Field Report: Going Deep on Cocos Island


Richard Pyle explores the Everest Seamount. He held onto the Deep See sub as it descended there; it would be impossible to swim to that depth through strong currents and arrive at the correct spot. Photo: Howard Hall.

360 nautical miles off the western shore of Costa Rica, a group of ocean operatives quietly prepare for a tactical dive on the rear deck of their 129-foot, global-reach vessel before dawn. A clear acrylic sphere, 10 feet in diameter, with propulsion and life support systems attached, dangles from a 15-ton telescoping crane in the ship’s cargo bay. The unique sub’s high-intensity Xenon lights send beams through the perfectly clear, dark water. Three deep divers ready the tri-mix composition for their rebreathers – there will be no bubbles on this dive.

Prepping the Deep See on board the Argo.

No, Navy SEALS were not attacking Costa Rica. The One World One Ocean crew was preparing for a day of filmmaking at Cocos Island.

We were there to test shoot IMAX footage from a $3million mini sub called Deep See, with 360-degree views afforded by its clear bubble construction. It’s not just the best sub in its class. It’s the only sub in its class.

We accomplish our mission of inspiring people to protect the ocean by pushing the bounds of exploration and image capture, to show people the ocean in ways they’ve never seen it. Our crew went full bore on Cocos Island, both in the sub and on scuba dives, shooting 25,000 feet of IMAX film, 20,000 still photos, and five hours of video footage with RED Epic 2D and 3D, as well as the Canon 5D Mark II cameras. We had a lot of fun too.

“There are few places on this planet that remain unexplored by humans,” said Howard Hall, one of OWOO’s lead underwater cinematographers. “Most ocean areas above 150 feet have been investigated, and the deep ocean is being explored by institutional submersibles, but the area between 200 and 500 feet is virtually unexplored. Unlike the deep ocean, this “deep reef” zone is filled with life, but the creatures here are different than those in shallower waters.

A manta ray glides by outside our instrument panel. Photo: Shmulik Blum.
Curious fish. Photo: Shmulik Blum.

Hall continued, “The Deep See allows scientists to explore down to 1,500 feet. These dives represent true adventure. Capturing motion picture images of this adventure, along with the new species discovered at these depths, could result in the most interesting motion picture projects I have been involved with.”


A World Heritage Site and marine conservation area patrolled for poaching by a dedicated group of rangers, Cocos is absolutely brimming with wildlife, especially top predators like blue fin tuna, and whitetip, hammerhead and whale sharks. Avi Kapfler, former Command Captain in the

Israeli Navy, veteran diver and underwater cinematographer, designed the Deep See specifically for this place, where he lives and operates his dive boat extraordinaire, the Argo.

First up: breaking the depth barrier. An IMAX camera had never been deeper than 400 feet until we mounted one inside the tiny sub.

“They make you put rubber on your camera lenses in case you smack the dome,” said producer Shaun MacGillivray.

“One little knick could jeopardize their certification. You can’t just build yourself a sub and go jump off the pier,” said Brad Ohlund, accomplished IMAX cinematographer.


No rigging could be fixed to the four-inch thick acrylic dome because it flexes at depth, so Brad and cameraman Jack Tankard painstakingly mounted the camera in a passenger seat with military spec Velcro, Cartellini clamps and a half-size film magazine to fit the interior space of the sub. Instead of the usual 3 minutes of shooting time, the crew would have just a minute and a half per dive. With a 30mm fisheye lens the camera captured the other passenger and the sub pilot, as they descended past 1100 feet, but capturing sea life required a bit more luck – since the camera was fixed in place we had to wait for something to swim in front of it. For the next trip, an underwater housing will be built, with which the IMAX camera can be mounted outside the sub, with controls inside the sub.

 

“The Deep See with IMAX housing will be the perfect platform for filmmaking deeper than 400 feet. We will get unprecedented footage.”

-Shaun MacGillivray

Shaun MacGillivray takes in the sea life surrounding the Everest Seamount. Photo: DJ Roller.

With the RED Epic camera however, DJ Roller captured great footage of sharks and other fish from inside the sub, and diving outside the sub. Howard, along with deep dive specialist Shmulik Blum and ichthyologist Richard Pyle, diving with rebreathers, hung onto the sub and were delivered to a spot pinpointed by GPS on the Everest Seamount, 200 feet below the surface. Trying to swim to that depth through strong currents, the divers never would have made it on their own.

Howard said, “This was the first time we conducted a deep trimix dive with support from a submersible. The submarine allows us to get down to specific sites much faster and with much less effort, and allows divers to inspect sites previously scouted by the submersible making the dives much more efficient.”

The Deep See sub and its mother ship, the Argo, off Cocos Island. Photo: Shmulik Blum.

A huge part of adventure is not knowing what you are going to get, but from all angles the trip was a huge success: breakthroughs were made in filmmaking, exploration, technical diving, and wildlife research.

As he described drifting just above a migration of thousands of crab on the ocean floor, Brad summed it up: “It was a peak experience to get into that environment. Almost certainly we will continue filming down there. This was a test shoot to see if we could get IMAX film shot inside the sub, whether the Argo was suitable for a work boat, and whether Cocos was a compelling enough environment for what we want to say. The answers were all yes.”

End of a hard day’s work exploring the ocean. Photo: Shmulik Blum.

 

 

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