautrier, Special Advisor to H.S.H. the Sovereign Prince in charge of environmental issues, Mr. Olivier Wenden, Vice-President of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, Mr. Robert Calcagno, Chief Executive Officer of Monaco Explorations and Mr. Gilles Bessero, Chief Operation Officer of Monaco Explorations.
During the press conference held shortly before exiting the ‘bathyal station’, the four aquanauts gave their first impressions. The Gombessa 6 expedition was successfully completed in terms of scientific operations and image recording, despite the capricious weather.
Press conference live from the bathyal station. 20 July 2021, 5 pm, Monaco© Didier Théron. Monaco Explorations
Our first satisfaction, we succeeded. We were able to core rocks sometimes more than a metre deep in the heart of the rings. It was a complex scientific manipulation, which we could not test before, but it worked... First of all, we will have to analyse all our scientific research, and then we bring back a lot of images that will enable us to make a film, a book and to give lectures. We have approached new horizons that we had not imagined, and this gives us the desire to go further. The objectives have been achieved and it's wonderful.
Everything went well, there was no anxiety, it's always the last few minutes that seem endless.
We plunged onto a plain with expanses as far as the eye can see, which amazed us, and saw an incredible diversity.
What was exceptional was to discover places that we were not used to. Before the expedition began, I was afraid that spending 20 days around a sandy bottom would soon become tiresome. But we discovered an incredible biodiversity. It was a very good surprise.
A windy weather
Twelve deep dives at depths between 115 and 140 metres in 16 days: an intense rhythm for the four aquanauts, despite the often-violent winds to the north-east of Cap Corse, which the Gombessa 6 flotilla had to face. These difficult sea conditions made the handling of the diving turret particularly delicate, as it was lowered and raised on the barge for each dive. A remarkable technical achievement.
The aftermath of the mission
All the scientific protocols planned during the mission, set up with 35 French and foreign scientists, have been carried out: coring of two central corallogenic ring cores, installation and recovery of an acoustic Doppler current meter and hydrophones, 3D reconstruction (by photogrammetry) of 4 rings, collection of water and sediment samples, detection of unknown species, recording of images, etc. A first series of results will be presented in September. DNA samples and 3D modelling will soon shed light on the origin of the corallogenic rings, their functioning, and their age.
7 July 2021
Gombessa 6: Cap Corse
The new Gombessa expedition began on 1 July.
After Gombessa 5: Mediterranean Planet in July 2019, the “Gombessa 6: Cap Corse ” expedition, led by Laurent Ballesta and the Andromeda Oceanology team, is once again dedicated to the Big Blue. This new adventure to discover the deep sea, which began in May, is supported by the Principality of Monaco, the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation and Monaco Explorations. The final phase began on 1st July and is being conducted from the bathyal station installed on the INPP barge, from which the four Aquanauts of Gombessa 6 will explore the deep sea for 18 days in saturation. It will end on Tuesday 20 July 2021 in the port of Monaco, where the Gombessa 6 flotilla will dock after a two-day crossing from Cap Corse. During these two days of sailing, the divers will decompress inside the bathyal station.
In the meantime, new and exciting pages of scuba diving and exploration of the Mediterranean will have been written.
Unlocking the secrets of Cap Corse...
The Gombessa expeditions aim to bear witness, through innovative diving methods, to the inaccessible mysteries of the underwater world. The secret waters of Cap Corse and the eastern coast are full of them… The essential motivations of this new expedition, Laurent Ballesta and his companions draw them from the two major objectives they have set for themselves in this new adventure:
– The first is to better understand, and then better preserve, the last population of angel sharks in the French Mediterranean, the now endangered sharks that gave their name to the Baie des Anges in Nice,
– The second is to solve the scientific enigma of the origin and diversity of deep coralligenous “atolls”.
The deep-sea atolls...
The most attractive thing under the sea is not the beauty but the mysteries... When I saw these strange sunken atolls, I was hallucinating, it was science fiction. I thought I was descending on the Nazca lines.
The interest of deep diving
The interest of deep saturation dives from the bathyal station, tested in the summer of 2019 during the Gombessa 5 expedition, makes it possible in July 2021 to exploit the possibilities offered by extended dive times to make progress in solving the scientific enigma of the origin, formation, and diversity of these deep coralligenous atolls off Cap Corse. What do these deep circular formations hide? The hypothesis of their origin, linked for example to gaseous formations, remains to be confirmed. Gombessa 6 should provide new answers…
The last angel sharks
The emblematic angel shark, officially classified as critically endangered by the IUCN, was observed and photographed by Laurent Ballesta last summer in the posidonia meadows of the eastern coast of Corsica, at a depth of 40 metres. Corsica is therefore the last known refuge for this species in the French Mediterranean. In parallel with the saturation dives, mapping tools and innovative biodiversity sampling methods are being deployed throughout this expedition to discover where the angel shark lives and the extent and size of the population in Corsica.
Since 14 December 2018, when the 3rd session of the Meeting of the Signatories of the Memorandum of Understanding on Migratory Sharks was held in Monaco, the angel shark has been included in the list of species that should benefit from enhanced conservation measures at the international level, particularly in the Mediterranean.
Specimen of angel shark, Squatina squatina, photographed in the Canaries in December 2020 © Magali Boussion
Laurent Ballesta and Julie Deter, scientific leader of the expedition, presented the study underway in Corsica and the first observations made during the International Angelfish Day on Saturday 26 June.
At the end of the expedition, all the scientific data will be used to develop a management tool for the preservation of coralligenous atolls and the conservation of the angel shark habitat in Corsica and more widely in the Mediterranean.