For thousands of years, the world’s oceans have served the human imagination as a source of mystery and wonder. Indeed, it is often said that we know more about the furthest reaches of space than we do about the depths of our own blue planet! More than 96% of the biosphere is held within our oceans, and it is no exaggeration to say that human survival depends on their health. Yet from micro-plastics to over-fishing, the health of our oceans is very much at stake – and it is getting progressively worse.
Ahead of World Oceans Day on 8th June, The Luxury Channel spoke to marine scientist Dr. Sylvia Earle at the Royal Geographic Society in London. The President and Chairman of Mission Blue, Dr. Earle’s mission is to protect the blue heart of the planet. She is often referred to as “Her Deepness” or “The Sturgeon General” and is one of the world’s most eminent marine biologists, explorers and lecturers. She has been a National Geographic explorer-in-residence since 1998 and was the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“I like living,” she tells us. “But we are doing things to our oceans that is going to make that very difficult – for all of us.” Dr. Earle’s frustration is evident. “We’ve changed the ocean,” she laments, “especially since the introduction of plastics. You see it coming back to shore on beaches all over the world.”
It’s not just plastic pollution that’s causing problems. Over-fishing is also adding to the list of human catastrophes that are contributing to the rapidly declining health of the oceans. “We thought [the ocean] could just keep on giving and giving and giving, so we built bigger boats and developed more sophisticated fishing techniques,” Dr. Earle says. But in explaining the devastating consequence of having done that, she does not mince her words. “We are killing our oceans,” she says simply.
“Can there be sustainable extraction of wildlife from the sea?” she muses. “First, we have to protect what we’ve got, and we’ve seen a decline of 90% of the big fish – tunas, sharks, swordfish. We need to give them a break. Everyone can be a part of the solution by thinking of fish as wildlife, and making choices so that fish are alive instead of on our plates!”
Dr. Earle is, however, hopeful that things can change. “We know what we’re doing is wrong,” she says, “and because of that, we have the ability to get it right – but time is running out and we have to act now.”
Dr. Earle has subsequently founded Mission Blue, which she set up to create a global network of marine protection areas, called “Hope Spots.” These specific areas have been identified as being critical to the health of the ocean. The team at Mission Blue, under Dr. Earle’s direction, subsequently work to garner support and safeguard these areas. As of 2018, Mission Blue had created 94 Hope Spots around the world, and Dr. Earle leads expeditions to them. Past expeditions include Cuba, Belize, the Galápagos Islands, Costa Rica and the Central American Dome and the South African Coast.
“Every diver, every person who gets in, on, around or under the sea should regard themselves as an ambassador, as a voice for those who have no voice,” Dr. Earle tells us. “Whether you’re a sailor, a surfer and certainly if you’re a diver, use your voice, use your knowledge. Who else is going to do it, if not you and if not now?!”