Shannon Switzer is an award-winning photographer, published writer, and National Geographic Young Explorer whose work focuses on ocean conservation.
Right about now, I imagine James Cameron and his DEEPSEA CHALLENGE team are
kicking back with several bottles of bubbly to celebrate their
monumental accomplishment. In this world, whose far-flung corners seem
to shrink closer together every day, it’s increasingly difficult to have
new “firsts” in exploration. So when one is achieved, it’s important to
pause and acknowledge it. Successfully engineering a sub to withstand
16,000 pounds-per-square-inch of pressure and dive solo to the deepest
spot on the ocean floor is one of those special occasions that calls for
celebration. The real success, however, is yet to come.
Filmmaker and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence James Cameron gets a handshake from ocean explorer and U.S. Navy Capt. Don Walsh, right, just before the hatch on the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible is closed and the voyage to the deepest part of the ocean begins. Walsh took the same journey to the bottom of the Mariana Trench 52 years ago in the bathyscaphe Trieste with Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard. Cameron is the first person to complete the dive solo. The dive was part of DEEPSEA CHALLENGE, a joint scientific expedition by Cameron, the National Geographic Society, and Rolex to conduct deep-ocean research. Photo by Mark Thiessen/National Geographic.
Now it’s time for Cameron and his team of scientists and researchers to
review what has been collected: Animal species, plant species,
microorganisms, and sediment samples must all be examined and
categorized. Without this vital step of analyzing the amassed data, the
whole production becomes merely an act of valor for valor’s sake, and
Cameron will be the first to tell you that the physical feat was only a
small part of the goal. The larger part is giving the world a window
into the unknown microcosm that now only three people (nine less than
have walked on the moon!) have ever seen.
National Geographic Chairman Gil Grosvenor awards the Hubbard Medal to Don Walsh in 2010 as the surviving co-commander of the Trieste expedition into the Challenger Deep with Jacques Piccard in 1960. James Cameron has joined the two explorers in reaching the deepest point in the world.
Photo by Becky Hale.
If Jacques Cousteau were still alive, I believe he would be proud of his
fellow ocean explorer’s accomplishment, but I think he would be more
proud that Cameron is carrying on his legacy of taking what he’s
discovered and sharing it with the public. Through the documentary that
will be produced from the footage gathered on the dives, Cameron and
team will increase awareness of the ocean’s wonder, and inspire the
imaginations of youngsters and adults across the globe. This is the real
cause for celebration: when one man’s realized dream moves society
forward as a whole.
My hope is that Cameron’s achievements will
spur other adventurers to take risks worth taking so that the cycle of
exploration, gained knowledge, and increased caring will continue unbroken
for generations to come. So here’s to a heroic accomplishment of epic
proportions, larger than anything ever dreamed up in the movies. Here’s
to real life at its most extreme. Congratulations team DEEPSEA