Why humanity being virtually clueless about the ocean could be a good thing

by Carmen Visser

Image by Sarah Lee on Unsplash

Over 70% of the earth’s surface is covered by a saltwater ocean. This ocean is divided into geographical regions, namely the Indian ocean, the Arctic Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean and the Antarctic Ocean. This global ocean holds approximately 1.34 billion cubic kilometres of water.

According to National Geographic, humans have only explored about 20% of the ocean. This means that the other 80% is unknown, unobserved and untouched. Considering these statistics, it is unsurprising that we know very little about the marine life found in the ocean. Although scientists estimate that we have identified 9% of marine life, they cannot agree on an exact percentage as the total number of species in the ocean is still unknown.

According to the World Register of Marine Species, over five thousand species were identified and added to the register in 2020. Amongst these are several fascinating species including a new jellyfish species, a new snail species and a new crab species.

You might have heard the fact that humans have explored more of space than we have of the ocean. Professor George Wolff supports this fact by confessing, “We can still say we have better maps of the surface of the Moon and Mars than of the seafloor.”.

It is a rather mind-blowing thought that humans have examined the moon to a more considerable extent than they have examined the earth’s ocean. One might wonder why it is easier to explore a planet that is 348 400 km away than it is to explore the water body covering most of our planet.

Image by Mitul Grover on Unsplash

Marine Bio’s list of ocean facts states that the lowest point on earth is in the ocean and is over eleven thousand metres deep. The pressure at this point is over eleven thousand tons per square metre. This high pressure found in the deep sea is one of the main reasons that most of the ocean is left unexplored.

Alongside the pressure, exploration of the ocean is made difficult as there is little to no visibility and temperatures at such depths are dreadfully cold. Oceana suggests that so much of the ocean remains untouched because agencies are hesitant to fund expeditions when there are countless uncertainties.

Humans cannot explore the depths of the ocean due to these challenges, but technology has been designed to help. Ocean service explains how underwater vehicles can detect and map structures underwater, as well as capture video footage.

Sonar technology is also used to detect structures and life underwater. Sound waves are measured and studied underwater as they travel further than light waves and radar waves. Sonar technology can be used to emit signals into the ocean and receive echoes or it can be used to detect sound waves from other bodies.

The Office of Coast Service uses a combination of sonar technology, lidar technology, lasers and GPS in their hydrographic surveys. They aim to create accurate nautical charts of the coast. However, even with these significant technological developments, much of the ocean is still left unmapped.

Image from the Ocean Explorer website

One of the prime reasons why many humans are desperate to explore more of the ocean is simply due to curiosity. Humans are naturally inquisitive and believe that exploration of all areas on earth can lead to great discoveries.

There is a strong possibility that investigating more of the deep sea can lead to finding new sources for food, energy, medical therapies and vaccines. Unknown species can also be identified and researched. In addition, many will argue that without exploring every corner of the ocean, it cannot be protected and conserved.

Personally, I feel that the best way to protect and conserve the ocean is to leave it unexplored and untouched. Humans have shown their ability to destroy almost everything they have access to, especially the environment.

Human activities such as overfishing and pollution are dangerous for the ocean and marine life. Warmer sea temperatures, rising sea levels and ocean acidification (all due to climate change) bring menaces to the ocean too. The ocean’s delicate ecosystem is already vulnerable, for example, the large number of coral species are listed in threatened and endangered lists.

Overall, exploring the ocean is a difficult and dangerous task. Although it could reap many benefits I must ask - at what cost?

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