Sylvia Earle, an oceanographer who has focused on deep-sea exploration for nearly 40 years, is also an advocate for the world’s oceans. Through her extensive research, she has seen the negative effects that humans have had on our oceans, and, after revisiting the same locations years apart, has seen the damaging loss of marine life. Fish populations have plummeted, coral reefs have disappeared, and massive amounts of garbage, namely plastic products, have been piling up throughout the oceans.
In 2009, Earle gave a TED Talk in which she explained how devastated ocean life has become. At the end of her talk, she announced her TED wish:
“I wish you would use all means at your disposal — films, expeditions, the web, new submarines — and campaign to ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas — hope spots large enough to save and restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet.”
In her speech, Earle mentions human ignorance towards environmental impacts. She explains how human consumption has risen significantly over the past 50 years, and how the oceans have suffered. We’re eating more fish than ever before, and eating them faster than they can reproduce. People often forget about life in our oceans because you can’t easily see what’s underwater.
After her speech, she was awarded $100,000 with which she founded her group, Mission Blue — an organization that strives to raise awareness regarding ocean protection, and advocates for the creation of “hope spots”.
Hope spots are areas of the ocean that act as a conservation area and protect wildlife through various restrictions and laws. Within hope spots, marine animals and plants are able to reproduce, live, and help repopulate oceans and allow for the recreation of natural habitats that have been suffering the deadly consequences of human interaction.
These hope spots are important to both marine and human lift because they help produce healthy ecosystems, which are critical to all lifeforms. They help create and sustain biodiversity, which in turn helps produce breathable oxygen and keep carbon dioxide emissions in check.
When Mission Blue was first founded, there were only 15 hope spots worldwide. Now there are 50, with more being planned for the future. All of these areas, which make up roughly 3 million square miles, are protected from commercial fishing, oil drilling, and dumping.
Small expeditions seek out new locations over a two week period with small teams of researchers. They are tasked with finding areas that require protection, collect current information regarding the location, raise awareness to garner support, and raise funds to make the hope spot become a reality.
The goal is to create enough hope spots to cover 20% of the world’s oceans by 2020.
One of their partners is the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature), and they have also partnered with technology giants such as Google. All of their partners help form a coalition for marine protection and support, and also help raise awareness throughout the general public, on a global scale, about the importance of protecting our oceans.
Mission Blue has also been pressuring governments to place protection laws on stretches of oceans. The UN has begun talking about introducing new international treaties for marine protection, and just last month, President Obama passed legislation that created the world’s largest marine conservation area. He expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM), which now covers roughly 490,000 square miles. It’s similar to Mission Blue’s hope spots where commercial fishing, oil drilling, and dumping are not allowed.
Earle’s project has also been turned into a documentary, with the same name, which can be viewed on Netflix (see below).