BY DON RHODES
A Prussian geographer, naturalist and explorer, Alexander von Humboldt (Sept. 14, 1769 to May 6, 1859) is known for this famous quote, “The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.”
Most people do not have the opportunity to view the world of the oceans. Fortunately, in our modern era they have the ability to vicariously view it and learn from others that do.
Active scuba divers share certain traits and interests with von Humboldt — physical activity, exploration of the world and a strong desire to educate others about the natural environment.
They also tend to develop a keen interest in the oceans. Many acquire a passion for protecting and preserving the seas and for influencing others to share that passion.
This sentiment is shared by John Armor, acting director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. In a letter introducing the Earth is Blue — Magazine of the National Marine Sanctuaries, he says, “Whether you’re part of the 53 percent of Americans who live near the coast or you live in a landlocked states, the ocean is a part of your life.”
Renowned oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle supports this view, including the importance of a healthy ocean. According to Dr. Earle, maintaining the health of the ocean is becoming more critical each passing day. “A world without the ocean is a world without us,” Dr. Earle says.
She has campaigned for public support for a global network of marine protected areas, which Dr. Earle calls “Hope Spots large enough to save and restore the blue heart of the planet.”
Several other organizations have been laboring to help us understand how the world and its oceans are an “interconnected living web.” They are taking actions to heal the seas and their inhabitants and to preserve fragile or declining reef environments.
The Mote Marine Laboratory and The Nature Conservancy are partnering on a proposed 15-year initiative of joint coral reef restoration throughout the Caribbean and the Florida Keys. http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/florida/newsroom/initiative-to-restore-one-million-corals-launches-in-florida-and-the-caribbe.xml
“As global challenges to the long-term sustainability of coral reefs intensify, so must our efforts to understand and address them,” says Dr. Michael P. Crosby, president of Mote — an independent, nonprofit marine science and education institution of five campuses from Sarasota, Florida to the Florida Keys that conducts diverse research programs around the world.
The Nature Conservancy says, “The goals of the initiative are to restore more than one million corals across the region’s reefs, share science-based coral restoration and conservation practices among U.S. and international Caribbean partners, and construct necessary facilities such as coral gene banks, which preserve genetically diverse coral tissue and help researchers find strains resilient to environmental change.”
It turns out that the Florida Keys were an early leader in working to ensure the health of the ocean. In 1960, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was established off Key Largo as the world’s first underwater park. Continued environmental degradation prompted the eventual designation of Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary in 1975.
Throughout the 1980s, reports of deteriorating water quality and evidence of declines in the health of the coral reef ecosystem continued to mount. These threats, combined with several large vessel groundings, prompted Congress to act.
On Nov. 16, 1990, President George H..W. Bush signed into law the bill establishing Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Several measures were initially established including restrictions on large shipping traffic and the prohibition of oil exploration, mining, and any type of activity that would alter the seafloor.
Today, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is jointly managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the State of Florida. It protects 2,900 square nautical miles of waters that encompass the world’s third largest barrier reef, extensive sea-grass beds and mangrove —fringed islands, more than 6,000 species of marine life, numerous shipwrecks and archeological treasures.
The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is a part of the National Marine Sanctuary System, which consists of thirteen sanctuaries and two marine monuments ranging from Washington State to the Florida Keys and from Lake Huron to American Samoa.
More sanctuaries may be in the works.
According the to The Washington Post, “The President has announced plans for two new marine sanctuaries, one off the coast of Maryland, and the other in Lake Michigan. They’ll be the first new national marine sanctuaries designated by the federal government in the past 15 years.”
“One of these sanctuaries will be an 875-square mile section of Lake Michigan off the shore of Wisconsin, which is recognized for its collection of nearly 40 known shipwrecks, some of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The other sanctuary is a 14-square mile area of the Potomac River, which includes Maryland’s Mallows Bay — an area known for its ecological significance, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and home to bald eagles, herons, beavers, river otters and numerous species of fish.”
“The bay also features the famed “ghost fleet” ship remnants from World War I.”
The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, which serves as the trustee for the sanctuaries and parks, has launched its “Earth is Blue” campaign using social media to bring the sanctuaries directly to the American public so that “you can experience the wonder of our ocean and the Great Lakes, even if you don’t live nearby. “
Armor says, “I hope it inspires you to help care for our ocean and to spread the word that Earth isn’t green –it’s blue.”
How did all this start?
The conservation movement took hold in the 1800s when appreciation for nature began to collide with the industrial revolution and the public became aware for the need to protect America’s special places.
In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant designated the first nationally protected area, Yellowstone National Park — an action that “signaled a new way the world would view its land and eventually the seas,” the National Parks Advisory Board said in 2001.
A century later, in 1972, in response to the public outcry from a major oil spill that occurred near Santa Barbara, California in 1969, Congress passed the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, which became the basis for the National Marine Sanctuaries System.
Important upper Keys based organizations working to help preserve the water and reef in the Keys include the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) and the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF).
The Reef Environmental Education Foundation was founded in 1990 out of growing concern about the health of the marine environment and the desire to provide the scuba diving community a way to contribute to the understanding and protection of marine populations. The organization conducts a fish survey project that provides valuable data to scientists, marine park staff, and the general public. It also oversees a program aimed at reducing the invasive lionfish population in the Keys and other locations in the Caribbean. (See http://www.reef.org/)
The Coral Restoration Foundation is dedicated to creating offshore nurseries and restoration programs for threatened coral species. Tens of thousands of corals are grown and maintained in multiple offshore nurseries. With the help of students, volunteers, scientists, dive operators, public aquariums, and community groups, thousands of corals grown in CRF’s nurseries have already been out planted on coral reefs. (See http://www.coralrestoration.org/our-mission/#)
Protecting the oceans is a job for all of us –not just divers, scientists, not-for-profit organizations and government agencies. We must all work together to be good stewards for the oceans upon which we all depend for food, oxygen, climate control, transportation, medicine, the economy recreation and more.
To learn about the National Marine Sanctuaries’ volunteer opportunities see: sanctuaries.noaa.gov/involved/volunteer_future.html
Don Rhodes, in addition to a career in government affairs, has taught scuba for 30 years. He and his wife retired to Tavernier five years ago, where he works as an instructor for Conch Republic Divers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.