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  • The oceans cover some 70 percent of our planet.

  • And I think Arthur C. Clarke probably had it right

  • when he said that perhaps we ought to call our planet

  • Planet Ocean.

  • And the oceans are hugely productive,

  • as you can see by the satellite image

  • of photosynthesis, the production of new life.

  • In fact, the oceans produce half of the new life every day on Earth

  • as well as about half the oxygen that we breathe.

  • In addition to that, it harbors a lot of the biodiversity on Earth,

  • and much of it we don't know about.

  • But I'll tell you some of that today.

  • That also doesn't even get into the whole protein extraction

  • that we do from the ocean.

  • That's about 10 percent of our global needs

  • and 100 percent of some island nations.

  • If you were to descend

  • into the 95 percent of the biosphere that's livable,

  • it would quickly become pitch black,

  • interrupted only by pinpoints of light

  • from bioluminescent organisms.

  • And if you turn the lights on,

  • you might periodically see spectacular organisms swim by,

  • because those are the denizens of the deep,

  • the things that live in the deep ocean.

  • And eventually, the deep sea floor would come into view.

  • This type of habitat covers more of the Earth's surface

  • than all other habitats combined.

  • And yet, we know more about the surface of the Moon and about Mars

  • than we do about this habitat,

  • despite the fact that we have yet to extract

  • a gram of food, a breath of oxygen or a drop of water

  • from those bodies.

  • And so 10 years ago,

  • an international program began called the Census of Marine Life,

  • which set out to try and improve our understanding

  • of life in the global oceans.

  • It involved 17 different projects around the world.

  • As you can see, these are the footprints of the different projects.

  • And I hope you'll appreciate the level of global coverage

  • that it managed to achieve.

  • It all began when two scientists, Fred Grassle and Jesse Ausubel,

  • met in Woods Hole, Massachusetts

  • where both were guests at the famed oceanographic institute.

  • And Fred was lamenting the state of marine biodiversity

  • and the fact that it was in trouble and nothing was being done about it.

  • Well, from that discussion grew this program

  • that involved 2,700 scientists

  • from more than 80 countries around the world

  • who engaged in 540 ocean expeditions

  • at a combined cost of 650 million dollars

  • to study the distribution, diversity and abundance

  • of life in the global ocean.

  • And so what did we find?

  • We found spectacular new species,

  • the most beautiful and visually stunning things everywhere we looked --

  • from the shoreline to the abyss,

  • form microbes all the way up to fish and everything in between.

  • And the limiting step here wasn't the unknown diversity of life,

  • but rather the taxonomic specialists

  • who can identify and catalog these species

  • that became the limiting step.

  • They, in fact, are an endangered species themselves.

  • There are actually four to five new species

  • described everyday for the oceans.

  • And as I say, it could be a much larger number.

  • Now, I come from Newfoundland in Canada --

  • It's an island off the east coast of that continent --

  • where we experienced one of the worst fishing disasters

  • in human history.

  • And so this photograph shows a small boy next to a codfish.

  • It's around 1900.

  • Now, when I was a boy of about his age,

  • I would go out fishing with my grandfather

  • and we would catch fish about half that size.

  • And I thought that was the norm,

  • because I had never seen fish like this.

  • If you were to go out there today, 20 years after this fishery collapsed,

  • if you could catch a fish, which would be a bit of a challenge,

  • it would be half that size still.

  • So what we're experiencing is something called shifting baselines.

  • Our expectations of what the oceans can produce

  • is something that we don't really appreciate

  • because we haven't seen it in our lifetimes.

  • Now most of us, and I would say me included,

  • think that human exploitation of the oceans

  • really only became very serious

  • in the last 50 to, perhaps, 100 years or so.

  • The census actually tried to look back in time,

  • using every source of information they could get their hands on.

  • And so anything from restaurant menus

  • to monastery records to ships' logs

  • to see what the oceans looked like.

  • Because science data really goes back

  • to, at best, World War II, for the most part.

  • And so what they found, in fact,

  • is that exploitation really began heavily with the Romans.

  • And so at that time, of course, there was no refrigeration.

  • So fishermen could only catch

  • what they could either eat or sell that day.

  • But the Romans developed salting.

  • And with salting,

  • it became possible to store fish and to transport it long distances.

  • And so began industrial fishing.

  • And so these are the sorts of extrapolations that we have

  • of what sort of loss we've had

  • relative to pre-human impacts on the ocean.

  • They range from 65 to 98 percent

  • for these major groups of organisms,

  • as shown in the dark blue bars.

  • Now for those species the we managed to leave alone, that we protect --

  • for example, marine mammals in recent years and sea birds --

  • there is some recovery.

  • So it's not all hopeless.

  • But for the most part, we've gone from salting to exhausting.

  • Now this other line of evidence is a really interesting one.

  • It's from trophy fish caught off the coast of Florida.

  • And so this is a photograph from the 1950s.

  • I want you to notice the scale on the slide,

  • because when you see the same picture from the 1980s,

  • we see the fish are much smaller

  • and we're also seeing a change

  • in terms of the composition of those fish.

  • By 2007, the catch was actually laughable

  • in terms of the size for a trophy fish.

  • But this is no laughing matter.

  • The oceans have lost a lot of their productivity

  • and we're responsible for it.

  • So what's left? Actually quite a lot.

  • There's a lot of exciting things, and I'm going to tell you a little bit about them.

  • And I want to start with a bit on technology,

  • because, of course, this is a TED Conference

  • and you want to hear something on technology.

  • So one of the tools that we use to sample the deep ocean

  • are remotely operated vehicles.

  • So these are tethered vehicles we lower down to the sea floor

  • where they're our eyes and our hands for working on the sea bottom.

  • So a couple of years ago, I was supposed to go on an oceanographic cruise

  • and I couldn't go because of a scheduling conflict.

  • But through a satellite link I was able to sit at my study at home

  • with my dog curled up at my feet, a cup of tea in my hand,

  • and I could tell the pilot, "I want a sample right there."

  • And that's exactly what the pilot did for me.

  • That's the sort of technology that's available today

  • that really wasn't available even a decade ago.

  • So it allows us to sample these amazing habitats

  • that are very far from the surface

  • and very far from light.

  • And so one of the tools that we can use to sample the oceans

  • is acoustics, or sound waves.

  • And the advantage of sound waves

  • is that they actually pass well through water, unlike light.

  • And so we can send out sound waves,

  • they bounce off objects like fish and are reflected back.

  • And so in this example, a census scientist took out two ships.

  • One would send out sound waves that would bounce back.

  • They would be received by a second ship,

  • and that would give us very precise estimates, in this case,

  • of 250 billion herring

  • in a period of about a minute.

  • And that's an area about the size of Manhattan Island.

  • And to be able to do that is a tremendous fisheries tool,

  • because knowing how many fish are there is really critical.

  • We can also use satellite tags

  • to track animals as they move through the oceans.

  • And so for animals that come to the surface to breathe,

  • such as this elephant seal,

  • it's an opportunity to send data back to shore

  • and tell us where exactly it is in the ocean.

  • And so from that we can produce these tracks.

  • For example, the dark blue

  • shows you where the elephant seal moved in the north Pacific.

  • Now I realize for those of you who are colorblind, this slide is not very helpful,

  • but stick with me nonetheless.

  • For animals that don't surface,

  • we have something called pop-up tags,

  • which collect data about light and what time the sun rises and sets.

  • And then at some period of time

  • it pops up to the surface and, again, relays that data back to shore.

  • Because GPS doesn't work under water. That's why we need these tools.

  • And so from this we're able to identify these blue highways,

  • these hot spots in the ocean,

  • that should be real priority areas

  • for ocean conservation.

  • Now one of the other things that you may think about

  • is that, when you go to the supermarket and you buy things, they're scanned.

  • And so there's a barcode on that product

  • that tells the computer exactly what the product is.

  • Geneticists have developed a similar tool called genetic barcoding.

  • And what barcoding does

  • is use a specific gene called CO1

  • that's consistent within a species, but varies among species.

  • And so what that means is we can unambiguously identify

  • which species are which

  • even if they look similar to each other,

  • but may be biologically quite different.

  • Now one of the nicest examples I like to cite on this

  • is the story of two young women, high school students in New York City,

  • who worked with the census.

  • They went out and collected fish from markets and from restaurants in New York City

  • and they barcoded it.

  • Well what they found was mislabeled fish.

  • So for example,

  • they found something which was sold as tuna, which is very valuable,

  • was in fact tilapia, which is a much less valuable fish.

  • They also found an endangered species

  • sold as a common one.

  • So barcoding allows us to know what we're working with

  • and also what we're eating.

  • The Ocean Biogeographic Information System

  • is the database for all the census data.

  • It's open access; you can all go in and download data as you wish.

  • And it contains all the data from the census

  • plus other data sets that people were willing to contribute.

  • And so what you can do with that

  • is to plot the distribution of species and where they occur in the oceans.

  • What I've plotted up here is the data that we have on hand.

  • This is where our sampling effort has concentrated.

  • Now what you can see

  • is we've sampled the area in the North Atlantic,

  • in the North Sea in particular,

  • and also the east coast of North America fairly well.

  • That's the warm colors which show a well-sampled region.

  • The cold colors, the blue and the black,

  • show areas where we have almost no data.

  • So even after a 10-year census,

  • there are large areas that still remain unexplored.

  • Now there are a group of scientists living in Texas, working in the Gulf of Mexico

  • who decided really as a labor of love

  • to pull together all the knowledge they could

  • about biodiversity in the Gulf of Mexico.

  • And so they put this together, a list of all the species,

  • where they're known to occur,

  • and it really seemed like a very esoteric, scientific type of exercise.

  • But then, of course, there was the Deep Horizon oil spill.

  • So all of a sudden, this labor of love

  • for no obvious economic reason

  • has become a critical piece of information

  • in terms of how that system is going to recover, how long it will take

  • and how the lawsuits

  • and the multi-billion-dollar discussions that are going to happen in the coming years

  • are likely to be resolved.

  • So what did we find?

  • Well, I could stand here for hours, but, of course, I'm not allowed to do that.

  • But I will tell you some of my favorite discoveries

  • from the census.

  • So one of the things we discovered is where are the hot spots of diversity?

  • Where do we find the most species of ocean life?

  • And what we find if we plot up the well-known species

  • is this sort of a distribution.