Avatar director named National Geographic explorer

WASHINGTON — Hollywood filmmaker James Cameron fulfilled a teenage dream Thursday when he was named National Geographic explorer-in-residence, a title that means as much to him as the Oscars he has won for blockbuster movies like Avatar and Titanic.

By (AFP)

Published: Fri 24 Jun 2011, 9:35 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 7:59 AM

“Being named an explorer is a great honor and as amazing an outcome as being an Academy Award-winning director,” Cameron told AFP after he and Spanish marine ecologist Enric Sala were inducted into the small circle of National Geographic explorers, which with the newcomers numbers just 15.

As a teen, Cameron said, “I could think of nothing better than to be an ocean explorer.”

“In fact, at the age of 16, living landlocked in a small town in Canada, 500 miles (800 kilometers) from the ocean, I got certified to scuba dive,” he said.

“I didn’t even see an ocean for two more years. I was scuba-diving in a river but it didn’t matter — I had set my foot down that path and the end of the path, or certainly a milestone on the path, is today.”

Cameron said he was more comfortable in the role of National Geographic explorer than as an award-winning filmmaker in Hollywood, where he admitted to sometimes feeling like a fish out of water.

“I don’t think of myself as a Hollywood person,” Cameron said, adding that he made Titanic, which won 11 Oscars, because it gave him the opportunity to “dive the wreck” of the oceanliner.

As a National Geographic explorer, Cameron will try to pilot a one-man submarine down as deep as 11,000 meters (36,000 feet) below sea level, exploring “part of the ocean that’s never been explored by humans and has only been very, very briefly glimpsed by robotic eyes,” he said.

Sala, meanwhile, plans to explore and survey the 50 or so remaining “pristine places” in the sea “to show the world what the ocean was like hundreds of years ago and inspire the leaders of countries that own these places to protect them.”

Some of those pristine places are off the coast of northern Canada, Russia and Alaska, where the United States has plans to allow oil exploration.

“When I hear about industrial activities happening in these pristine places, it feels like we’re letting people get into the Louvre Museum and walk away with pictures,” Sala said.

Like Cameron, Sala has had a passion for marine exploration since he was a child, when his dream was to be a diver on French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau’s “Calypso.”

While Cameron is “an explorer of the deep, I’m more of a shallow guy and I do most of my exploration and research and filming at scuba-diving depths,” Sala said.

“But I hope to be able to work with Cameron on a project to study the shallowest to the deepest areas. We could find ourselves somewhere in the middle.”

Cameron is helping to build a mini-submarine that will descend into the darkest reaches of the sea, and in June next year plans to be one of two men who separately will pilot the single-seater sub to the depths of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean.

“If you stuck a sizeable Alp on top of Mount Everest, it wouldn’t make a ripple in the Mariana Trench,” Cameron said.

Cameron’s submersible would descend to the depths of the trench, which bottoms out at the deepest point in the world’s oceans, some 11,000 meters (nearly 36,000 feet) below sea level, at a rate of around 600-700 feet (182-213 meters) per minute — six to seven times faster than most manned submersibles.

“Our goal is to be on the bottom in less than an hour so that we can spend six or seven hours on the bottom doing science, taking images, taking core samples, discovering new species,” Cameron told AFP.

British billionaire Richard Branson also has a project to pilot a “flying” mini-submarine down to the furthest depths of the world’s oceans.

But that project is aimed at setting depth records in every ocean of the world, while Cameron wants to “do exploration, science and imaging” on the sea floor, and produce a documentary and 3D movie that will be released in cinemas around the world.

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