Video: James Cameron is back from the abyss

Famed director James Cameron recently returned from a dive conducted in the depths of the Mariana Trench, located some 200 miles (322 kilometers) southwest of Guam.

Cameron – the first solo diver to descend to the bottom of the trench – spent approximately three hours exploring the area before a hydraulic fluid leak obscured his view and forced him to surface.  

“I lost hydraulics toward the latter part of dive, and I was unable to use the manipulator arm,” Cameron said after stepping off the Deepsea Challenge sub and onto the Octopus, a yacht owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

“It’s a prototype vehicle, so it’s gonna take time to iron out the bugs… The important thing is that we have a vehicle that’s a robust platform—it gets us there safely, the lights work, the cameras work, and hopefully next time the hydraulics will work.”

Cameron emphasized he was determined to return to the Trench so he could collect more samples.

“I see this as the beginning … of opening up this frontier to science and really understanding these deep places,” he noted. 

However, the director did acknowledge that he didn’t observe any fish, or any living creatures more than an inch in length. 

“When I came to Challenger Deep, the bottom was completely featureless. I had this idea that life would adapt to the deep … but I don’t think we’re seeing that, [as] the only free swimmers I saw were small amphipods.”

Nevertheless, scientists believe Cameron’s small sample of the trench’s sediments, along with extensive footage, could help offer new insights into the bottom of the deep sea abyss. 

Doug Bartlett, chief scientist for the Deepsea Challenge project, told National Geographic that the 50 milliliters of muddy seawater collected by Cameron could contain exotic species of microbial life that may help our understanding of the deep ocean and assist in the search for extraterrestrial life.

To be sure, scientists have long believed that Jupiter’s moon Europa could contain a global ocean buried deep beneath its thick shell of ice that would be lightless and near freezing – just like the Challenger Deep on Earth.