Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Students Gain Appreciation of Our Underwater World


Seacrest Country Day School students recently gained a glimpse into the wonders and importance of the world’s oceans through the eyes of Sylvia Earle of National Geographic.

Earle, National Geographic’s Rosemary and Roger Enrico Chair for Ocean Exploration, recently addressed second through 12th grade students at the school. She fielded questions at the conclusion of her remarks, and also toured Seacrest’s artificial freshwater mini-reef and aquaculture projects during her visit.

Oceanographer, scuba diver, research scientist and a former chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are but a few of Earle’s impressive accomplishments. She also founded Mission Blue, an organization dedicated to protecting the oceans from such threats as climate change, pollution, habitat destruction, invasive species and the dramatic depletion of ocean fish stocks.

Photos by Don Manley
Oceanographer and research scientist Sylvia Earle, of National Geographic, addresses students at Seacrest Country Day School.

“The ocean is breath we take, every drop we drink,” said Earle. “You may not see the ocean, but the ocean really touches all of us all over the planet and we know it now,” she added, referencing the acquired knowledge about the health of Earth’s oceans and their foundational role in the presence of life of the planet. “The ocean is what makes life on Earth possible.”

She said that when she began SCUBA diving in the 1950s, people believed the oceans were so vast they could safely serve as a receptacle for whatever man discarded and that the supply of fish and other aquatic creatures was endlessly renewable. We now realize the error of such beliefs. We now realize the error of such thinking, she added.

“We’re now realizing that we can’t take wildlife for granted,” remarked Earle. “We must value and protect them.”

Decades of research and underwater exploration has provided important information about how the oceans and by extension, the Earth, work, but technological advances in things such as deep-water submersibles, are quickening the pace of discovery, said Earle.

“The greatest age of exploration and discovery is just getting started,” she said. “It really is. We’ve opened the door and realized how much we have yet to discover.”

Earle regaled the students with memories of journeying one-half mile under the Pacific’s surface in a submersible, “In the dark, seeing the amazing creatures that populate the ocean.” Earle held their rapt attention with tales of being eye-to-eye with whales, octopi and other sea creatures.

She told them that if she could, she would take everyone there on an underwater excursion, “in a big submarine, big enough to take us down into the deep, dark ocean, but with a clear sphere so we could see what’s up there and down there, where it is dark, except for the sparkle, flash and color of the creatures that make their own living light, like fireflies, except they’re little fish and jellies and all sorts of things that
bioluminesce.”

The importance of people, worldwide, practicing good stewardship of the oceans was stressed.

“Your job, all of our jobs, is to take care of the systems that support us. Some people say, ‘Whatever I do is such a small thing, it can’t possibly make a difference.’ If you think about it, it’s the small things that people do that really do make the difference.”

After the presentation and Q-and-A with the youths, Earle said that she speaks to school groups as often as she can. “I love meeting with students because they really are cause for hope, the best hope that we have for making the world a better place,” she said.

Based on their enthusiasm, her presence was much appreciated by the students assembled in the middle school gym.

“I loved it,” said 16-year-old junior Andrew Gardella. “The ocean perplexes me with how deep it is and how much we don’t know about it. Sylvia does a great job of explaining it and she’s done so much to discover what is deep-down there. Her talking about whales and how curious they are just really made my heart melt. I want to see a whale myself now.”

Earle’s message about the importance of protecting the oceans and their occupants had impact for Leila Bender, age 10.

“I thought it was really great what she was teaching us about what is going in the world and what we can do to change it because in maybe a few years, if we don’t do anything to fix what is happening with our oceans, it could really be a big problem,” said the fifth grader. “A lot of people fish and they might not be able to do that anymore. It’s really great how she’s teaching others about this so they can make a change in the world too.”

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