The earth’s oceans, taken in the entirety of their depth and breadth, comprise up to 99% of the living space on Earth, a stunning fact. As oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle puts it “our fate and the ocean’s are one.”
“With every drop of water you drink, every breath you take, you’re connected to the sea. No matter where on Earth you live. Most of the oxygen in the atmosphere is generated by the sea. Over time, most of the planet’s organic carbon has been absorbed and stored there, mostly by microbes. The ocean drives climate and weather, stabilizes temperature, shapes Earth’s chemistry. Water from the sea forms clouds that return to the land and the seas as rain, sleet and snow, and provides home for about 97 percent of life in the world, maybe in the universe. No water, no life; no blue, no green.” -Dr. Sylvia Earle
On land and above the ocean’s surface, the effects of climate change are increasingly visible: weather, icepack, forests, fertile soil, microclimates, and all manner of species are changing and disappearing at an alarming rate by anyone’s measure. The depths of the ocean, however, remain largely unexplored and unknown. Earle has been working for decades to bring the ‘invisible’ depths of the ocean into view.
In a 1989 New Yorker profile, writer Wallace White found Earle, a lifelong deep sea scuba diver, to have “an optimistic, go-for-it sense of adventure that can be contagious…Once, while scuba diving among sharks — something she enjoys — she noticed that a member of the school was twitching its body ominously as it circled her, and, in a nice bit of underwater karate, she sent the offender packing with a kick to the snout.”
In Earle’s 2009 groundbreaking TED Talk she introduced the concept of “Hope Spots,” defined as critical areas of the ocean that need targeted and immediate protection. She encouraged the audience to use social media, films, and Google Earth to draw attention to these areas.
Earle’s NGO Mission Blue and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) began working on establishing actual designated Hope Spots worldwide. Each Hope Spot is identified by unique ecological attributes, like an abundance of biodiversity or an ecosystem crucial for marine life migration.
In 2019, anyone can nominate a Hope Spot. Twice a year, a council of marine experts analyze nominations and designate some to become places targetted for actionable change by policymakers, leaders, scientists, and civilians.
There are currently over 110 Hope Spots worldwide.
More than anything, Hope Spots draw attention to regions that are critical to the ocean’s health. The ultimate goal is to earn each Hope Spot government-mandated legal protection.
Last year, the Revillagigedo Archipelago, a cluster of volcanic islands off the coast of Mexico, was designated a Hope Spot by Mission Blue. The nutrient rich waters there support an array of marine life:
The Revillagigedo Archipelago is home to more than 350 species of fish, 26 of which are found nowhere else on Earth.
Just this summer, an area with dozens of seamounts off the coast of San Diego became the 113th designation. Not only is this area needed to provide long-term protection against unsustainable oil and gas development and deep-sea mining, but it also serves the role of ‘fueling station’ for migratory species, some of them endangered.
For Hope Spots to work, raising awareness must lead to action. In July 2019, Dr. Dan Laffoley, Ocean Elder and marine ecologist, released a paper entitled “Eight urgent, fundamental and simultaneous steps needed to restore ocean health, and the consequences for humanity and the planet of inaction or delay.”
With ocean warming accelerating (40% faster on average than a 2014 UN panel estimate) and ice melting faster than predicted, Laffoley and his team outlined the ways we can address the challenges now — and all at once.
The proposal includes legislation to restrict untreated sewage and implement advanced waste‐water treatment systems, and Producer Responsibility that holds manufacturers accountable for verifying that chemicals they use their products are non-toxic.
Also proposed: “appropriate accounting for blue natural capital, in line with concepts of inclusive wealth, provides a valuation framework that helps to set more appropriate economic incentives to support ocean recovery.”
In short, when we don’t account for the real value of 99% of the earth’s living space, the global balance sheet doesn’t accurately factor in the cost of our actions.
“Owing to present methods of externalizing costs, much ocean activity is conducted under a principle of getting someone else, or society generally, to pay for any damage. Such costs need to be based on ensuring that ocean functions are maintained for future generations and that its wealth is exploited sustainably to the benefit of all humanity.” -Dan Laffoley
Earle said it best, in her urgent call for action:
“We have one chance, right now, to get it right.”
It’s our turn to listen, and to act.