Academy Awardwinning director and National Geographic ExplorerinResidence James Cameron had the cooperation of the National Wildlife Refuge System this spring when he made a historic dive to the ocean floor near Marianas Trench Marine National Monument and oversaw an unmanned dive within the monument.
The marine national monument, which includes Mariana Trench and Mariana Arc of Fire Refuges, is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in coordination with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The dive expedition, known as DEEPSEA CHALLENGE, took place in a custombuilt, 24footlong submersible that Cameron codesigned. Although best known for directing films such as Titanic and Avatar, Cameron is also an avid explorer.
Camerons team worked with the Service in planning dives that complied with monument and refuge conservation mandates. Expedition members assisted the Service during the managers review of the applications for scientific exploration and filming by providing scientific publications about human effects on the deep sea and advising on practices to minimize potential effects of future exploration of the monument. NOAA experts also commented on the proposals.
On March 25, Cameron completed a nearly sevenmile dive in the submersible to Challenger Deep, the deepest place known on Earth. On April 4, Camerons team sent an unmanned lander to explore the seconddeepest place, Sirena Deep, within the monuments Trench Unit, which is part of the Refuge System. (Challenger Deep is not within the monument.)
Sirena Deep is remarkable for its steep walls, distinctive geologic features and life forms not documented elsewhere at such depth, more than 30,000 feet. The deepest areas of the Mariana Trench are likened to an inverted chain of islands, where each peak points downward, but like islands, each feature can be geologically and biologically different. Understanding what exists in the trench and how life survives in such extreme environments is essential to its ongoing conservation management as a marine national monument.
The Service issued two refuge special use permits authorizing the Cameron expedition to work within the monument. The permits allowed the collection of scientific specimens and samples and the making of videoaudio recordings, but they also stipulated measures to minimize possible impacts. For example, the submersible had to be rinsed with freshwater between dives to reduce the slim possibility of introducing a microorganism from one dive site to another.
The Marianas Trench Marine National Monument protects one of the most unique ocean environments in the world. It is a place we know precious little about, said Refuge System Chief Jim Kurth. But we do know one fact, irrefutably: These natural resources are unique and irreplaceable. I cant think of a more important message that Mr. Camerons exploration will send to his legions of young fans. After all, its their legacy that he is giving us a lens into. We are committed to be good stewards of this incredible place.