In this video, oceanographer and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle is speaking from the Aquarius undersea research base in Key Largo, Florida, via a camera in waterproof housing attached to an internet connection. The video was streamed over Ustream, says Briam Lam on BoingBoing.
In this segment, she makes a “heartbreaking” appeal about why we need the ocean:
Earle in particular addresses the importance of the Aquarius undersea research base. For all of its importance in helping us to study and understand the ocean, and to remind the world about why we need to keep our oceans healthy and protect them, funding for the Aquarius’ parent program, the National Undersea Research Program (NURP) is being cut by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Another underwater research lab, the Hawaii Undersea Research Lab (HURL), is also set to lose vital funding.
The reason, Lam explains, is “largely because of rising costs of weather satellites which are critically important to millions, especially after Katrina.” But he also points out that submarine research labs like Aquarius and HURL cost $5 million a year. Such Piscese subs are the only ones that can take people down 2,000 meters.
Here’s what scientists are able to accomplish thanks to Aquarius:
In Aquarius, scientists can conduct undersea experiments that are too intricate or dependent on direct observation for robots. And scientists can also stay in deep water 9-10x the time a scuba diver can because Aquanauts never have to surface and risk decompression sickness at the end of a day. Lastly, because the data from the reef has been coming in for the last 20 so years, it serves as a constant yardstick for the health of the oceans in general. That data flow should not be interrupted.
While it is possible to conduct some ocean research using robotic arms and other such devices, Lam emphasizes that noting can replace humans going underwater to study the ocean:
A lot has been made of the advance of ROVs in the last few years, which are cheaper and more capable than ever. Robot arms can be strong and articulate at the same time. Cameras can see in darker places than our own eyes can. But robots lack the imagination and creativity and intuition that human observers in a habitat or Aquarius can use to create the theories that the data is used to test; they lack the ability to intuit theories which are then backed up by data.
Robots can gather data but humans need to analyze, synthesize and interpret it. Not being able to be in the actual environment of the ocean alters what scientists can know significantly.
This is why we need the oceans and we need Aquarius and programs like it, to learn all that we can about our most precious resource.
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Photo by NOAA's National Ocean Service