It’s Time for the Next Wave of Ocean Exploration and Protection
This week marks the 10th Annual World Oceans Day, a global confluence of ocean-awareness events intended to bring our oceans the level of public attention they deserve. As we both have had the opportunity to explore a fair amount of our globe’s seas, on this occasion we’d like to share our excitement and our vision for the future.
Ray Dalio (@raydalio) is the founder of Bridgewater Associates and the OceanX initiative. Marc Benioff (@benioff) is CEO and chair of Salesforce, as well as founder of the Benioff Ocean Initiative at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
To us, the ocean is humanity’s most important and most under-examined treasure. While the world below the ocean’s surface is more than twice the size of the world above it and contains an estimated 94 percent of the space where life can exist on Earth, only 5 percent of the world’s oceans have been fully explored.
The ocean is critical to human life—more than 50 percent of the oxygen we breathe comes from it. It drives our weather, provides a nutritious food supply, and is a key source of commerce, supporting more than 28 million jobs in the United States alone. For those reasons, it deserves our reverence and protection. Instead, humans neglect it and treat it like a toilet that we overfish from.
We believe ocean exploration is more exciting and more important than space exploration. Yet it only receives about one-one hundredth as much funding. We want to change that by showing people the ecosystems and underwater habitats across the globe that are brimming with unexplored environments filled with species that have evolved in ways we cannot possibly imagine. By discovering and understanding these ecosystems, we can unlock cures to diseases, grow new foods, discover new medicines, create new industries, and fully understand our planet. The possibilities are endless, if we choose to open the door to them.
Thanks to profound technological advancements in recent years, we now have the potential to open these doors like never before. Using new sensors, submarine technology, and autonomous vehicles, humans have the opportunity to advance the public's understanding and appreciation of the ocean, much as the development of scuba equipment and underwater cameras allowed ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau to captivate the world 50 years ago.
Using many of these technologies, the BBC’s recent Blue Planet II inspired a new generation of explorers to turn toward the ocean and prodded public policymakers to introduce new measures to prevent plastics pollution. When it sets sail next year, the Alucia2, a new vessel funded by OceanX, will be the most advanced vessel designed for both media production and cutting-edge scientific research, bringing the excitement of ocean discovery to the world as broadcast and digital programs and in real time.
Exploring our oceans is key to protecting them. As renowned oceanographer Sylvia Earle has said, “Far and away, the biggest threat to the ocean is ignorance.” Exploration is the key to ending that ignorance and making the oceans accessible, tangible, and exciting to the broader world so that people will understand and protect them.
Creating such understanding will ensure we don’t lose the richness of the biological assets in our oceans before they are even discovered. Protected areas, such as Papahānaumokuākea and the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monuments, serve as savings accounts that protect strategic areas of our ocean for future exploration and discovery while simultaneously producing more fish, food, and income for fisheries.
Even as we begin to explore the most remote reaches of our oceans, we are finding them sullied—with trash detected at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, the deepest part of our ocean, and floating in the most remote regions of Antarctica. This signals we must act now to ensure we discover more than plastic bottles during this next generation of ocean exploration.
There are many great government and non-profit organizations, philanthropists, scientists, and entrepreneurs doing critical and unheralded work to protect our oceans—but they need more support. Not just in the form of funding, but in the form of public energy and momentum.
One positive sign is that world leaders at the G7 Summit in Canada today are prioritizing ocean health, calling for aggressive measures to combat plastic pollution and climate change. We need this interest to translate into a firm G7 stance on oceans. And we need this ripple of leadership to turn into a tidal wave of public, private, and community support for securing the healthy future for our oceans upon which we all depend.
We must embrace ocean exploration in the same way President Kennedy inspired the nation when he called for man to land on the moon. We’ve spent 65 years since that moonshot pledge looking up at the stars, while the oceans and all the wonders and creations they hold are sitting right at our feet, waiting to be discovered.
Our goal is to revive the Jacques Cousteau moment, creating one big wave of excitement and interest among the public in what lies beneath the waterline—because we know that if humans explore our oceans, we will love them, and if we love them, we will protect them.
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