Unknown Depths of the African Rift Lakes

Latest update September 13, 2019 Started on February 1, 2019

With the aid of an underwater drone (Trident - OpenRov), our mission is to discover new species of deep water Cichlids in Lake Tanganyika and Lake Malawi

February 1, 2019
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In The Field
Just a quick update on our expedition: We have sent C-Wii down to 60m and found mud! Which was quite exciting if you know what sort of fish live there! We saw many T. Otostigma with fry, G. Permaxilliaris, Greenwoodochromis sp, but no “unknown” species just yet. Sending the drone down deep can be challenging as it doesn’t just “sink” but we might have found a way to make it go straight down! Unfortunately the current platform is transferring to a different website, just while we are in the field and taking shots with our drone. This means that we won’t be able to post any more updates on this website, but you can keep following us on Facebook where there will be some updates on our expedition and pictures of Cichlids from of our dives. If you like, you can go and follow these profiles for further updates: Mattia Matarrese Tautvydas Pangonis Pam Chin Submerged Findurnemo Ciao! Mattia
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Hi friends and followers, Today is the beginning of our 1st Deep Water Cichlid Expedition! The team met at Dar Es Salaam airport (Tanzania), to catch another flight to Mbeya and then a long 8-hrs drive to Lake Shore Lodge, in Kipili. Some of us had he chance to rest for a night in a near-by hotel, while others are still on the go from their home countries. Great to see everyone again and meet new faces, everyone is excited for this expedition and can’t wait to get in the water tomorrow! A big THANK YOU to Kevin, owner of Findurnemo (https://findurnemo.com) for being a legend and “dressing us” up with some great design! He approached us after reading the expedition thread and offered to help make us look good with an official logo to print on a shirt. We’ve been working together to make the best design to suit our exploration, and here’s what we came up with: A cichlid (Benthochromis horii) looking at our C-Wii (Trident drone) with part of the yellow tether cable representing the shape of Lake Tanganyika :) The shirts will be available on the Findurnemo website (here: TBA) , and proceeds will go towards the Stuart M. Grant Cichlids conservation fund (https://www.cichlidpress.com/smgfund/) ... don’t be shy to buy one and support the preservation of endangered Cichlids! #saveourcichlids
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Hi friends,

It has been a while since last update, and we thought it was time for some news!

Few weeks ago, we had some trouble in preparation with the topside (the part of the kit that connects the controller to the drone), which had to be sent back in exchange for a new one.

C-Wii (the Trident) had its first trial dive today in a pool, and WOW! It goes fast! It’s going to take some time to master the control of it and fine-tune the driving, but we are positive that after a few hours of diving, it will get a lot easier and more fun.

Our first expedition is coming up soon, and the team is getting very excited to meet again and can’t wait to send C-Wii down deep in Lake Tanganyika.

Attached is a video of C-Wii “playing” in the pool!


Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have a DRONE, and it has a name!

C-Wii Explorer Which stands for “Cichlid - Whisperer” The first letter C reads as “SEE” to thank the S.E.E. Initiative that gave us the opportunity to start dreaming and sponsor C-Wii, and the word “Explorer” to thank NatGeo and OpenRov that gave us the opportunity to be part of this and be real “explorers” for the first time, as well as a great platform to share our next expedition.

C-Wii finally came together with the accessories pack and 100m tether (strong waterproof cable) and it’s looking great!

It will have its first dip and trial run in the pool in a few weeks to understand how it works and what we need to make sure we get good footage of what’s been hiding at those great depths. I am going to purchase an underwater torch rated to 150m and mount it on the Trident to make sure we have extra lighting.

Our expedition group is finally full and everything has been booked - we have a full itinerary which includes cool and interesting dive locations like Maswa, Cape Katondo (Mpimbwe), HapaIngiiFara, Sigunga and some more spots in the Mahale National Park and Gombe NP. With the aid of a depth finder, we will aim to send C-Wii down at least once a day, weather and lake conditions permitting.

More frequent updates will come when the expedition takes place in September, but for now don’t forget to “FOLLOW” us by clicking on the yellow button above!



Happy Underwater drone day!

We applied for the S.E.E. Explorer Initiative via OpenRov, and guess what!? We received the exciting news that we qualified for a FREE Trident! I was shocked and couldn’t believe it when I read the email that notified us we would be receiving a Trident for our first Deep Water Cichlid Expedition. OpenRov loves Cichlids too! Thank you so much Nicole and all the OpenRov team! :)

We have also decided to get the full accessories kit (controller, 100m tether cable and hard case) with our Trident to make sure we can live stream while taking the drone deep in Lake Tanganyika waters.

Our Trident will be ready to be shipped out within few days, but we are not ready to receive it just yet. Our team is in contact with few possible sponsors for our expedition that will help us with the accessories and shipping expenses, as well as with the extra luggage that is our main concern at the moment: I will be flying from Perth, Australia via Emirates, and they have tried to charge me over $1200 AUD for an extra piece of luggage. Yes, I know. Ridiculous! Pam and T-Bone are looking at the extra luggage prices with the company they’re flying with - hoping for a better quote. Either that, or I might have to pack really really lightly for this expedition to suit Trident and camera gear...

Happy fishes!


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Thank you everyone for the many positive feedbacks and support. We can’t believe how many messages we have received so far!

Today is the day that we introduce the team of our 1st Deep Water Cichlid Expedition!

They are all volunteers who share the passion for Cichlids and have been involved in this project since the early stages.

Mattia Matarrese - Perth, Western Australia

"I was introduced to Cichlids for the first time at the age of 10, and since then my “obsession” started! Trying to follow my passion and interests, while studying Biology at University, I started working in the biggest Cichlid farm in Italy, Le Onde, where I learned so much about Cichlids of the Rift Lakes in Africa thanks to my ex boss and friend Gianni who handed down his passion to me. After few years, I moved to Perth, WA where I started working for one of the biggest and the finest freshwater aquarium store in the state, Aquotix Aquariums, where I refined my knowledge about all the other tropical fishes. I look and work with Cichlids everyday, and yet it seems to be not enough!

While in Perth, I was lucky enough to meet Ad Konings for one of his international conferences, my hero since I started getting interested in Cichlids, who invited me to join one of his trips to Lake Tanganyika in 2015. I couldn’t say “no” to my dream... since then, the real bug started, and I’ve been travelling every year to the African Lakes. I have done over 100hrs of dives in Lake Malawi and Lake Tanganyika, which only made me understand how much there is still to discover and learn about Cichlids - which sparked my idea of this Deep Water Cichlid Expedition !"

Pam Chin – Sloughhouse, CA, USA

"I have been a cichlid enthusiast for years, and have found the cichlids from Lake Tanganyika to be the most fascinating. As a frequent visitor to this ancient rift lake I have been able to log many hours observing these fish in their natural habitat. Seeing firsthand how they hold a territory, breed and raise their progeny. I find the history of the lake is remarkable and how the fish have evolved over tens of thousands of years is noteworthy. These cichlid fishes have an array of behaviors, including the different ways they feed and interact with each other. Some are found at extreme depths and not much is known about them. It would be so exciting to see these cichlids with an underwater drone, record their behaviors and share this information with other Lake Tanganyikan enthusiasts."

Tautvydas Pangonis (AKA T-Bone) - Cambridge, UK

"I have a passion for the cichlids of Lake Tanganyika and have travelled to the lake to learn more about their husbandry and feeding techniques. During these trips I have gained immense knowledge of lakes endemic cichlid species.

With over a decade of experience in keeping and breeding mouthbrooders and substrate spawning cichlids. My main interest focused on the cichlids from Lake Tanganyika. I am very concerned about the overfishing and have seen the first-hand damage of over collection.

I'm certified and experienced PADI diver. Over the years of exploring various rivers and lakes in Europe as well as Lake Tanganyika I established good underwater photography skills. SCUBA divers can only get to about 50-60 meters deep, but we know there is lower limit of dissolved oxygen at the depths of 200 meters, meaning there could be quite a few new deep water cichlid species to discover. "

Ad Konings - El Paso, TX, USA Ad doesn’t need any introduction, but here’s his Wikipedia page https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/AdKonings

Chris - Kipili, Tanzania "My name is Chris Horsfall. I live and operate a lodge on Lake Tanganyika and have been here for 12 years. We operate dive trips on the lake and this is how we met Mattia, Ad, Pam and Tautvydas.

These guys knowledge and passion for the Cichlid is infectious and we consider ourselves lucky to be able to continue hosting them. I think the idea of obtaining this amazing drone is incredible. After living here for 12 years I can endorse the fact that the footage obtained by Mattia and the rest of the team will be the first of its kind and I'm sure it will lead to amazing new discoveries.

Well done guys, keep up your passion and keep up your learning." ——

The idea of these expeditions came from the eager to know more about Cichlids and see what else we can learn about them, and maybe find some deep water Cichlids never seen before.

There is a few species which have only been seen and caught by fish nets few times, as for example Baileychromis centropomidae that lives deeper than 60m, and not much is known about them.

After our expedition, the data will be processed and analysed by Ad Konings, whose knowledge on Lake Tanganyika and Malawi Cichlids is second to none, to identify any new species or geographical variant detected by our Trident UW drone (I have already a nick-name in mind for it, but that’s secret until we actually get it!)

Stay tuned and keep following our expedition, official itinerary coming soon!

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Preparation for the trip - two of the species we may be able to find deeper than 60m in the rocky habitat or on mud bottom.
Neolamprologus bifasciatus and Neolamprologus ventralis cichlids

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Expedition Background

Very little is known about the deep water species of “Cichlids". This family of fishes are some of the most intelligent and diversely evolved freshwater fish on the planet and can be found at depths beyond 60m in Lake Malawi and Lake Tanganyika in Africa.
Scuba Divers have dived deeper than any recommended scuba chart to find, discover and observe these deep water Cichlids. In these two lakes only very few images and videos have ever been produced to share with science. Scuba diving with air (21% Oxygen) can be very dangerous at depths beyond 50m. In these developing nations it is almost to impossible to find advanced or technical dive gear (including gas mixes) which makes our mission of finding deep water creatures close to impossible without compromising diver safety.

After last year’s trip to Lake Tanganyika, I reached a maximum depth of 46.5m with a new desire to go deeper and learn more about these beautiful and intelligent creatures. This brings me to my wonderful idea...

While my friend and colleague, Tautvydas Pangonis, was flying his drone in the sky to take photographs of the locations where we dive; my colleagues and friends, Ad Konings and Pam Chin, and myself, came up with the idea of finding an underwater drone that would suit our needs to go “deeper” safely. After some research, I came across the perfect underwater drone: The OpenRov - Trident underwater drone! This magnificent piece of scientific equipment has all the characteristics and tools we were looking for: it can go over 100m deep, is fully controllable from above the water via a splash-proof controller, it can live stream and record videos and take pictures WHILE live streaming at 100m depths. It comes with in-built lighting to help recognition of the creature in front of it and it even comes with a fancy shock-proof case (which is great for when you are travelling in Africa...)!

Our first “deep water Cichlid research trip” will be in September 2019. We will be going over to Lake Tanganyika for 18 days and travel by boat from the Lake Shore Lodge in Kipili (Tanzania) up to the Gombe National Park in the Kigoma Region (Tanzania). Captain Chris Horsefall will guide the "Lake Wanderer" ensuring that everybody will have a safe journey. The trip is fully voluntary and not funded by any association or clubs.

I gathered some information about the Trident - OpenRov and as I imagined, this piece of equipment isn’t cheap! So the next step will be to open a “Go-Fund-The-Underwater-Drone” Page and ask for donations from Cichlid clubs worldwide, aquarium shops, private investors and Universities or education institutions interested in our project. There is also a slight chance to qualify for a FREE Trident underwater drone - but that would be a dream come true. Who knows if the OpenRov team likes our mission?! “If you don’t ask, you will never get”! It’s worth the long shot!

Mattia Matarrese

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