In March we were very fortunate to have Steven Schwankert give us a talk on the 2007 expedition he organised to dive Lake Khovsgol in Mongolia. Steven is the founder of Sinoscuba in Beijing (www.sinoscuba.com) and is also a member of the Explorers Club (http://www.explorers.org). He used to run trips to dive Lion City, which is in the Thousand Islands Lake in Zhejiang province in China, and has also organised ice diving expeditions to Lake Baikal in Siberia.
So a diving expedition to Mongolia, a land-locked country? Are you sure? Well Lake Khovsgol is in northern Mongolia and is the largest and deepest lake in the country (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Kh%C3%B6vsg%C3%B6l). It is smaller than Lake Baikal but still contains 0.4% of the world’s fresh water and actually drains into Lake Baikal. It also has considerably less biodiversity, but on the positive side, there are no large factories nearby. In fact one of the team’s goals was to examine the water for evidence of pollution, and at all the sites they checked they found that it is remarkably and reassuringly unpolluted. The lake is covered by ice for 6 months of the year, when it is used as a highway from Russia as the ice surface offers a major short cut compared to the local roads. Unfortunately in Spring and Autumn, each year several vehicles tend to fall through the ice. The team were unable to find any of these vehicles, but they were able to pinpoint and dive two wooden Russian ships that had caught fire and sank in the 1920′s. These were only very shallow but I believe it is the first time they have been dived.
And what about life. The lake does not have a huge range of life, but they do have Siberian Grayling which are pretty big fish and grow up to a metre long. Also the people they sent up in advance to scout out the lake kept hearing stories about the “Underwater Deer”. Since no-one could tell them anything about it, Steven didn’t think too much of it. However on one particular day their side-scan sonar came across a trace of what looked to be a single object around 5-6 metres long in mid-water. They did 2 passes and the object had moved position. When they showed the traces to the Mongolian Parks people, they said that it was the Underwater Deer. So what is it? And could the lake support a breeding population of something that big? What would it feed on? Or is it a Loch Ness Monster type story? At this stage there’s no clear evidence.
In addition to telling us about their findings, we also got an insight into what was involved in organising this expedition. Watching Brian and Andreas, we think it’s bad enough getting a rebreather to the Philippines. Well Steven and his team had to get a rebreather, 16 tanks, a compressor and a small boat to a far more remote location. They also had a number of firsts on this trip, including the first Mongolian woman to dive in her own country, and also had the first rebreather dive in Mongolia. I think we need to recruit him to take over organising SCDC trips for us as a backup Trevor.
Anyway we’re very grateful to Steven for coming along to talk to us and share the expedition findings. It was a fascinating presentation, and I hope we can get him to come over again in the future to talk about his next venture, which is already in the works.