Blancpain is proud to announce that its close friend and partner Laurent Ballesta has won the Grand Title of Wildlife Photographer of the Year. His winning image, titled Creation, is the world’s first to capture a wildlife event that happens once a year under a full moon: the mating frenzy of 18,000 groupers gathered in Fakarava, French Polynesia. This extraordinary picture was taken during a dedicated Gombessa expedition, which focused on studying this phenomenon, as well as the hunting behaviour of the estimated 700 grey reef sharks that inhabit the southern pass of the Polynesian atoll. It is the result of 5 years of teamwork, thousands of hours of diving, including a 24-hour dive to understand this reproduction event. This phenomenon is too fast to be captured by human eyes and takes 1/10 of a second to press on the camera shutter button.
About Laurent Ballesta and the Gombessa project
Laurent Ballesta is a French marine scientist, distinguished underwater photographer, and a pioneer in the use of new diving equipment, who has authored 13 photography books on underwater wildlife. As co-founder of Andromède Océanologie, he has been leading major expeditions for 10 years, including the Gombessa missions, supported by Blancpain as part of its Ocean Commitment since the very start in 2012. The Brand’s contribution has enabled him to capitalize on his talents to advance the public’s comprehension of hitherto inaccessible and dimly understood undersea ecosystems. The Gombessa project has already given rise to six major expeditions.
The first mission, which took place in 2013 in the Indian Ocean, was dedicated to the coelacanth – a prehistoric fish known as “Gombessa” in the Comores and thought by historians to have become extinct 70 million years ago. The second occurred in 2014 in Fakarava, French Polynesia. The aim was to shed light on the enigmatic aggregation of the marbled groupers. For his third Gombessa expedition, Laurent Ballesta went to Antarctica in 2015 to conduct the first-ever measurement of the riches harboured by this marine ecosystem threatened by global warming. In 2017, the fourth Gombessa expedition was once again conducted in Fakarava and focused on studying the hunting behaviour of an estimated 700 grey reef sharks. For his fifth expedition, Laurent Ballesta travelled to the Mediterranean off the French coast to study, photograph and reveal the still well-kept underwater secrets of this sea. During this mission, the Gombessa team achieved a world first: the association between saturation diving – initially dedicated to offshore operations – and electronically managed rebreather diving techniques. This unusual method was perfected during the sixth Gombessa expedition, which aimed to unravel the mystery of strange circular formations that cover the Mediterranean off the coast of Cap Corse in France.
About Blancpain Ocean Commitment (BOC)
Exploring and preserving the world’s oceans is core to Blancpain. Throughout the nearly 70-year history of the Fifty Fathoms – the world’s first modern diving watch – Blancpain has woven close ties with the explorers, photographers, scientists, and environmentalists who treasure these precious resources. These affinities have inspired the Manufacture to support important activities and initiatives dedicated to the oceans.
In recent years, the Blancpain Ocean Commitment (BOC) has invested in oceanographic initiatives and partnerships with leading institutions, such as the Pristine Seas expeditions, Laurent Ballesta’s Gombessa project, the World Ocean Initiative organised by The Economist, and World Oceans Day, which takes place every year on June 8th at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
To date, all these activities in support of exploring and preserving the oceans, undertaken with great passion by Blancpain, have led to tangible results, and made a significant contribution in extending the surface of marine protected areas around the world, with the addition of more than four million square kilometres.