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. In summer 2019 we launched the Gombessa 5
Expedition which consisted in a saturation dive of 28 days at 120 meters in the
Mediterranean Sea. Two years later, we repeated the experience for 20 days off
the coast of Corsica to uncover the Mystery of the rings. Never we will be
closest to space explorers living in a spaceship, although our outside
playground is full of life

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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

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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 two kids, in a
few years.

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