In a beautiful new film released this Friday on Netflix, oceanographer and explorer Sylvia Earle describes her underwater adventures. She also explains why she is driven to protect wild oceans the way we now protect wild lands. Her goal, like the film, is called Mission Blue.
I have known Sylvia for more than 20 years: she is an honorary NRDC trustee and helped design our oceans program. Her passionate commitment to our oceans is a constant source of inspiration.
Sylvia is fearless. She was one of the first female aquanauts and has led teams of all-women scientists in underwater research. She has broken deep-sea diving records and walked at 1,200 feet below the surface. And she routinely challenges Congress, CEOs, and international leaders to do more to preserve our oceans riches.
As a scientist, Sylvia knows the oceans are in a state of crisis. Industrial fishing fleets have emptied the oceans of 90 percent of the world’s large fish, including tuna and swordfish. Less than 2 percent of the ocean is protected. And the pollution that causes climate change is turning oceans more acidic, making it harder for marine creatures to produce shells.
This is a grim picture, but the good news is we know how to turn the tide. Sylvia has been a champion for one of our most potent solutions: marine protected areas—the equivalent of national parks in the ocean.
Sylvia calls these areas “hope spots,” places where, out of reach of human hands, fish, coral, and other marine species can rebound.
NRDC has helped bring hope spots to more of our shared ocean waters. We helped draft and pass a California law creating a network of underwater parks stretching from the Oregon border to the Mexican border. Now 16 percent of California’s ocean waters are protected and we are already seeing more vibrant marine life. And just this week, we helped persuade the California Senate to pass a resolution creating “Safeguard Our Coast Day” to honor smart coastal management.
We are also encouraging President Obama to make the Pacific Remote Island National Monument as fully protected as possible. This pristine area is home to coral gardens, endangered sea turtles and other endangered species. In June, the president announced plans to expand the monument—originally created by President George W. Bush—and we are calling on him to make it as large as possible.
Here on the East Coast, NRDC is working to preserve the gorgeous underwater canyons and seamounts off the Atlantic Coast. These places are treasure troves of biodiversity—some species found there have helped with cancer research—but they are threatened by oil and gas drilling and industrial fishing.
We are also working to create protected areas in international waters of the high seas. The high seas account for two thirds of the ocean, but they sit outside any one country's jurisdiction. They’re like the neglected stepchild of the oceans. NRDC is urging countries to embrace our shared responsibility for the global ocean.
We can turn these and many other places into hope spots. And we can strengthen our communities in the process. The oceans produce up to 70 percent of our oxygen, they shape our climate, and they support an American oceans economy larger than our nation’s entire agriculture sector. As Sylvia says, “Everything that we care about is connected to the ocean. It doesn’t matter where on the planet you live, your life depends on the existence of the ocean.”
Sylvia has continued to dive well into her late seventies, and she continues to be a passionate champion of the oceans. I encourage you watch this film, draw inspiration from her story, and join us in the effort to protect our wild seas.