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Nation

Director James Cameron tours earth’s deepest point

Returns from observing Marianas Trench

Mark Thiessen/National Geographic via Reuters

Film director James Cameron emerged from the Deepsea Challenger submarine southwest of Guam.

No sea monsters. No strange life. No fish. Just amphipods - tiny, shrimplike creatures swimming across a featureless plane of ooze that stretched off into the primal darkness.

“It was very lunar, a very desolate place,’’ James Cameron, the movie director, said in a news conference Monday after completing the first human dive in 52 years to the ocean’s deepest spot, nearly 7 miles down in the western Pacific.

“We’d all like to think there are giant squid and sea monsters down there,’’ he said, adding that such creatures still might be found. But on this dive he saw “nothing larger than about an inch across’’ - just the shrimplike creatures, which are ubiquitous scavengers of the deep.

His dive, which had been delayed by rough seas for about two weeks, did not go entirely as planned: His submersible’s robot arm failed to operate properly, and his time at the bottom was curtailed from a planned six hours to about three. It was not clear why.

But he emerged from the perilous trip safe and sound and vowing to press on. The area he wants to explore, he said, was 50 times larger than the Grand Canyon.

“I see this as the beginning,’’ Cameron said. “It’s not a one-time deal and then you move on. It’s the beginning of opening up this frontier.’’

National Geographic, which helped sponsor the expedition to the area known as the Challenger Deep, said that Cameron, maker of the movies “Avatar’’ and “Titanic,’’ began his dive Sunday at 3:15 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, landed on the bottom at 5:52 p.m., and surfaced at 10 p.m. He conducted the news conference via satellite as he was being rushed to Guam in the hope of reaching London for Tuesday’s debut of “Titanic 3-D.’’

Cameron plunged solo in a minisubmarine of his own design. The only other time humans have ventured that deep was in 1960, when the US Navy sent two men down. Their craft’s landing stirred up so much ooze that the divers could see little. They stayed just 20 minutes.

The Challenger Deep lies off Guam and extends 6.8 miles below the ocean’s surface. It is the lowest point of the Marianas Trench, the deepest of the many seabed recesses that crisscross the globe.

Early Monday, Cameron detailed his dive, via satellite, from the Octopus, a giant yacht owned by his friend Paul G. Allen, the Microsoft cofounder. He described the Challenger Deep as possessing a bleak terrain that was all but barren of life. By contrast, he said, his dive 5 miles into the New Britain Trench off Papua, New Guinea, earlier this month revealed a relative riot of life, including jellyfish and a seabed marked by animal tracks.

“I expected the same thing,’’ he told reporters. “I had this idea that life would adapt to the deepest places.’’

The expedition had planned to bait the area with food that might have become a magnet for larger creatures lurking in the dark. But Cameron said his team had been unable to launch what it calls a lander - a robotic device resembling a skinny phone booth.

“We didn’t have a chance to do that,’’ he said. “That’s going to be on the next dive, and we’ll see what’s attracted to the bait.’’

Nor did Cameron get a chance to sample much of the sediment, grab rocks with the submersible’s robotic claw, or suck up small creatures with his “slurp gun.’’

“I lost my hydraulics’’ to the crushing pressure, he said. “This is to be expected. This is a prototype. It takes a while to iron out the bugs.’’ Previously, during his dive off Papua New Guinea, he had lost use of one of the submersible’s 12 thrusters.

Cameron told reporters that the expedition had originally planned to conduct a dozen dives in all. But the rough seas and weather were reducing the window to perhaps three or four more.

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