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Gabriel Barathieu Photographe Sous Marin Photo Sous Marine

Gaby Barathieu : De l’image à la science

Gaby Barathieu's underwater images have traveled the world, widely rewarded and published everywhere. But today, through his association Deep Blue Exploration, he devotes most of his time to the study and preservation of the deep Mahoran waters.

Nothing at the start predestined him to settle down in Mayotte. Originally from Landes, in the southwest of France, the Atlantic Ocean rocked his childhood. He only discovered the Indian Ocean in 1999, in Reunion. He is 16 years old and sees a new world. But after this brief foray, he will wait 10 years before settling on Reunion Island, and 5 more to reach Mayotte. “The richness of the lagoon and the surrounding reefs,” he remembers, “had a lot to do with it when I decided to live here. » A few years earlier, he discovered scuba diving, very quickly bought his first camera and his first housing, without realizing the importance that images would take on in his life. From the big, the small, the motionless, the furtive, he immortalizes with constantly renewed curiosity the impressive underwater bestiary of the Indian Ocean. The mischievous calves, the shimmering anemones, the delicate shrimps, the majestic sharks, nothing escapes his photographer's eye attentive to the details and the magic of each encounter. From the first centimeters of water to the great depths, he takes the same amazed look at the fauna and flora, magnifying all the transparencies and colors of the lagoon and the flamboyance of the reef.

In 2012, he attended a conference by Laurent Ballesta on the first Gombessa mission. This conference literally captivated him and was the starting point of a vocation, a passion. Immediately afterwards he trained in rebreather diving, equipment which allowed him to considerably increase the duration and depth of his forays to the other side of the surface. 12 years later, in 2024, he has the double honor of joining the Society of French Explorers with the sponsorship of the one who gave him the taste for deep diving. A double honor!



In 2017, just a few years after his first photos, he was crowned “Underwater photographer of the year” with an image of an octopus taken in the lagoon of Mayotte. A prize which in the world of photography is a tremendous recognition, a major international recognition. “In the Mayotte lagoon,” he says, “during low spring tides, there is very little water on the flats. Only 30 cm in fact. That's when I took this photo. » In natural light, it magnifies one of the emblematic inhabitants of the lagoon that day. And many other prizes, gleaned during international festivals in which he participates, complete his list of achievements. He publishes his images in numerous magazines, such as Science et Vie, Géo, National Géographic and even in the press specializing in scuba diving, in France and abroad. This recognition of his work, although it is of course a source of pride for him, does not fully satisfy him. He also wishes, in some way, to give back to his adopted land what it gave him. “Making beautiful images,” he comments, “is no longer enough for me. I think it is particularly important today to invest in preserving our underwater heritage. » In 2019, with one of his friends, Gaby Barathieu created the Deep Blue Exploration association, of which he is president. His passion for shallow waters and the most accessible coral reefs has never wavered, but he has since become increasingly involved in the study of what we call the mesophotic zone.


It is undoubtedly the most unknown area of our oceans, too deep for conventional divers, little studied by scientists who since the 1970s have concentrated their efforts on the large ocean trenches, using submarines. 'exploration. But the development of rebreather diving now makes it possible to venture out and explore unknown reefs, between 80 and more than 100 meters deep. The aim of the association founded by the photographer is twofold: to document their exceptional biodiversity, to bring images to the surface to bear witness to their unknown beauty; but also implement a scientific approach and study these refuge areas, which could contribute to the preservation of numerous species, threatened at lower depths by the effects of climate change. By intervening within the framework of various research programs, notably supported by the Mayotte Marine Natural Park, the association now puts its knowledge and human resources at the service of science. This time these are particularly technical dives, for which a few precious minutes of time spent at the bottom inventorying, collecting information, observing, result in decompression stops lasting several hours. We are a long way from the endless hours that we can spend in the lagoon capturing incredible scenes of life in a few tens of centimeters of water!


Work at a depth of 100 meters



The first major project in which the photographer is actively participating, MESOMAY, is currently being carried out on different sites on the outer slopes of the reef, between 50 and 150 meters deep. “It is above all a question,” he explains, “through the successive phases of this program, of drawing up an inventory of faunal species and documenting it.” This program, in three parts, is financed by the French Biodiversity Office, in partnership with various structures, notably the Mayotte Marine Natural Park. And the results, although all the data collected have not yet been used, have already revealed species never before described in Mayotte! Some might even still be unknown to science. Samples taken at great depth and analyzed using the environmental DNA technique, which consists of finding traces of all living organisms through a simple water sample, will make it possible to complete the inventories carried out by divers, assisted by an ROV.

A new program, CORCOMA (Conservation of Coral Reefs of Mayotte), has also just been launched. The goal this time is to set up a permanent study station, in order to allow long-term monitoring. Stations are located between 5 and 120 meters, which record numerous data, such as temperature, luminosity, the quantity of nutrients, etc. It is also a question of seeing how exchanges take place between surface areas and great depths, how the reefs accessible to all and the deepest areas, where little light penetrates, are connected. Photogrammetry, sampling, genetic studies using the environmental DNA technique, 3D mapping of habitats to better understand communities and population dynamics, marking and micro-sampling of key organisms to establish a molecular database, determination early bio-indicators of stress will complement the information from a multidisciplinary team of scientists. The ultimate objective, in the context of climate change, is to understand how deep areas can serve as a refuge for certain species, but also as repopulation zones, a sort of reservoir of life if surface conditions become less favorable.


“The lagoon and reefs of Mayotte,” concludes the photographer, “are currently doing quite well, they are in good health, but these studies are important to prepare for the future.” In fact, scientific diving now occupies more than 70% of his time, and he reinvests all the income from his images in the association. He also participates in numerous awareness-raising activities, particularly among young people.

At the same time, Gaby Barathieu is pursuing other projects. While exploring the deep reefs, last year he explored a huge karst cave, formed when the lagoon was not yet underwater. Past the entrance which is around fifty meters deep, a whole kingdom of stalactites and stalagmites is revealed up to more than 80 meters. “We have already done a first dating, he explains, estimated at 17,000 years, and we plan to mount a major expedition in the coming year, to better understand this geological formation.” A still unknown treasure from Mayotte.

“That’s also why,” the photographer concludes, “that I travel less; I have everything I need here.” The island, in just a few years, has become his favorite playground, his true home port.

Discover me with a video

Grand Format - JT France 2

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TV report in the program Les Témoins d'Outre mer

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A TV coverage on Gabriel Barathieu, underwater photographer of the year 2017, specialized in underwater photography, scuba diving and wonderful natural landscapes.

When the reporter came for the topic of the evening, I did not expect to open the JT...

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TV report broadcast on France O, in the show "The witnesses of overseas".

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