Dr. Earle at the California Seamounts Hope Spot Launch in San Francisco
June 6, 2019
On May 14th, 2019, the Mission Blue team and the ocean conservation community gathered at the San Francisco Exploratorium to celebrate the launch of the California Seamounts Hope Spot. Dr. Sylvia Earle closed out the evening with her thoughts on protecting the California seamounts from exploitation and of the global state of ocean conservation.
“Thank you – all of you — for coming from where you came from to be here to salute the ocean and salute the cause for hope. I’m looking at the cause for hope right now: you’re here, and you care. We’re all at this amazing point in history – early in the 21st century — we’re armed with that most important thing called knowledge. 10 year-olds are growing up knowing things I could not know at that age. When you think about what we’re charged with here; we’re looking at the ocean with new eyes. The ocean we now know is vulnerable. When I was a kid, we could not imagine that we could hurt the ocean; we thought the ocean is too big to harm. We thought we could put anything into it that we want, and poof! It goes away. We thought we could take out of the ocean whatever we want because it either doesn’t matter, it’s so big and we’re so small. The living things we take from the sea? Oh, they’ll just grow back. People used to think that about manganese nodules – of course, they take millions of years to get that big, but it’ll grow back; give it time. How many millions of years do you need?
Until right about now, we did not need proactive actions to take care of the ocean. Why? Because we could not get to most of the ocean– the ocean was protected by its inaccessibility. That’s no longer true. We can get one way or the other even if we’re not there personally– our impact is universal. Perhaps you saw the news today of the descents made recently by a new group of explorers going down to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, where they found our junk down there. That’s not news; I’ve been exploring the ocean with little submarines since the 1960s. I’ve seen junk– our footprint; our evidence of us everywhere. The deepest I’ve been is 2.5 miles, but its deeper than most people get to go and come back; it’s easy to go one way but that’s part of the problem– we don’t go there, we don’t see our impact.
We’re beginning to feel it in terms of the big ocean processes— climate scientists are now telling us that we have moved the needle from where we were to where we are now so far that we have but 12 years to take action. It’s possible– it’s within our grasp to alter what’s changing the temperature of the planet. We’re changing the chemistry of the planet. Now the latest report that’s underscoring what should have been perfectly obvious if you’re listening and looking… that we don’t even know how many species there are on the planet, and we’re way behind the curve in trying to find out.
Some of us were at the deep-sea mining discussion today and listened to scientists from the University of Hawaii talking about their discoveries; their explorations in a place that’s targeted for deep-sea mining. They’ve begun to explore it, and others are eagerly waiting to exploit it– where manganese nodules carpet certain areas of the sea floor. We’ve heard that just in a 30-kilometer square area, in the explorations that have taken place, there are more than 1,000 new species, in this little patch of the deep sea, 80% of them have never been seen before. Take that 30–kilometer chunk and expand that across over the deep sea where nobody has been there yet! Oh, but our fingerprint is there, we’ve changed the chemistry, we’ve got our junk floating around there – but we haven’t explored it. That’s what we’re gathered here to try to address. How do we forestall what some say is inevitable? President Obama once remarked, that our highest priority is to make the world safe for our children. What we’re doing now will resonate forever. Our work will have a magnified impact on everything that follows because we’re right at that critical point. We’ve got all these things that matter – the economy and security all the things that humans care about– but if you can’t breathe, what is business all about anyway?
I just came back from China, and I couldn’t breathe! I really prefer air that you don’t see when you take it in. We’re beginning to wake up; we’re waking up in China, San Francisco, Chile; all over the world. Nature is just voices being heard. We’re losing insects! We thought it was a good thing to get rid of all those darn bugs but now we’re beginning to see it with new insight.
When I was a kid, I did not know. The kids of today are a cause for hope. They’re growing up with new awareness, new knowledge, new sensitivity of this frightening prospect that this world will be impoverished with respect to nature that I knew— that we have known. Are we going to be the last ones to see sushi bluefin tuna on the menu? Probably– according to Barbara Block. Latest figures – 3% are all that remain in the Pacific of the populations when I was a kid. When you get a population of anything down to 3% is that the time to say, “Wait—if we want them around – whether it be on our plate or in the ocean... shouldn’t we give them a break, and is it too late?” Is 3% enough to keep up with reproduction to let them repopulate the ocean? I hardly know where to begin, but we are making a start right here, right now. We are witnesses to the greatest era of loss of all of human history. Our capacity is partly driven by our numbers and also driven by our technology to consume the natural world— to clear-cut forests to mine the land, to mine the sea and drill the Earth and take from the Earth. We take, but all creatures do this – we aren’t alone. All creatures use the world around them. Birds do it; they take sticks and build their nests. It’s an “eat and be eaten” world— the great food web of the planet. It’s the carbon cycle we’re a part of. We shouldn’t duck from that sense of being a part of the systems that what makes the world function. But we tilted the world so much, seemingly in our favor, but now with new insights from being high in the sky 50 years ago in space. This is it! Our little spacecraft in a universe of unfriendly options. What are we going to do now that we know this is all there is– and we’re all on board? What happens on one side of the planet affects things on the other side – we see how everything connects. We couldn’t see it in the past. We’re the lucky ones – we’re armed with knowledge. But knowing isn’t enough–you also have to care.
I was asked to be Chief Scientist of NOAA in 1990. I took the plunge and said yes. My daughter Elizabeth remembers as a kid in California. I had at the time been working with her and with a group of others to build technologies to access the deep sea and I made the leap and when I went to Washington, I had a bunch of things on my mind. One of them was that we have national parks on the land—and could we do that for the ocean? The marine sanctuary program was a young promising start towards that objective. A $3 million program in 1990. Think about that job. The budget is $50 million now. Yeah, let’s protect the ocean for $50 million. The National Marine Fisheries Service’s budget is $1 billion– to take from the ocean. To help the fisherman catch fish and guide them to where the fish are and come up with new technologies to catch and market what we take from the ocean. One of the things I tried to do was establish wild ocean reserves. I held a conference in 1991 in Hawaii and the Navy and State Department were not pleased with the concept. But they came and we talked and it was beginning of what is now moving strongly in the direction of proactively protecting what used to be self-protected. I think we are living in a moment in time when we should all just feel the power – our superpower of making decisions individually and collectively.
I didn’t think much about where air came from as a kid, but now, I think very much where our air comes from. Where does the oxygen in the air come from, and what are we doing to it? What are we doing to the water? What are we doing to the fabric of life that has taken 4.5 billion years to get to where we are? It’s taken us a few decades to seriously make routes to unravel those basic systems of chemistry, the fabric of life we depend on for our existence. We don’t learn that in school – we learn our alphabet we learn our numbers, but we don’t learn we have to take care of nature because our existence depends on it. Everything we take is our existence, and we’re not accounting for that properly.
It’s our job, and that’s why I was given a chance in 2009 I when I magically won the TED prize and I was given a wish big enough to change the world. My goal in short form was to establish a network of hope of areas in the sea large enough to save and restore the blue heart of the ocean; a network of protected areas. People have wondered, how do we get people to care, how do we get people to act? It’s governments who make the rules, but it’s the people who make the governments, so it ties together. So the idea with what we started at that time with the initiation of part of the implementation of the wish. One individual stood up and said, “I get it, if we fail to step up and take care of the ocean, nothing else matters. He wrote a check for a million dollars that made possible an expedition to the Galapagos that some of you here attended. We brainstormed solutions, like how do you protect the blue heart of the planet? Out of that came Mission Blue. Another individual wrote another big check to do the film– Mission Blue — Netflix is now the purveyor of that film.
We developed the idea of capitalizing on the power that people have, not governments – individual people around the world who can nominate places they know about that matter. We ask them to think like a fish: “If you were a fish, what part of the ocean would you say you’ve really got to protect because if we don’t, there’s no hope? I talked to the fisherman in Martha’s Vineyard, in the Gulf of Mexico; people everywhere! Mission Blue has evolved into working with partners; MCI of course, but now more than 200 around the world who buy into giving people the power to nominate through the IUCN drawing on their expertise, a panel of individuals who volunteer their time– Lance being one. These are people who review proposals that come in from all over the world– South Africa, Colombia, Chile, California who come to us and say, “We think this place should be a Hope Spot and we commit.” We brainstorm with them on what we can to move from hope to reality; to move from a wish to actually getting people to proactively use their power and use their government power to take care of a place.
In the end, is 10% enough? It’s what the UN objective is for 2020, or 20% by 2030? I certainly hope we get there. Some are saying we have to at least dedicate half of the world for nature land and sea. We have to give back and take care of what remains of the world that has taken so long to create… a world that now favors us. But we’re taking action as if aliens have given us the job of dismembering the very systems that keep us alive. We know now what could not know before, and here we are! We’re given the chance of all of civilization — what we do or don’t do will determine where we go from here. The climate scientists say we have 10 years maybe 12 to get it right. I’ve been saying that for about 30 years actually– that the next ten years will determine the next ten thousand years and every 10 years it’s the same. We still have a little bit of time, but it’s getting harder. I think there will be people around at the end of this century one way or another but it’s going to be harder in a century if we don’t do what we can do now.
Thank you, all of you, especially partner MCI– thank you whoever you are for coming and bringing hope. We do need to protect the high seas; why we are fishing up there in the first place? We weren’t 100 years ago. There’s no artisanal fishing beyond 200 miles today. It’s all industrial fishing, serving choices– not needs. I give concession to those who are consuming wildlife for their needs for their communities and families, but that’s not what is killing the ocean. What’s killing the ocean is the capacity to strip the ocean, now with deep-sea mining. Can we not rise up and say we’ve got to protect these special places where there are animals in which we don’t even know their names– but they do matter? As never before, we do have a chance to do that.
I thank you for coming together to celebrate the latest of 113 hope spots — 13 — my lucky number!– here in California, I really want little submarines out there to explore. I want to dive in Cortez bank, in the kelp forests — and I hope you’ll come too and use your powers to communicate to the rest of the world why it matters. Thank you.”