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Celebrate an historic adventure where few have gone before

360 film

Join one of only three people who has ever dived to the deepest point in our oceans as Don Walsh narrates a 360º simulation of his record-breaking descent in a stunning video

On 23 January 1960, US Navy Captain Don Walsh, now 85, and Swiss engineer Jacques Piccard (deceased) became the first people to descend 11km (seven miles) to full ocean depth, the bottom of a trench in the Pacific Ocean aboard the Swiss-built US Navy bathyscaphe, Trieste. It was dubbed ‘Project Nekton’. Despite advancements in modern marine technologies, their record to a depth of 10,911m (35,797ft) remains unbroken to this day.

Today, while 12 people have walked on the moon, only three people have been to full ocean depth; the third was the film director James Cameron in 2012. People have spent 300 hours on the moon and only three hours at full ocean depth.

The deep ocean, below 200m, is the largest environment on our planet, but with less than five per cent explored, it remains the least known, yet most critical, ecosystem on Earth. 

Don said: 'After 1960, we turned our eyes towards outer space and Project Nekton was largely forgotten. I hope this film encourages people to begin to turn their gaze downwards. Today the deep ocean remains the last, great, unknown frontier on our planet. As we consider colonising Mars, we must remember that less than five per cent of the ocean has been explored.'

Trieste

Left, Don Walsh (foreground) and Jacques Piccard in the cramped submersible; right, celebrating after returning to the surface. Photographs US Navy

The dive, 56 years ago, was part of Project Nekton which involved a series of exploratory dives into Challenger Deep - the deepest ocean trench on the planet. It took nearly five hours before the pair touched down onto the ocean floor at 13.06hrs. They rested in the blackness for twenty minutes as eight tonnes per square inch of water pressure pressed against their 6ft 4ins cabin, a thousand times the standard atmospheric pressure at sea level. The temperature reached a 3.3°C (38°F). A number of records were broken that day, including the deepest manned ocean descent to a depth of 10,911m (35,797ft), an achievement still held today.

2. Dropping the towline January 1960. The Trieste had to be towed 240 nautical miles from Guam to Challenger Deep. Courtesy of US Navy

Ditching the towline one arrival at the dive site. Photograph US Navy

11. View from the Pressure hull during the deepest dive Courtesy of US Navy

The view from inside the vessel during the descent. Photograph US Navy

6. Walsh and Piccard on seabed Challenger Deep with national flags 23 January 1960 Courtesy U.S Navy

Walsh and Piccard when they reached the sea floor Photograph US Navy

4. Full Team Courtesy of US Navy 1

The full team. Photograph US Navy

Scientists have only recently begun to fully understand the importance of the deep ocean in regulating climate and the life-support systems of our planet. Yet today climate change, over-fishing, pollution, invasive marine species and acidification are causing the ocean to suffer its most extreme disruption for the past 300 million years.

The scientific research charity Nekton takes its name from the inspiration of Project Nekton. While plankton describes organisms that drift in water, Nekton defines aquatic organisms that can swim independently and against the current. Nekton’s mission is to explore the deep ocean, inspire a new generation of marine explorers and accelerate sustainable ocean stewardship.

Nekton launched its first mission last summer to investigate the state of the deep ocean. The scientific findings will be released this autumn as part of the XL Catlin Deep Ocean Survey, a pioneering multi-disciplinary marine research programme investigating physical, chemical and biological indicators to assess the function, health and resilience of the deep ocean.

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Part of the team on last year's research dives

Scientists from a dozen marine research institutes joined the forty-day mission, based aboard two oceanographic research ships. Their research focused on three locations: Bermuda, Nova Scotia, and the High Seas (NW Atlantic & Sargasso Sea). The charity is now undertaking a series of missions to explore the state of the Bathyal Zone, the ocean depth between 200 and 2000m.

 

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