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From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.
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February 26, 2014: Inspiring Hope
It’s been said that hope is the most powerful motivator in the world…a principle with which I happen to agree. I came to this, in good measure, due to a remarkable person named Dr. Sylvia Earle, oceanographer, scientist, National Geographic explorer-in-residence, and one of this blue planet’s most ardent champions.
I had the good fortune of working with Dr. Earle a few years ago in launching a new organization called Mission Blue. What I learned while working with this ardent advocate for what she calls Earth’s blue heart, is that conservation is ultimately about the power of hope.
In this time of 24-hour news cycle, we hear endlessly about the world’s “hot spots,” bleak stories of civil wars, droughts and degraded ecosystems. Sylvia, however, took an entirely new tack when she launched the idea of “hope spots,” special places in our ocean that are critical to our planet’s health and worth restoring and preserving as marine protected areas.
These hope spots are found throughout world, including areas such as the Coral Triangle in the western Pacific – perhaps the most diverse marine ecosystem on Earth; the deep underwater canyons of Alaska’s Bering Sea – home to whales, fur seals, king crabs, and even cold water corals; the evocatively named White Shark Café – a critical breeding and feeding ground in the deep Pacific for great white sharks; and the Mesoamerican Reef – the world’s second longest coral reef, which spans three Central American nations. The message that Sylvia wants to share is that there is still hope, provided we take decisive action, now.
In fact, she has identified 51 existing or potential hope spots …impressive, until we learn that less than two percent of the ocean is currently protected, in contrast to over 12 percent of the world’s land area. Considering that the ocean covers 71 percent of the planet, we have a long way to go.
When Sylvia received the coveted TED Prize a few years ago, she declared that the next 10 years will likely be more important than the last 10,000 to the future of the ocean. What we do right now will set the tone for our relationship with this ocean planet for a long time to come.
So, where do we stand? Well, it would be easy to despair… we humans have eaten more than 90 percent of the sea’s big fish, nearly half the world’s coral reefs have disappeared or are at risk, dead zones continue to increase around the mouths of many of our mightiest rivers and we have now identified five massive trash gyres in the world’s largest oceans.
But in the midst of all this negativity, Sylvia reminds us that there is hope. Ten percent of those big fish still live—enough to restore most fish stocks, given time. Fifty percent of coral reefs are still thriving and worthy of saving. And we can bring those dead zones back to life just by taking better care of the water that flows down our rivers. In fact, the percentage of marine protected areas has doubled since Sylvia began this mission seven years ago by deftly steering former President George Bush into declaring two of the largest marine protected areas in US history.
In a storied career that includes leading more than 100 ocean science expeditions and logging more than 7,000 hours underwater, Sylvia knows the ocean as few do. She believes that a global network of hope spots can support biodiversity, absorb our carbon, generate life-giving oxygen, preserve critical habitat and allow low-impact activities like adventure travel and artisanal fishing to thrive.
Now that’s reason for hope.
Learn more about our 2014 Marjorie Lynn Bank Lecture Series and get tickets and information on upcoming events.