Brought to you by the Australian National Maritime Museum
For all our rigorous efforts to understand the outer reaches of space, the dark, watery depths of the world’s deep oceans still lie virtually unexplored. It’s this sense of enduring mystery that frequently draws us to the deep blue depths to make our own amazing discoveries. Underwater wonders that have already been uncovered range from the truly mysterious to the downright quirky – here are some of the world’s highlights, including some you can visit yourself.
Underwater Post Office, Vanuatu
Too busy enjoying the sea to post your mail? This quirky addition to the depths of Vanuatu makes it possible to multi-task. Submerged three metres below the surface of the Hideaway Island Marine Sanctuary, the world’s first underwater post office – opened in 2003 – is waiting to send your waterproof postcards. During opening hours (signalled by a flag being flown at surface level), local postmaster Vira Timbaci mans the office and any mail received is embossed with a special, waterproof stamp.
Museo Subacuático de Arte, Mexico
Consisting of over 500 ethereal sculptures, this contemporary underwater museum aims to connect the art and environmental science world. Crafted by six sculptors from specific materials that promote coral biospheres, the statues – which range from replica cars to human-like figures with their heads buried in the ocean floor – have been atmospherically covered over time in lichen-like underwater organisms, waiting for scuba divers to get up close and personal.
The nerpa of Lake Baikal, Russia
This vast body of freshwater outdoes others owing to its sheer volume and size: as the world’s deepest, oldest and most voluminous lake on Earth, it’s a natural wonder in the truest sense of the word. Containing around 20% of the planet’s lake and river water in its depths (which plunge over 1.36 kilometres), it’s unsurprising that of the more than 1500 animal species in the lake’s fresh waters, 80% of them can’t be found anywhere else on Earth. One such species, the adorably plump nerpa – the only exclusively freshwater seal in existence – can live up to 60 years old and is thought to have made this lake its home for over two million years.
Hidden beneath the surface of the Egyptian bay of Abu Qir, around 220 kilometres north west of Cairo, the otherworldly civilisation of Thonis-Heracleion lies eerily quiet under 45 metres of water. The city, now blanketed in thousands of years of sea debris, dates back some 2700 years and its discovery in the early 1990s heralded the findings of fascinating long-buried artefacts including gold coins, inscribed stone slabs of both ancient Greek and Egyptian heritage, dozens of smaller limestone sarcophagi and an enormous temple to the supreme god Amun-Gereb.
Mariana Trench, Philippines
This 2550-kilometre long channel carved into the earth’s crust is the planet’s deepest point, reaching a staggering 11 kilometres below the water’s surface. Although the trench’s unwelcoming water temperatures, unending darkness and brutal water pressure (a thousand times greater than sea level’s atmospheric pressure) seemed too harsh to harbour life, a deep dive from Jacques Piccard and Lt. Don Walsh in 1960 proved otherwise. Little was known about these creatures until 2012, when James Cameron made the dive into the abyss, descending 11,000 metres in the carefully designed DEEPSEA CHALLENGER, collecting incalculable information about this unexplored territory. The Australian National Maritime Museum is dedicating an immersive exhibition, James Cameron – Challenging the Deep, to this extraordinary exploration, featuring artefacts, recordings and cinema scale footage from the record-breaking dive.
Book your tickets to James Cameron – Challenging the Deep (29 May – 30 January 2019) online to skip the queue.