“For all at last returns to the sea - to Oceanus, the ocean river, like the everflowing stream of time,
the beginning and the end.”
-Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us, 1951
The Atlantica Expedition’s Environmental Monitoring Program is dedicated to the late Rachel Louise Carson to honor her belief that all of nature is interconnected, including humankind who has assumed the duty as the caretaker of the earth. She also taught that each one of us are stewards of the environment. Within us lies the capacity to make a difference in our own small or greater ways. Were it not for Rachael, we would never have understood our true role and we would never have opend our eyes to see the beauty of the sea.
As a young college student, I purchased a book in the bookstore titled, The Sea Around Us; its cover shown here. Of course, at the time, I had already been dreaming about an undersea colony, so the book was the perfect companion to that dream. What I could not have known as I paid for it was that it would become more than just a companion. While Rachel Carson had long since passed on and had even written the words I would come to cherish in the year of my birth, she waited patiently between the covers of the book just to teach me an essential idea – that the sea is not simply an empty void to explore, but it is a living creature that forms the very living blood of the earth. For less than $2.00, the thoughts and ideas of a gentle but brilliant woman was to be my faithful companion and teacher over these many years.
While best known as the author of Silent Spring, Rachel Carson penned two books prior to her magnum opus: The Sea Around Us (1952) followed by The Edge of the Sea (1955). What these books have meant to me underlies a good portion of our team’s motivation to enter the sea. Here we are to be caretakers of this magnificent and enormous void. We are entering not to alter but instead entering it with the prime objective of watching, monitoring and focusing the intelligent eye of a dedicated cadre of scientists, ecologists and teams of people whose objective it is to understand and protect.
It is a wonderful experience to sit quietly and read Rachel Carson’s works. Indeed, as a young man, I clearly remember sitting on the rocky shores of La Jolla, California on many foggy mornings reading and re-reading my well worn copy of The Sea Around Us. I will never forget the interconnectedness I felt as I read – as I heard her voice speaking to me though the pages. She said of this very moment, as though voicing some precognition and anticipatin of me, her student: “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.” In so many ways, I was her child at the beach, and she the learned adult quietly, patiently teaching me.
As I read her thoughts, I remember the sound of the waves, the gulls and the smell of the ocean as I learned that the task ahead of me was not so much engineering as it was one of guardianship. As I read I realized that this little book and her others were teaching me how to engineer and the very philosophy that would drive the undersea structures of man. Like the living reef and the symbiotic relationship of all the sea’s creatures, I would build my structures to match and complement nature, not to dominate it – not to own it and not to ruin it.
She would write: “To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and flow of the tides, to feel the breath of a mist moving over a great salt marsh, to watch the flight of shore birds that have swept up and down the surf lines of the continents for untold thousands of years, to see the running of the old eels and the young shad to the sea, is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be.”
Through those pages, she taught me about life's symbiosis,ay my ever-present, invisible but comforting mentor that she was, "There is no drop of water in the ocean, not even in the deepest parts of the abyss, that does not know and respond to the mysterious forces that create the tide." All of those non-living forces and all of those living creatures were all irrevocably bonded together one to another and all moved in one way or another – to life or away from life. And then, as though smiling to be from the grave, she said of my time with her though those almost magical pages, “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction."
I specifically witnessed all those lessons one day in 1997 as hovered above the MarineLab habitat in Key Largo, Florida. I was hanging there in the void, decompressing in the sea, less than a foot from the upper structure. There I saw a living carpet of organisms that has been living and growing on the habitat’s skin for more than 15 years. While the habitat's engineers could have dutifully scraped them off, the caretakers of the lagoon preferred instead to let them grow.
I hovered in the clear water and lowered my mask to within inches of the carpet of living ocean creatures. I watched the microscopic tendrils of some nameless organism sweep the water for particulates so small I could not even see them. A tiny crab would occasionally skitter across the carpet, then stop, staring curiously upward at the huge four limbed behemoth hovering just above him. I could see that that carpet, teaming with billions of life forms of all shapes and descriptions, was what the ocean was all about – life and competition as well as fecundity and ultimate systemic symbiosis. And as a hovering visitor, I had become a part of it all. Had I run out of air and died there, my body would be totally consumed in but a few days by countless, innumerable creatures and I would become again, a part of the ocean – a part of the living blood of the earth.
Like the three prongs of Poseidon’s Trident, we enter the oceans as permanent residents to enable our three linked prime objectives: the carving out of a permanent human niche - so that – we can intelligently monitor and protect the ocean environment – so that – we can teach our children through our educational programs that the oceans of the earth are the essential life blood and must be understood, protected and preserved as a primary human activity. All three of these primary objectives are so linked that they are inseparable. We literally cannot accomplish the one without the other. We do not dare to dominate, we do not dare to intrude, but we set out to witness, to record and find ways to defend, shield and protect. In so doing, to teach the next generation that we are caretakers and protectors – not miners, not owners and not rulers.
The Atlantica Expeditions Environmental Monitoring Program will be developed in eight distinct areas of investigation and action.
1. Monitoring of the local environment.
We intend to set up local environmental monitoring instruments around the general vicinity of the habitat. The purpose of those stations is three fold: to gather data on the local environmental profile, to determine if the environment is changing while we watch and to determine the source of those changes.
2. Developing new environmental monitoring instruments:
There are many aspects of the marine environment that should be connected to automated monitoring systems. Physical effects such as salinity, current characteristics, visibility, relative particulate distribution and composition, then relating visibility, relative particulate distribution and composition to surface meteorology would be a vital set of integrated data that could be linked to an artificial intelligence system and predict many heretofore unrelated aspects of the marine environment. A system such as this has never been developed before, and it is one of our primary interests in environmental monitoring and research.
3. Developing an aquatic water sampling and analysis system.
After the particulates are filtered out for analysis, the soluble fraction remains. Within this soluble fraction lies the “devil in the details”. In this invisible solution are the invisible dissolved chemicals, pesticides, excess fertilizers, heavy metals and other poisons that have been injected directly into the very blood of the planet. Understanding this fraction is not only essential to the fate of the planet and her human riders, but is long overdue. Without a comprehensive system like this, we are not only blind to an essential data point, we are also grossly irresponsible.
4. Developing an aquatic microbiological sampling and analysis system.
In the aquatic mix there are many microbes that may cause grievous injury not only to man but also to the environment. While these organisms are “natural”, outside the balance of the system, they may propagate out of control causing fish kills, aquaculture death and poisoning and even human death. Such examples are red tide, Alexandrium tamarense and Karenia brevis. Other organisms include Granulomatous amoebic encephalitis, among others.
5. Developing an aquatic marine invertebrate sampling and analysis system.
The mid-level invertebrate organisms comprise a significant fraction of the ocean life that all larger species harvested for food depend on. A complete picture of the ocean’s health and environment is not complete without a full understanding of these organism’s populations and health.
6. Developing an aquatic marine vertebrate analysis.
The top level organisms in the marine environment can only remain there if all the lower level organisms remain ion the proper places. Typically, one of the first indicators of the failing health of the marine environment is the sudden loss of the vertebrate organisms. We intend to catalogues and keep a census records of all vertebrate species near our location. By being in situ, we can monitor more species with greater effectives than any previous monitoring activity, simply because we will have “eyes in place” and equipment that is constantly monitoring, being read and catalogued.
7. Teaching students about these integrated monitoring systems and how they preserve and protect the whole living system.
By this program, our students are taught invaluable lessons that simply cannot be duplicated on land. While living in the marine environment and directly participating in the environmental monitoring program our students will see and experience the oceans by actually being in them! Here they will see the interrelationships and watch the data as it is integrated on site.
8. Determining the effect of the habitat and presence of human being in the environment and then improve it:
My father taught me a very important life lesson. He said, “If you borrow somewhat from someone, then return it on better condition that you borrowed it.” The same principle can very well hold true for the oceans. If we venture there, then we can do things that will improve the environment. First, we can understand it, which is the first step in improving it. Understanding it is the essential first step to improving it.
Rachel Carson said very well, “The "control of nature" is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and the convenience of man”
After understanding the environment, we can then do things that improve it. While we may not be able to control the environment, we can definitely work to improve it. Or example, one of the most powerful forces of the living marine environment is what is called “surface area”. Any clean surface undersea attracts abundant life. That is the principle of the artificial reef. Artificial reefs attract life like as though a life-magnet were place in the oceans. One of our goals is to mount a vigorous series of experiments in effective artificial reef building.
By carefully integrating these eight methods, the Atlantica Expeditions will not only come to understand the environment as never before, but we will even enhance it by our presence and by use of that information that we gain.
“It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation
of her beauties to know of wonder and humility.”
Rachel L. Carson
Copyright (c) 2014 by the League of the New Worlds, Inc. All rights reserved.