Canadian film director James Cameron has completed his journey to the deepest known point in any of the world's oceans — the Challenger Deep in the Pacific Ocean southwest of Guam.
Cameron spent three hours nearly 11 kilometres below the ocean’s surface, shooting footage and collecting research samples as part of a joint project with the National Geographic Society.
In a conference call after the dive, Cameron said he found the deepest part of the ocean to be desolate and foreboding.
'I felt like I literally, in the space of one day, had gone to another planet and come back' — James Cameron
"My feeling was one of complete isolation from all of humanity," Cameron said Monday. "I felt like I literally, in the space of one day, had gone to another planet and come back. It's been a very surreal day."
The acclaimed director of Titanic, Avatar and The Abyss said he had hoped to see a strange, deep sea monster, a creature that would excite the storyteller in him and seem like something out of his movies. But he didn't.
All he saw were voracious shrimp-like creatures no longer than two centimetres. In future missions, Cameron plans to bring "bait" — like chicken — to set out.
Cameron said he took a few minutes to absorb the wonder of being at the deepest place on earth.
"I just sat there looking out the window, looking at this barren, desolate lunar plain, appreciating," Cameron said.
"It's really the sense of isolation, more than anything, realizing how tiny you are down in this big vast black unknown and unexplored place."
His footage will be shared through a deep sea documentary, which will likely include 3D footage of never-before-seen views.
He made his cinematic journey in a one-man, lime green submarine, the Deep Sea Challenger, which he helped to design.
His arrival at a depth of roughly 10,900 metres happened just after 8 a.m. local time Monday, after a descent into the Mariana Trench that took more than two hours.
The trench is 120 times larger than the Grand Canyon and more than 1.6 kilometres deeper than Mount Everest is tall.
His return was a "faster-than-expected 70-minute ascent," according to National Geographic.
"Before surfacing about 500 kilometres southwest of Guam — where an expedition ship's crane plucked his sub from the sea — Cameron spent hours hovering over Challenger Deep's desert-like seafloor and gliding along its cliff walls," the society said in a release.
A tweet sent during the trip from Cameron's verified account captured the filmmaker's mood.
Just arrived at the ocean's deepest pt. Hitting bottom never felt so good. Can't wait to share what I'm seeing w/ you @DeepChallenge— James Cameron (@JimCameron) March 25, 2012
"It's the last frontier for science and exploration on this planet," Cameron told the Associated Press in mid-March, adding he hoped to draw public attention to the continued need for exploration and stewardship of the oceans.
The only time anyone has dived to these depths was in 1960, when Swiss engineer Jacques Piccard and U.S. Navy Capt. Don Walsh took nearly five hours to reach the bottom and stayed just 20 minutes.
However, they didn't have much to report because their submarine kicked up so much sand from the ocean floor they couldn't see much.
"It would be a good thing if we understand the oceans before we destroy the life that's in them."
The sub, which Cameron calls a "vertical torpedo," was engineered to withstand extreme pressure. If ruptured, the vessel would have instantly imploded.
Cameron planned to collect specimens for scientists during the dive.
"I could actually slurp up little critters, or I can suck on an animal and drop him into a bio box," he explained before the journey.
The scientists are also eager to see the footage shot by 3-D video cameras.
"There is scientific value in getting stereo images because . . . you can determine the scale and distance of objects from stereo pairs that you can't from 2-D images," Cameron told National Geographic News before the dive.
The film director has been an oceanography enthusiast since childhood and has made 72 deep-sea submersible dives, including 33 on the wreckage of the Titanic, the subject of his 1997 hit film.