What Two Decades of Change on Clipperton Island Looks Like

Photo by Manu San Felix
Photo by Manu San Felix

By Dr. Jenn Caselle

It was with huge excitement that I learned that I would be traveling to Clipperton Island for a National Geographic Pristine Seas expedition, because this would be my second trip to this remote coral reef. My first visit here was almost two decades ago, in 1998. I was a graduate student on my first real remote expedition.

Now, as a more seasoned marine biologist, with many remote expeditions under my belt, I jumped at the chance to revisit this remote, isolated atoll and assess firsthand any changes that had occurred.

Clipperton Then

Back in 1998 we came with the goal of simply documenting and identifying the various fishes on reefs; now we visit both to assess the changes that have occurred over time and to use our modern tools to access locations impossible back then.

At that time, we used cameras with film, the diving was limited to relatively shallow depths for safety and we brought what was, at the time, a “state of the art” remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that captured the deeper reefs on grainy, dark and often wobbly video tapes. Now, armed with modern cameras, rebreathers, and even a submarine, we can access parts of the coral reef that just weren’t possible in 1998.

After a week of diving, I finally have some time to reflect on the changes I’ve observed.

Clipperton Now

First, the corals.

We are currently experiencing a large El Nino event in and coincidentally, my 1998 expedition also took place during El Nino conditions. El Nino is a climate event that brings warm water and increased wave action to much of the Pacific. Scientists have documented a worldwide coral bleaching event over the past year due to El Nino. Coral bleaching occurs when waters warm and stressed corals eject their symbiotic partners, the —> Read More