Ocean Ambassador

Laurent Ballesta

A dedicated photographer, researcher and ocean conservationist through filmmaking, Laurent uses his talents to explore the unknown depths and shed new light on our oceans

"Under the surface, I find a place that links my three passions together: scientific mysteries, diving challenges and artistic expression"

What do you enjoy most about diving?

I enjoy feeling like an explorer underwater, wearing my wetsuit and gear, it’s like jumping into the unknown as a cosmonaut would. Indeed, the ocean is the last place for wildlife exploration, the last wild continent. It is also a great place for innovation, especially in diving techniques. With my team, we have been training and trying to push the barriers thanks to our electronic rebreathers for the past 20 years.

 

During the Gombessa Expeditions, we launched several challenges such as the the longest and deepest dives ever done in polar waters while in Terre Adelie, Antarctica in 2015, or the 24 hours dive at 20 meters I did in Fakarava in 2014. Therefore, even in easy and accessible places, we have been able to make new discoveries, new wildlife images, like the hunts of the sharks or the groupers spawning in Fakarava French Polynesia. Moreover, when our immersions are deeper, sometimes down to 120 meters (400 feet), we always bring back unique data, such as pictures of unknown species, or species never illustrated before in their environment. Summer 2019, we will launch the Gombessa 5 Expedition which consist in a saturation dive of 28 days at 120 meters in the Mediterranean Sea, never we will be closest to space explorers living in a spaceship, although our outside playground will be full of life.

 

What is your spirit fish and why?

 

I think my spirit fish go in pairs with a great experience or memory I had. When I was 23 and just finished my master in biology when I found the Andromeda Goby. Surprised by its pattern, my feeling was soon confirmed by several professors: I had found a new species to the West Mediterranean Sea.

 

Although, the fish I might prefer, is the one which was a dream before it became reality. The one I didn’t meet by chance, but because I really wished it and worked hard to reach : the coelacanth. I waited years to dive with this mythical fish, as the fantasy started back at the university. After I learnt that a spot had been discovered by a South African teck-diver Peter Timm, it took 10 years for my team and I to feel ready not only to dive so deep, but to work that deep in such difficult and rough conditions. The reward was worth the challenge and the wait: on the first day, first dive, first minute at the bottom, at 120 meters deep, I met with Gombessa and did the first still photography of the living legend.

 

 

Dream dive: where and with who (alive or not)?

 

I was lucky to share a few dives with Albert Falco before he was gone, and it was a great honor to dive with the Captain of the Calypso, such an important and respected character of Jacques Cousteau’s Team. If I could dive with someone alive, I think I would very much enjoy a dive with James Cameron as he has a great passion for the deep seas. Maybe I could use my scuba, and he would be in his sub!

 

More seriously, in 2014 after we did the first night dives in Fakarava with the sharks hunting as a pack, I heard he came in Fakarava too, just a few weeks after us. Before we left Tahiti, I shared our shark experience with a Polynesian diver who is a shark specialist. When Cameron got there, I heard my friend took him to the same night dive. I wish he had come earlier so maybe I would have showed him our discovery.

 

Diving was already so important in my young age, I would have been very proud to take my mother with me, or my grandfather, as they knew so little of the world I was passionate about. Unfortunately, time decided otherwise. I think I would mostly like to dive with my close relatives now gone, and my new born daughter, in a few years.

 

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