Blancpain’s commitment to the underwater world has been reflected in its desire to contribute to the knowledge and preservation of this fascinating universe
Within the framework of the Gombessa II expedition in 2014, Laurent Ballesta’s team went to the southern pass of the Fakarava atoll in French Polynesia to watch the annual gathering of camouflage groupers (Epinephelus polyphekadion) who once a year all come to breed in the middle of the pass. During the expedition, researchers were surprised to note an unusual density of gray reef sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) totaling between 400 and 700 individuals. This is the largest density of this species ever seen. In addition, shots of some 2,000 images per second used to illustrate the detail of the grouper reproductive phenomenon revealed the intensity of the sharks’ nocturnal activity, as well as what appeared to be a nocturnal pack hunting strategy. If this strategy was to be confirmed, it would call into question our existing knowledge of these sea creatures. Blancpain therefore decided to award the Gombessa team an additional 250,000 Euros linked to the first limited edition Blancpain Ocean Commitment watch, in order to help them set up a new scientific project focusing on the pack hunting behavior of gray sharks.
The project started in June-July 2016 with an initial 35-day expedition, which saw divers spend a total 200 hours of night diving in the heart of the shark pack and enabled the implementation of protocols and use of observation equipment required to answer questions related to the great density of sharks and their behavior. In 2017, during the second phase of the project, the team will be able to establish a more accurate picture and verify various scientific hypotheses, as well as proposing increased protection of this hotspot of biodiversity.
Indeed, even if it only takes place once a year, it appears that the grouper gathering is essential to the sharks’ survival throughout the year and as a result is also crucial to the equilibrium of the ecosystem of the reef and lagoon.
Blancpain’s interest in this project, in addition to its scientific relevance and spectacular resulting shots, lies in its compatibility with the brand’s long-term vision which encourages further innovative research rather than dozens of expeditions that remain superficial in their scientific approach. And the beauty of this project lies in the ability to draw on the observations made over a period of four consecutive years, from 2014 with Gombessa II, to 2017 with the second phase of the additional project funded by the purchases of the limited edition Blancpain Ocean Commitment watch.
Despite the scope of this project, Blancpain and Laurent Ballesta did not restrict themselves to a single project over the past year, but also conducted the Gombessa III – Antarctica! expedition within the regular framework of the Ocean Commitment program and in collaboration with Luc Jacquet, producer of The March of the Penguins. For the first time, a team of technical divers gained access to beneath the ice floe in Adelia Land in Antarctica. These taxing dives, as much a human as a technical challenge, had never been done before and brought the very first naturalist illustration of the deep ecosystems in the Antarctic. The Gombessa team thus contributed to the inventory of deep sea fauna in relation to climate change issues and gives researchers access to all the shots taken for the purposes of scientific publications. The public will have an opportunity to discover this entrancing universe at the end of 2016 with the launch of a documentary film produced by ARTE. The first two documentary films resulting from the Gombessa I (Rencontre avec le Cœlacanthe – Plongée vers nos Origines – A Meeting with the Coelacanth – Diving to Meet our Origins) and Gombessa II (Le Mystère Mérou – The Grouper Mystery) were produced by and broadcast on this same channel and were a great success with both the public and specialists alike, winning many international prizes.