August 28, 2012

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By Greg Stone

As I gaze at the night sky, the stars are the clearest I have ever seen them. The Milky Way glows from horizon to horizon, and while I see many familiar constellations visible from the Northern Hemisphere, I also see a number of new ones — strange assortments of stars that are only visible south of the equator.

We are here diving in the Cook Islands on the breaking crest of a new wave of marine conservation. This week, 16 nations have gathered at the 43rd Pacific Islands Forum to coordinate their actions across an area so vast it encompasses 40 million square kilometers (15.4 million square miles) — 10% of our planet’s ocean. This area is called the Pacific Oceanscape.

Within this deep, blue water swims most of the world’s remaining tuna, thousands of great whales, millions of dolphins, underwater mountains (seamounts) and much more. The future of our planet depends on how we take care of our oceans, and this is the most ambitious and forward-thinking initiative ever.

Today I find myself in Aitutaki, an atoll about a one-hour flight from Rarotonga, the capital of the Cook Islands. I am honored to be here diving with CI’s chairman and CEO, Peter Seligmann; the world-renowned oceanographer, Sylvia Earle; and CI board member Alex Balkanski.

While the stars shimmer throughout the clear Cook Island nights, the sun shines down all day. We are in a 17-foot [5.18-meter] boat, gliding above the glassy water; I can see hues of blue, turquoise and red below. A flying fish bursts from the water and glides through the air. Fish schools roil the water as we arrive at our dive site, just outside the entrance to Aitutaki’s harbor.

Our dive master, Don, cuts the engine and, with a welcoming smile — white teeth gleaming — tells me we have arrived. Soon I am falling backward out of the boat, and within moments I find myself drifting in a serene blue inner space. We are on the reefs of Aitutaki and it feels like I can see forever, the waters are so clear.

I have high hopes that this year’s Pacific Islands Forum will lead to new ambitious commitments for marine conservation. This dive in Aitutaki feels like a great omen.

Greg Stone is Conservation International’s chief scientist for oceans

Top Image: Crown-of thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci) in the Cook Islands Image Credit: Conservation International/ Greg Stone

This post was originally published by Conservation International.

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