National Geographic just published a thought-provoking essay on the sorry state of ocean exploration funding in the US. When you stack it up against NASA's space exploration budget, it ain't pretty.
With that said, the essay was wonderful. And reading it made me even more excited about the work we're doing as a community and the potential for amateur ocean explorers to accomplish amazing things. Here were some of my highlights in the essay:
This imbalance in pop culture is illustrative of what plays out in real life. We rejoiced along with the NASA mission-control room when the Mars rover landed on the red planet late last year. One particularly exuberant scientist, known as “Mohawk Guy” for his audacious hairdo, became a minor celebrity and even fielded his share of spontaneous marriage proposals. But when Cameron bottomed out in the Challenger Deep more than 36,000 feet below the surface of the sea, it was met with resounding indifference from all but the dorkiest of ocean nerds such as myself.
Part of this incongruity comes from access. No matter where we live, we can go outside on a clear night, look up into the sky, and wonder about what’s out there. We’re presented with a spectacular vista of stars, planets, meteorites, and even the occasional comet or aurora. We have all been wishing on stars since we were children. Only the lucky few can gaze out at the ocean from their doorstep, and even those who do cannot see all that lies beneath the waves.
As a result, the facts about ocean exploration are pretty bleak. Humans have laid eyes on less than 5 percent of the ocean, and we have better maps of the surface of Mars than we do of America’s exclusive economic zone—the undersea territory reaching out 200 miles from our shores.
Sure, space is sexy. But the oceans are too. To those intrigued by the quest for alien life, consider this: Scientists estimate that we still have not discovered 91 percent of the species that live in our oceans. And some of them look pretty outlandish. Go ahead and Google the deepsea hatchetfish, frill shark, or Bathynomus giganteus.