Join us on a historic deep-sea expedition: March 28 - April 22, 2023

23 Mar 23 /

Join us on a historic deep-sea expedition inside the Galápagos Marine Reserve onboard the Atlantis & the research submarine Alvin: March 28 - April 22, 2023

In 1872, French author Jules Verne published the classic science fiction adventure novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas, which portrayed a then unknown world with fantastic creatures below the surface of our ocean. Little did he know that a century later his fiction would become a reality and we would be exploring the depths of our ocean right here in the Galápagos Marine Reserve.

Here we are in Puerto Ayora making the final preparations before boarding the research vessel (R/V) Atlantis and embarking on the #GalápagosDeep expedition to explore the uncharted depths of the Galápagos Marine Reserve with the historic deep-sea submarine Alvin.
Here’s why we are so excited about this expedition:

Alvin has a long history of groundbreaking science around the Galápagos Archipelago, but this is the first time it is going to dive inside the Galápagos Marine Reserve.
The expedition is led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, University of Bristol, Boise State University, and University of Essex, in collaboration with the Galápagos National Park Directorate, the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Ecuadorian Navy's Oceanographic and Antarctic Research Institute (INOCAR). The ship, submarine, and research programs are funded by the United States’ National Science Foundation and the United Kingdom's National Environment Research Council. Twenty-one scientists will be on board the expedition which begins on March 28th and ends on April 22nd.

This 2023 expedition is critical to further our understanding of oceanographic processes, ecosystems, and animals that live deep in our oceans, and to explore their connectivity in the Eastern Tropical Pacific region, the role they play in regulating the climate of our planet, and to better understand the geological evolution of the submarine platform that is the foundation for the iconic Galápagos Archipelago.

Submarino de investigación Alvin a bordo del R/V Atlantis. Foto: Ken Kostel, ©Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Research submarine Alvin aboard the R/V Atlantis. Photo: Ken Kostel, ©Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The expedition, which will see Alvin submerge to depths of over 3,000m across the Galápagos Marine Reserve for 22 consecutive days, has four concrete objectives:

  1. Improve the understanding of deep-water biodiversity and geology in Galápagos, building on previous expeditions in the region.
  2. Analyze fossils corals to help reconstruct past climates, as a means to predict future climate- change trends.
  3. Further our understanding of the taxonomy of deep water organisms such as cold-water corals, their genetic relationships and species evolution.
  4. Better understand how the submerged islands, seamounts, and submarine ridges formed in Galápagos.
The Alvin is part of Galápagos’ scientific history

The Alvin submersible is the longest-operating and most active deep-submergence research vehicle in the world. First launched in 1964, Alvin has over its lifetime made more than 5,050 dives–more than all other scientific research submersibles combined.

Alvin first explored the Galápagos Spreading Center in 1977—46 years ago. At that time scientists in Alvin made the first discovery of warm (17°C), chemically rich fluids flowing from the mid-ocean ridge seafloor at approximately 2600m depth; these venting areas were covered in previously unknown animals thriving in the absence of sunlight!

The diversity and density of unusual organisms found at vents are fueled entirely by deriving energy from the chemicals in the hydrothermal fluids, a process called chemosynthesis. This was a globally relevant discovery for science and changed every textbook forever by showing life could exist without energy derived from sunlight. The discovery has also formed the basis for the search for life beyond Earth on the so-called “ocean worlds” of the outer solar system, such as the moons Europa and Enceladus.

R/V Atlantis and Alvin have returned to the Galápagos several times to research and survey the depths of the ocean around the islands, but always outside of the Galápagos Marine Reserve. Its last two expeditions near the islands were in 2002 and 2005. This will be the first time Alvin ventures into the depths of the marine reserve itself.

Submarino de investigación Alvin. Foto: Ken Kostel, ©Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Research submarine Alvin. Photo: Ken Kostel, ©Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Why is deep-sea exploration so important for conservation in Galápagos?

As one of the regions with the highest densities of migratory marine life in the world, the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) region, which includes the Galápagos Archipelago, is a key conservation priority. Recognizing the importance of marine connectivity in the ETP region, Ecuador, in January 2022, expanded its marine protected area (MPA) through the declaration of the Hermandad Marine Reserve. This new reserve shelters migratory species that navigate through extensive submarine mountain ranges and seamounts from Ecuador to Costa Rica.

But the depths of the ocean in this region are virtually unknown, including the area around the Galápagos Archipelago, and much remains to be discovered and understood. Since the early surveys in the 1970s, we have been increasingly documenting sensitive conservation areas outside the Galápagos Marine Reserve, such as hydrothermal vent systems and deep cold-water coral communities that also sustain some of the oldest living species on our planet. These areas must be better explored, documented and preserved.

The 2023 "GalápagosDeep" expedition using R/V Atlantis and Alvin will seek to provide a better understanding of these deep-sea ecosystems so that we can better manage areas in which irreplaceable species live in the region and protect them from modern threats. Thus helping inform the creation and management of MPAs in the region and promote effective conservation strategies.

Join our scientists on this expedition in the coming weeks!

Charles Darwin Foundation oceanographers, Salomé Buglass and Stuart Banks, will be on board the ship alongside collaborating scientists, Galápagos National Park and INOCAR, sharing their observations and experiences on board. Follow our journey on board the Atlantis and Alvin in the coming weeks and get exclusive news by signing up to our newsletter.

Andres Cruz

Protect Galapagos, Impact the World

The impact you make on this small ecosystem of enormous biodiversity is part of a larger footprint you are leaving for the world's future. Join us on our mission to safeguard one of our planet’s most important natural treasures through science and conservation action by making a donation today. Thank you for making an impact with us.