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Interview with Dr. Sylvia Earle
I've heard a lot of discussion about the Sustainable Seas Expeditions. What are the objectives of these expeditions?
This project is a three-way partnership, coordinated by the National Geographic Society in cooperation with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and supported by the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund. We have set out to elevate the status of marine sanctuaries to that of national parks. We want people to understand the importance of protecting the diversity of life in the ocean. The Sustainable Seas Expeditions will use two manned submersibles, capable of exploring to 2,000 feet or more, to document the twelve marine sanctuaries in North America. Our goal is to change the way people think about the ocean, to emphasize the need for protected areas and to develop an ethic of ocean stewardship.
In what way will the Sustainable Seas Project be active here in the Florida Keys?
We plan to implement this work with sanctuary managers and scientists who are already engaged in research in each of the twelve sanctuaries, in order to cooperate with them and provide equipment that will extend the range of research capability down to 2,000 feet. The company providing the submersibles is a Vancouver-based operation called Nuytco, the same firm that Zegrahm and DeepEx are working with on your forthcoming DeepSea Voyages programs.
Both literally and figuratively, we hope to provide greater depth to the ongoing studies, as well as to implement some new ones. It is essential to develop a yardstick to measure change over time (in the marine environment) starting from now and going forward, but also, looking backwards. We will extract biological data from archival records made by people who have been doing research over the past few decades. This archival information will focus on the marine sanctuaries in the United States but at the same time we will encourage others to do the same internationally. This type of a database will give us a perspective of what has happened in the last century and a better understanding of where we are headed in the next century.
The most desirable thing we can strive for is some measure of stability. The last thing we want is to find our natural systems in a chaotic state, with no predictability on which way they are going. Whether we're talking about fish populations, wetlands, water temperature or the health of our coral reefs, we must understand how these natural systems work and what the triggering factors are in order to develop wise management policies.
What is the significance of the year of the ocean?
The year of the ocean is a national, as well as an international, effort to celebrate the relationship between humankind and the seas. It has taken a number of directions. On an international scale, there is a World Ocean Expo in Lisbon, with pavilions from many different countries. The Ocean Expo is like a world fair, but it's all about the oceans. A new aquarium has opened in connection with the Expo. Jean-Michael Cousteau and I are the spokespersons for the U.S.
On a national scale, there was an oceans conference in Monterey in June. That conference was unprecedented, with approximately 500 invited individuals from all over the country representing the many aspects of the ocean community: industry, science, conservation, technology, scientists as well as President Clinton, the First Lady and Vice President Al Gore.
You could feel the energy about raising public awareness about the oceans. It seems that at last there really is concern about the oceans on a national scale, that a wave of momentum has been created that will carry on into the next century. We have an opportunity now to do for the oceans in the 21st century what the 20th century has done for space. We must elevate the importance of the oceans and recognize that everything on this planet is absolutely governed by them.
Here is just one of the ways that sea and space come together: think about setting up housekeeping on Mars or in a spacecraft -- the key is water. We have been indifferent about the state of the oceans. I hope that what I am sensing during this Year of the Ocean is a real "Sea Change" of attitude.
What can adventure travelers do with regard to the year of ocean?
Education and understanding are two critical elements in the concept of the year of the ocean. This is where Zegrahm comes in. The expeditions you offer are important, because there is nothing like being there. It is widely acknowledged that one picture is worth a thousand words, but there is no question that one experience is worth a thousand pictures.