Essay by Cheryl Lyn Dybas

To understand the shore, it is not enough to catalogue its life.  Understanding comes only when we can sense the long rhythms of earth and sea that sculptured its land forms and produced the rock and sand of which it is composed; when we can sense with the eye and ear of the mind the surge of life beating always at its shores—blindly, inexorably pressing for a foothold. ---Rachel Carson, The Edge of the Sea

Chukchi AW51069You can help support Deep HOPE and become an ocean explorer, and discover deep blue places where no one has gone before.

Consider this: Although the ocean is vital for human life support, the combination of pressure, temperature and darkness in the deep sea have left it largely unexplored below diver depths. Though much of the ocean floor has been mapped, it is to a gross resolution of five kilometres - meaning we can only see features larger than five kilometres. We have better maps of the moon and of Mars than we do of the floor of our ocean.

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Researchers believe there are more 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. While about 20% are afloat, in transit or trapped at the five known plastic gyres, more than four billion plastic microfibers per square kilometre are in the deep sea. Be afraid; be very afraid of these scary numbers. Frightening numbers!

We dump eight million tonnes of plastic in the ocean every year. A recent survey of the Australian coastline documented three-quarters of coastal rubbish is plastic, averaging more than six pieces per meter of coastline. Offshore, densities vary from a few thousand pieces to more than 40,000 of plastic per square kilometre.

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This is the largest migration on earth and it happens every single night in oceans and lakes all over the world. Surrounded by aliens, witnessing their world, one can only wonder why outer-space would be fascinating to anyone with all this going on right in our own oceans. Gently descending into the void, Mother Ocean welcomes me into her dark embrace with her body-hugging pressure. Turning on one low-focus light, at first all we see is the blackness of the night sea, sprinkled with occasional white flecks of particulate matter gently falling in slow motion.

Suddenly, something thin and gelatinous ghosts by, no more than 20 centimetres long. It freezes for a brief moment to flare into a Fandango stance, as if to say "check this out". Then, all hair-like tentacles collapse and the thin line whisks off into the darkness. Wow! What was that?

 

ÎLE DE LA PASSION IS A RUGGEDLY ENCHANTING PLACE with a volatile history, a harsh equatorial climate, and a staggering marine debris problem.

Sixty-three hours into our drive, it was obvious that we were all more than ready for the commute to be over. Camera and video gear had all been set up and tested more thoroughly than could possibly be necessary, every white cap on the horizon line looked like a speck of land, and some of us were even resigned to doing our work. M&Ms were being eaten compulsively, and the meal and presentation schedule was what kept us on track as the hours slowly ticked by, and we still had more than a day left to go. But the reward would be well worth the wait.

DR SYLVIA EARLE IS A WOMAN OF MANY FIRSTS: She was the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, LA Time’s Woman of the Year in 1970, ordained a knight in 1981, named by Time Magazine as its first Hero for the Planet in 1998. In 1979, she made an open-ocean JIM suit dive to the sea floor alone near Oahu, setting a women's depth record of 381 metres. In 2009, she won a TED Prize, and with TED's support, she launched Mission Blue, which aims to establish marine protected areas (“Hope Spots") around the globe. In 2014, she was named Glamour Woman of the Year, a UN Champions of the Earth Award, and the first woman to be celebrated at an Explorers Club Tribute Ceremony. We are honoured to have Dr Sylvia Earle as Chair of the Ocean Geographic’s Honorary Editors Board. Here, she shares with us some of her deep secrets.

 

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