Congratulations to Laurent Ballesta & Dr. Enric Sala on receiving respectively the 2020 and 2021 Prince Albert I Grand Medal, the highest international distinction dedicated to ocean sciences that has been awarded since 1948. Blancpain is proud to have been the founding supporter of both Gombessa Expeditions & National Geographic Pristine Seas.
Every year, the Oceanographic Institute, Prince Albert I of Monaco Foundation honors the great names of the marine world who, by their commitment and their work, help to promote the knowledge, love and protection of the ocean. The Mediation Section award, received by Laurent Ballesta and Enric Sala, highlights the commitment of men and women in public life who work in service of the ocean, not just as scientists but also as leading public figures who take action and have made an impact to raise awareness and protect our ocean.
About Laurent Ballesta and the Gombessa Expeditions
Laurent Ballesta is a French marine scientist, distinguished underwater photographer, and a pioneer in the use of new diving equipment, who has authored 13 photography books on underwater wildlife. As co-founder of Andromède Océanologie, he has been leading major expeditions for 10 years, including the Gombessa missions, supported by Blancpain as part of its Ocean Commitment since the very start in 2012. The Brand's contribution has enabled him to capitalize on his talents to advance the public’s comprehension of hitherto inaccessible and dimly understood undersea ecosystems. The Gombessa project has already given rise to six major expeditions.
The first mission, which took place in 2013 in the Indian Ocean, was dedicated to the coelacanth – a prehistoric fish known as "Gombessa" in the Comores and thought by historians to have become extinct 70 million years ago. The second occurred in 2014 in Fakarava, French Polynesia. The aim was to shed light on the enigmatic aggregation of the marbled groupers. For his third Gombessa expedition, Laurent Ballesta went to Antarctica in 2015 to conduct the first ever measurement of the riches harbored by this marine ecosystem threatened by global warming. In 2017, the fourth Gombessa expedition was once again conducted in Fakarava and focused on studying the hunting behaviour of an estimated 700 grey reef sharks. For his fifth expedition, Laurent Ballesta traveled to the Mediterranean off the French coast to study, photograph and reveal the still well-kept underwater secrets of this sea. During this mission, the Gombessa team achieved a world first: the association between saturation diving – initially dedicated to offshore operations – and electronically managed rebreather diving techniques. This unusual method was perfected during the sixth Gombessa expedition, which aimed to unravel the mystery of strange circular formations that cover the Mediterranean off the coast of Cap Corse in France.
About Enric Sala and the Pristine Seas Expeditions
Blancpain was a frontrunner in backing the Pristine Seas initiative as founding partner from 2011 to 2016. Headed by National Geographic Society's Explorer-in-Residence, Dr. Enric Sala, the Pristine Seas expeditions were dedicated to exploring and protecting the precious few remaining, truly unspoiled, wild ocean areas. The expeditions studied and filmed these areas as part of the effort to educate the public and governments on the value and uniqueness of their ecosystems, and to secure governmental pledges as well as support from local communities to protect them. The program helped in particular to protect marine areas in the United States, Chile, Gabon, Kiribati, Costa Rica, French Polynesia, the Seychelles, northern Greenland, and South America's Patagonia region.
To date, the multiple activities passionately pursued by Blancpain in support of exploring and preserving the oceans have led to tangible results, notably contributing to significantly extending the surface of marine protected areas around the world, with an addition of more than four million km2.