In June last year, we spent a week aboard the OceanXplorer–said to be the world’s most advanced scientific vessel and tricked out by experts, including Avatar director James Cameron. This 285 ft monster of a ship was originally used for oil exploration until 2016, when it was bought by the billionaire Ray Dalio and handed over for research. Now it cruises the globe exploring and doing cutting-edge research. On board are four deep sea vehicles, including two submersibles and a robotic vehicle capable of depths up to about 20,000 feet. That means it can reach nearly all of the Earth’s ocean floors.
We boarded at Duba, on the northwestern coast of Saudi Arabia, and joined its journey for about 200 miles south down the Red Sea coast to the port city of Yanbu before heading to KAUST University in Jeddah, where scientists are doing some pretty extraordinary experiments with coral. The result was a 50-minute documentary called Red Sea Mission, which you can watch right here on VICE.
The OceanXplorer is kind of a dream documentary subject. All the characters–some of the best and most interesting folks in the world of marine biology–were on hand to show us around. Unlike every other shoot ever, we didn’t need to lug cases of gear from location to location. The story, quite literally, came to us.
Coral in the Red Sea is hardier than your average polyp. Somehow, it manages to survive in the region’s very warm and relatively acidic ocean conditions–a conundrum that scientists on board the OceanXplorer are trying to work out. The hope is that these super-resilient coral will offer insights into how other reefs around the world might survive the coming decades of globally rising temperatures.
That’s not to say the trip went perfectly all the time. We got to shoot aboard one of the ship’s two submersibles at extreme depths, which included putting sound equipment in it–only to have it lose power at the bottom of the Red Sea. Still, we kept recording and filming–and eventually, the sub captain (maybe the calmest person you’ll ever meet at the bottom of an ocean) managed to get us back toe the surface.
Check out our photos from the shoot below.
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