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February 20, 2009

A Labor of Ocean Love

“The land gets all the press, so we decided to turn it around.” So said Sylvia Earle last night about her new ocean atlas. I watched last night at the National Geographic auditorium as Earle and co-author Linda Glover spoke about the atlas, Google ocean, and why we should protect the sea. Wearing a bright aqua blazer, the softspoken, petite Earle first spoke humbly about the team that worked to create the book. Glover continued with an “Ocean 101” lesson. Projecting pages from the atlas, she began with a shot of Earth that highlights the immensity of the Pacific Ocean (above). Going through the rest of the slides, Glover reminded the crowd of some amazing ocean facts. Among my favorites:*97% of the biosphere is in the ocean.*The ocean is an average of 2.5 miles deep. (Or, as Earle put it, “Most of life on Earth lives in the dark.”)*90% of life on earth is in the ocean.*Monterey Canyon (in Monterey Bay, California) is longer and deeper than the Grand Canyon, and it’s one of many such ocean canyons. *We have better maps of the moon and Mars than the Earth’s oceans.*Because the ocean is opaque, detailed ocean maps must come from satellites. *The gulf stream is visibly one foot higher than the surrounding sea. (Glover has seen it herself.)She finished by exhorting the audience, “We have to protect this fragile blue jewel.”Earle then displayed images from the new Google Ocean. She first went to Bermuda, showing psychedelic color and light shows from creatures that appeared to be jellies and cephalopods. “The ocean can be such a trip,” she said.And as a contrast, she headed to the Mediterranean to show what havoc humans are capable of wreaking in a half-century. Can you guess which creature was her example? None other than the great bluefin tuna. “We can’t put them back once they’re gone,” she said. Finally, Earle and Glover listed the three biggest problems they believe the ocean faces. 1. Ocean acidification — “We’re messing with something that makes this Earth hospitable,” said Glover. 2. Pollution — “It’s partly what we’re putting into the ocean, and partly what we’re taking out,” said Earle. 3. Overfishing: “We must quit harvesting things we’re not cultivating. It’s not fishery stocks, it’s wildlife,” said Glover. As I’d hoped, the visuals from both the atlas and Google were stunning. But I was most moved to see two individuals so unabashedly enamored of the sea.