Sylvia Earle On Ocean Health
Peppermint goby on coral, by Kim Phillips
Spending ample time as a kid snorkeling the coral reefs of the Florida Keys and scalloping in the Gulf of Mexico helped me to appreciate the sea. The forum I attended yesterday at the Explorers Club on the state of the oceans made it all the clearer how fortunate I am to have had those aquatic experiences. Moderated by world-renowned oceanographer Sylvia Earle and featuring four experts on various aspects of ocean health, the panel delivered a two-fold message: Protecting our oceans is absolutely vital to life as we know it—but the sea is sick. In other words, put on your life preservers, folks, there are rough waters ahead.
Consider these facts from Dr. Susan Shaw, a marine toxicologist and founder of the Marine Environmental Research Institute: The number of dead zones resulting from effluent containing toxins such as pesticides, sewage, and fertilizers is around 300 and increasing; each square mile of ocean contains an estimated 46,000 pieces of plastic; at least four “trash gyres” are swirling mercilessly in the ocean (read about one of them in Susan Tweit's post, here).
Or ponder these disconcerting stats from Dr. Nancy Knowlton, a coral reef biologist at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History: One-third of all corals are at an elevated risk of extinction due to climate change and local impacts; we’ve lost about 80 percent of all living coral in the Caribbean over 30 years, and coral in the Pacific is trending in the same direction (seeing about a 50 percent decline); we’ve over fished about 90 percent of the big fish in the ocean.
Kind of makes you prefer to just jump ship, doesn’t it?
But before putting rocks in your pockets, there ARE ways to help. One is to push for more marine protected areas, such as the one former President Bush created before he left office. Another is to spread the word about ocean conservation, particularly among kids, as panelist Dr. David Guggenehim, a marine biologist and founder of the ocean-centered nonprofit 1planet1ocean, attested. Known as the “Ocean Doctor,” Guggenheim has been touring the nation’s schools since January to enhance ocean literacy among students. Along the way—he’s traveled 25,000 miles so far—he’s collecting letters expressing kids’ environmental wishes and will eventually present them to President Obama. A note from a young boy living in Barrow, Alaska was telling in its simplicity (as youngsters’ words often are): “Dear Obama, We have crabs and whales. Can we keep them?”
Sure, there’s all this talk about “being green,” but the fact is, as Dr. Earle noted, we live on a blue planet, and 99 percent of our biosphere is the ocean and all it encompasses. It’s suicide to ignore our seas...which brings me to a great way we can learn more about them (which could perhaps, foster an appreciation that will, in turn, inspire action--that whole positive feedback loop, you know?): Earlier in the forum, Dr. Earle made an upbeat plug for Google Earth 5.0, the latest version of the Internet mapping (and so much more!) program. Among other new features, 5.0 offers users a way to plunge beneath the ocean surface for a virtual 3-D tour of the terrain. The coolness of this tool—which was inspired by Dr. Earle —is undeniable: You don’t have to leave your chair to see what’s submerged thousands of feet underwater. But for all its allure, 5.0 also underscores a powerful fact that Dr. Earle also related: We’ve only explored the watery depths of less than five percent of our oceans. Imagine what’s left out there to discover. Let’s not ruin it before we even begin to get our feet wet.!--/end tags-->