National Geographic : 2017 Nov
everything there is to be known. You look at the surface today, it likely looks pretty much the way it did a thousand years ago. But 90 percent of the ocean’s fisheries have been overfished or fully exploited, mostly during the past 30 years. And though there are signs of coral reefs recovering, up to two-thirds of them have been seriously damaged. It’s partly because the planet is warming and causing ocean acidification. NT: Maybe it’s out of sight, out of mind. You have this huge support to stop the deforestation of rain forests, to preserve lakes and rivers and wetlands. Is it be- cause they’re just more visible to us? SE: Of course. And the thought is that the ocean is so big, so vast, so resilient, it’s too big to fail. Right? But now we know it is failing. And why should we care about that? You know, who cares if there aren’t any more tuna? NT: You’ll just eat the next fish. SE: That’s been the thought—but now there are no more “nexts” to go to. I mean, some fish species are decades old. They’re not like a chicken that takes only months to mature. To make a pound of chicken takes maybe two pounds of plants; for a pound of cow, up to 20 pounds of plants. But the tuna gobbles decent-size fish that have eaten other fish, that have eaten other fish, ev- ery step of the way down to the plants. So that’s tens of thousands of pounds of plankton funneled through this long and twisted food chain to a tuna, which is caught to yield a little piece of sushi that you don’t really need. It’s a choice. NT: You’re bumming me out. I’m not going to eat ever again after this conversation. SE: You just have to eat with respect and know what you’re eating. That’s the key. NT: So now we have to rethink our rela- tionship to this planet. SE: Correct. People say, why should I care about the ocean? Because the ocean touches you, whoever you are or wherever you are, with every breath you take. It’s where most of the Earth’s oxy- gen is generated, replenished by these tiny little green guys in the ocean, like phytoplankton. So we need to think of ourselves as a part of the system rather than the big boss of the universe. Now I have a question for you: When do we go diving in an ocean submarine? NT: I want to make sure the submarine has done that before and it came back safely and there aren’t hash marks on the side of people who died trying. SE: Where’s your sense of adventure? NT: I like adventure, but I let other peo- ple get the bugs out. Then I’m there. SE: All right, let’s make it happen. Let’s figure it out. NT: We’ll make a pact. Excellent. None of these one-way trips to the bottom of the ocean—a round-trip. SE: A round-trip, yes. Those are the ones that count. PHOTO: CHUCK NICKLIN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE Sylvia Earle has been an ambassador for Rolex since 1982 and a National Geographic explorer in residence since 1998. This 1979 photo shows her in the armored diving suit in which she descended 1,250 feet to the ocean floor. She then spent about two hours exploring at a depth never before reached by a human in a diving suit. THIS INTERVIEW, DRAWN FROM A TAPING FOR A STARTALK TELEVISION EPISODE, WAS EDITED FOR LENGTH AND CLARITY.