Examining the State of the Oceans with Sylvia Earle According to marine biologist and underwater explorer Sylvia Earle, about 12 percent of the land surface on Earth is under some protection, while less than 1 percent of the world's oceans are protected -- despite such threats as over-fishing, destructive fishing practices, and unregulated dumping.
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Examining the State of the Oceans with Sylvia Earle

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Examining the State of the Oceans with Sylvia Earle

Examining the State of the Oceans with Sylvia Earle

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You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow.

Our oceans are in trouble, and all you need to do is look at the statistics. Let me read some of them to you. Ninety percent of large fish species worldwide--that's including tuna, swordfish and marlin--have been decimated by overfishing and destructive fishing practices such as deep-sea bottom trolling. Seventy-five percent of all commercial fisheries have been fished to capacity and are approaching collapse, if they are--haven't already collapsed. Coral reefs and deep-sea habitats are being destroyed, threatened by human activities. There's less than 1 percent of the Earth's oceans--1 percent are under some kind of protection. We have protection for parks and whatever for animals here on the land. We have only 1 percent of the Earth's oceans under protection.

My next guest, Sylvia Earle, wants to change all of that, and I think if anyone can, I'm betting on her. She's seen more of the ocean than just about any other person alive in her career as a marine biologist and undersea explorer. She's walked untethered on the seafloor at depths lower than anybody else, and I hope she'll tell us about what that was like. She's here to talk about her exploration of the oceans, about her life as a scientist, who suddenly, as she tells it, decided that she would have to step out of her ivory tower and into the public spotlight. And if you'd like to talk with Dr. Earle, give us a call. Our number is 1 (800) 989-8255, 1 (800) 989-TALK.

Formally introduced, Sylvia Earle is a marine biologist and undersea explorer. She's executive director for marine programs, Conservation International in Washington and co-editor of "Defying Ocean's End: An Agenda for Action." That's out from Island Press. Dr. Earle is an explorer in residence at the National Geographic Society. She is chair of Deep Ocean Exploration and Research in Alameda, California, and chair of the advisory council to the Hart Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies in Corpus Christi, Texas. She joins us from the member station KUHF in Houston.

Welcome back to SCIENCE FRIDAY, Dr. Earle. Hi. Can you hear me? We're having trouble getting Sylvia Earle up on the board here. Let's see if we can try it again. She is--while we get her up, let me tell you a little bit about this report that she's going to be talking about called "Defying Ocean's End." It's an agenda for action. It actually was a meeting that took place a few years ago and she was at this meeting, and it talks about pulling up an agenda for the future of the oceans.

And while we're waiting for her, let's see if we can take a phone call or two, because there are some people on the phones who'd like to talk with her. Let's go to Jeremy in Miami. Let's see if I can get him up on a phone.

Hi, Jeremy. Are you there?

JEREMY (Caller): Yes, I am.

FLATOW: Hi. How are you?

JEREMY: Hi, Ira. I'll make it quick. I saw both of you and Sylvia at Seattle at the Sigma Xi a couple of weeks ago, and the question I'll have for Sylvia, once she gets a chance to answer it, is that she had spoken eloquently about the challenges of changing technology of modern fishing to make fishing more sustainable and changing the culture. But one of the things that a lot of people walked away thinking was that these are American and Northern Hemisphere fishing cultures that need to be changed. I wondered if she wanted to comment about indigenous fishing, say, in the Galapagos or in the Philippines. A lot of people in the audience had heard her speak about changing the fishing culture, but I think a lot more needs to be said about cultures outside of European and North American cultures. Maybe you could ask her to address that.

FLATOW: Let me see if she's here.

Dr. Earle, can you hear us?

Dr. SYLVIA EARLE (Deep-Sea Explorer): Loud and clear.

FLATOW: Ah! Thank you for joining us. Did you hear that question?

Dr. EARLE: I heard part of it, yes.

FLATOW: Jeremy, you want to sum it up again?

JEREMY: Could I repeat it once more?


JEREMY: Sylvia, I'd heard you in Seattle at Sigma Xi a couple weeks ago and you spoke, I thought, very specifically and very accurately about the need to change the culture of ocean exploitation, fishing methods, for example, and the inference that someone could have walked away with was that this was a change that Americans, North Americans, Europeans need to face in their culture of exploitation. But so much damage in the oceans is being done now outside of that culture, for example, fishing in the Galapagos, fishing in the Philippines. Do you see a real challenge to your work in convincing those cultures of a need in technology--or a change in technology? Do you understand what I'm asking?

Dr. EARLE: Oh, I think so. Certainly the fishing issues are global. They're not limited to any one country or any one continent. The oceans of the world are in trouble as a consequence of our seemingly insatiable appetite for what we take out of the sea. And it has changed over time. We started with the large creatures, have by and large eliminated on the order of 90 percent of the big fish in the ocean through the new means that have developed largely in the last 50 years, new acoustic means to locate fish...


Dr. EARLE: ...new ways to process them at sea and to ship them anywhere in the world. This is definitely not localized. This is truly global. And the solutions have to be global, too.

FLATOW: Thanks for calling, Jeremy.

JEREMY: Yes, sir.

FLATOW: 1 (800) 989-8255. That really was shocking when you gave out these numbers and we were talking about these numbers before about just how fished out the oceans are. Are there any food fish left that are safe to go after?

Dr. EARLE: (Laughs) Well...

FLATOW: I mean, what can you go into a restaurant and order and feel, you know, not guilty about wrecking another group of fish?

Dr. EARLE: It's--well, at this point in history, the choices are getting fewer and fewer about those that in good conscience you should direct attention to. Think of fish as wildlife. That makes a difference, I think, in the way we should address this.


Dr. EARLE: We don't try to feed six billion people with wildlife anymore. We never did try to feed that many people. But going back 10,000 years, as hunter-gatherers, we largely made a living from wildlife. It's only when we started to cultivate that we began to get to an era where we could support larger numbers, and today, about half the calories that feed the people of the world come from a handful of grasses, you know, corn, rice, wheat. Wildlife from the sea is still contributing to the protein that we extract. But we have really not only taken the fish themselves, but we've destroyed much of the resilience of the ocean through the by-catch that goes along with taking the fish that are consumed and the habitat destruction. It's really a growing problem.

Now there are some guides that have been circulating. In Monterey, the aquarium has one that's useful that gives a guide for the red list that you'd better watch out for and not consume the things, such as the various species of tuna, especially blue fin; swordfish is on the red list; orange roughy, certainly. These creatures may take 30 years to grow and may be a hundred years old by the time they reach your plate, 30 years to mature. So in time, we will necessarily have to look to ways to cultivate what we take from aquatic systems for large amounts of protein if we are to take aquatic creatures at all.

Ira, there's one thing that I hope we can have the chance to talk about, and that is the importance of the ocean beyond what we can take out of it or what we can put into it. The ocean, after all, governs the way the world works. It's our life support system, and we've been taking it for granted, thinking that it's infinitely resilient, able to withstand whatever we put in or whatever we take out. But we've learned the hard way in the last 50 years in particular that destruction of places such as the mangroves and coral reefs and even what we're doing in the deep sea has repercussions back to the system as a whole. And we have a chance, but it will slide away from us unless we take it in the near future, to take actions that will protect those elements that make the planet work as it does.

FLATOW: Tell us about what parts of the ocean, then--let's get into this conversation, if you'd like to have it, 'cause I'd like to have it, too. What parts of the ocean need the protection? How do we protect them, and how do we put back after we've taken so many years?

Dr. EARLE: Well, on the land in the early part of the 20th century, policies began to emerge recognizing that we have the capacity to destroy the natural systems, whether it's a river or a forest or whatever, but we're not very good at knowing how to put things back together again. The Park Service came into being to protect areas of natural beauty, our cultural, our historic, our natural heritage, and today, not just in North America but around the world, about 12 percent of the land enjoys some form of protection. In the ocean, it's a tiny fraction of 1 percent, and that's probably because we still have this attitude that the ocean is infinite and able to rebound no matter what we do. But again, in the ocean, we're learning not only that it can be influenced by what we do but we can take positive actions to protect what's there. And just as on the land, some organizations, not just the Park Service or parks services around the world, but I'm working closely with Conservation International, with their efforts to identify critical areas in the sea that are like the critical areas that have been identified as, quote, "hot spots," places of high diversity and high threat, that if we can invest in those places, we'll do a pretty good job of stabilizing some of these destructive processes.

FLATOW: One of those places--let's go through a few of them in order perhaps. One of those places you talk about are the seamounts. What are the seamounts, and why are they so important to preserve?

Dr. EARLE: Well, we've just recently have discovered that they're there. If you want to...

FLATOW: What are they? Big, high places, mountains in the seas or what...

Dr. EARLE: Mountains in the sea. Sea mountains, basically. In the 1950s, when Rachel Carson wrote "The Sea Around Us," there was some knowledge of the formations in the sea, but really most of what we know about the configuration of the seafloor, extensive mountain ranges, run down the Atlantic, the Pacific and Indian oceans like giant backbones. And then individual peaks that just stand out throughout the ocean basins that arise from the bottom of the sea up to at least a thousand meters that qualify technically as a seamount, and they're crowned with life. They're--one of the special things about them is the apparent high degree of specific endemism, creatures that live there and nowhere else, not only in the ocean or the world but in the universe. That's it.

We look at the Galapagos as a special place because it has creatures that occur there and nowhere else that we know about. The same appears to be true of these undersea islands. They don't break the surface, but they're islands nonetheless separated from other places where such creatures can grow by many miles and so they've developed their own character.

Diversity has its place, a really important place in the world. In terms of providing stability, when changes occur, if there's great diversity, somebody's going to be able to respond favorably to those changes. If you've got everybody basically responding in the same way, then the consequences can be really drastic.

FLATOW: Should a seamount then--should that be included then as a--even though it's in the middle of the ocean outside of international boundaries, should that be included as a conservation, make a park out of these areas, a place you can't drag those nets and rip up everything that's on the surface of the mountain? I mean, what is your idea about how do we conserve them or preserve them?

Dr. EARLE: Well, actually about 64 percent of the planet, the blue heart of the planet, the ocean out there, beyond exclusive economic zones, is like the Wild West. Presently, there's little to inhibit people from doing just about anything they want to do out there, and a handful of industries and a handful of nations are currently moving out into the high seas and unilaterally taking actions that are extracting from the high seas treasures, if you will, resources that, if they belong to anybody, they belong to everyone, and yet, they're disproportionately destroying something that we don't know how to put back together again.

And just some examples that by trawling, using these heavy nets that scrape the sea floor, like using a bulldozer to catch songbirds and squirrels, they're knocking down ancient corals, sponges--the whole cross-section of life that is there, and it is simply thrown away, in order to capture a relatively small number of fish that feed not a lot of people, but a high-end luxury market, people who are not really dependent on the sea for food, but rather are willing to pay a high price, and all of us pay a high price because of the destruction that is brought about because of this action.

Now the United Nations could and the United Nations may, in fact, come together and have a resolution. There is some discussion, as we sit here right now, about the possibility that just as high seas drift nets were sort of put off-limits back in 1992 because they were found to be so destructive and disproportionately favoring just a few industries and a few countries at a loss to all of us, and similarly, at this point in time, now that people are moving deeper and further offshore to get the last remaining pockets of protein in the sea, there is a similar concern that the cost of doing this and the big bank balance sheet, if you will--the cost to all of us for all time for the benefit of a few in the short term is just not worth it.

FLATOW: Talking with Sylvia Earle this hour on TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.

What other places in the ocean--what about--you mentioned the coral reefs. You mentioned the fact that these nets just carpet-sweep everything that they touch at the bottom. Are these the biggest threats to the oceans, the fishing threats?

Ms. EARLE: It's certainly high on the list. It's one of the greatest concerns, but it's also one of the greatest opportunities. We can do something about that. There are other things that are happening to the ocean that are also cause for great concern. The carbon dioxide increase in the atmosphere is affecting the ocean as well by an acidification process that is setting alarms off everywhere. Suppose the ocean increases to become--becoming increasingly acid. There is the concern that this would affect things like reefs, weakening the structure. Perhaps even more a worry, the tiny little creatures in the ocean, the (technical difficulties) and other planktonic (technical difficulties) have calcium carbonate in their shells would be affected in a more acid environment.

Now the ocean has not going acid yet, for heaven's sakes. It's still pretty solidly on the basic side of things, but there is a trend, and just as we worry about looking at the decline of fish over the last hundred years, especially the last 50, the increase in the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, we're seeing a trend now in the ocean that we ought to know about at least and have on the balance sheet when we think about, what do we do next?

FLATOW: Yeah, because we don't want the ocean to go acid.

Dr. EARLE: No.

FLATOW: No. No, All right. We're going to take a--we have to take a sho--I--that's the--you know, we have acid rain. We don't need acid ocean.

Dr. EARLE: No.

FLATOW: We're going to take a short break and come back and talk lots more with Sylvia Earle. She has a lot to talk about, and we'll give you an opportunity to ask her some questions. Stay with us. We'll be right back after this break.

I'm Ira Flatow. This is TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.


FLATOW: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow, talking this hour with Sylvia Earle, marine biologist, undersea explorer, executive director for Marine Programs, Conservation International in Washington. Our number, 1 (800) 989-8255.

Dr. Earle, how do you not get depressed by all of this or maybe you are depr--how do you keep your--let me rephrase that. How do stay hopeful considering how--the direction all of this is headed?

Dr. EARLE: Oh, there's plenty of reason to be positive. I mean, after all, 10 percent of the big fish are still there. They're not all gone yet. Half the coral reefs are still in pretty good shape. Despite the fact that we've lost maybe 30 percent, and another 20 percent are in bad shape, there's still a chance. I am inspired by individuals, you know. I've just come from Corpus Christi, Texas, where Ed Hart has established a research institute to focus on the Gulf of Mexico. It's our aquatic back yard. And it actually involves three countries, of course: Cuba, Mexico and the United States.

And I see promising signs of cooperation, not just there, but around the world. Just a few years ago, we had a conference that pulled together representatives from 20 countries. We had 70 different organizations, only a hundred and fifty people, that gave rise to something like an action plan for trying to come up with not just `woe is me, here are the problems,' but here are some things we can do. And I see conservation organizations working together: World Wildlife Fund, Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense, NRDC--a whole suite of organizations that are really pulling together, or they always have had common objectives, but now seems to me there is increased motivation to try to get the job done, and that means working with industry sometimes, really often, because the solutions are there, or working with governments, working with whatever it takes to find a common ground, to show the connection between a sound environment and a sound economy, a sound environment and health, a sound environment and all the things we hold near and dear, including life itself.

It's not something that should be out there somewhere taking care of the natural systems that take care of us. It should be just basic to the way we think. You take care of your home. You take care of the air you breathe, the water you drink, the food that you consume. That seems like it's so logical. The thing that worries me somewhat is that people seem to be getting increasingly detached from nature. We need to get re-engaged, starting with the youngest kids and finding the kid in the oldest of us to realize that we're all connected, first of all, as people, but all people are connected to nature.

FLATOW: Talking with Sylvia Earle on TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY. Let's go to the phones. Lisa in Barrington, Rhode Island. Hi, Lisa.

Ms. LISA MACKAWICK(ph) (Caller): Hi. How are you?


Ms. MACKAWICK: Hi. Dr. Earle, this is Lisa Mackawick calling, and you probably remember that we wrote a book about you several years ago called "Meet My Grandmother: She's a Deep-Sea Explorer."

Dr. EARLE: I do, indeed.

Ms. MACKAWICK: Yes, and it was wonderful. Just going back to what you were just talking about, about getting children involved, and I know that as a grandmother of many grandchildren, that's very important to you, but you're also very concerned about saving the oceans for our future generations so that they can appreciate those oceans and have them to benefit the Earth.

Dr. EARLE: Well, I feel driven, actually, because I can see what's happened in my lifetime, and I look at the trends, and I feel compelled to try to leave the place at least as good as I found it. That's what my mom always taught me we should do. And I am faced with the reality that the world is not as good as I found it. I mean, a lot of things are so improved. Our technology, our communication is wondrous these days; our ability to move around the planet. And that's also cause for hope, because we can see that--and knowing is the key. With knowing, there is the possibility that we can care. If you don't know, you can't care. So getting the word out, getting people to go jump in the ocean and see for themselves what's out there is really critical, but especially kids.

FLATOW: Thank you, Lisa.

Ms. MACKAWICK: Thank you.

FLATOW: When I heard you talk in Seattle, you mentioned that in this vein, it may not be too far into the future when we--you know, if we go down to the beach, when we rent little kayaks now, we might be able to rent a little undersea explorer?

Dr. EARLE: Oh, yes. Yes. For five years, during the Sustainable Seas Expeditions with the National Geographic and working also with NOAA, we had the use of little deep worker subs that are built up in Canada. They're so simple to drive that even scientists can do so. They're little one-person systems. I long for the day when you have little rent-a-sub places where you can go get your pickup truck and put a submarine on the back and go off to the dock or the beach of your choice or the boat. It's almost there. You know, there are really dozens of options now that people do have. It's not just for the handful of those who are occasionally lucky enough to penetrate the great depths. The doors are opening. There are passenger subs, you know, in Hawaii and Barbados and Bermuda, a few other places, where you can actually buy a ticket and submerge.

FLATOW: Right, right. Tell us what it was like when you submerged. You hold the record for being the person to go the deepest untethered at the bottom of the ocean. Tell us about that experience.

Dr. EARLE: Well, I love solo diving. I know it's a thing you don't talk about much, as--buddy diving is usually the way to go...

FLATOW: Right.

Dr. EARLE: ...whether you're scuba diving or in submersibles. And most submersibles have at least two people, sometimes more, inside one shell. But the idea of having one-person subs and if you want to have two or three of them, fine, but the experience of being able to use a submarine like a diving suit is such a pleasure. So you have control over what you do. When you see something you want to look at, you just go there, just as you do anything else on the land or underwater as a diver.

Imagine being out, let's say, where I was not so long ago, a hundred miles offshore from the mouth of the Mississippi River, and descending through what, at the surface, is kind of green even there. It used to be pure blue at the surface, but the Gulf of Mexico is suffering these days a bit. But penetrating through that green and then break into clear blue water below and then it gets darker as you descend into indigo and then almost a purply-blue, and then not blue at all. It's just gray and then black. And it's dark; yet it isn't really dark. It's filled with light. There are little sparkle, flashes and glows all around you, like--it's like falling into a galaxy of little stars, because most of the creatures in the deep sea have some form of firefly-like kind of light, that bioluminescence, and as they brush up against the submersible that you're in, they just are provoked into these little sparkle-sparkle-sparkles. It is such a joy, like falling into the Fourth of July.


Dr. EARLE: It's just a joy. And then you turn on the lights and you see, oh, that's a little octopus that just squirted off in that direction, and look at that fish. It's just hanging vertically in the water. And you turn the lights off again and some of the things that were there that you could see their bodies become clear now as little strings of light or that little octopus, even that's a little burst of luminous ink. It's not black, because in the black sea, that wouldn't do them any good. But luminous ink is what will help distract a would-be predator. So I just wish everyone could go down and see it, and you're going to do it someday, Ira, aren't you?

FLATOW: I would l--well, I'm a scuba diver now. I think a hundred feet is about--but I do share your joy of the oceans. I'm a real fish person, a real water person. And I agree with you, that if we could get more people to actually get into the water...

Dr. EARLE: Yes.

FLATOW: ...they would understand the intrinsic value of it, you know.

Dr. EARLE: Well, my mother waited until she was 81 before she took the plunge, and then she was so cross at all the years that she'd missed. So don't wait till you're 81, or if you are 81, don't wait any longer...


Dr. EARLE: ...those of you out there listening.

FLATOW: Well, let me get to the phones. Shawn in New Jersey. Hi, Shawn.

SHAWN (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call. What a wonderful topic. In fact, I called with one question, but while I was mesmerized by your description of the deep, I actually came up with another one. I taught environmental science here in northern New Jersey and the (technical difficulties) economics in environmental studies and has longed grappled with this idea of getting the message to young kids, and I was actually teaching environmental science during the 2000 election, so much of the science was actually tabled for discussions of policy and what--the administration's view on conservation and clear skies, etc. But I'm sure you could talk volumes on that.

The one question I came up with while listening to your description was what are some of the issues that you envision with regards to opening up access and encouraging people to move out into the deep, which may cause some of this increased impact that we're finding? And I'm a mountain biker as well, and I run into discourse issues and issues of different phrases being interpreted by different groups, hikers, horseback riders, riders, cyclists, all wanting to enjoy the outdoors and the trails that are there for them, but ultimately, this increased activity...

FLATOW: Yeah, good question.

SHAWN: ...having an adverse effect.

FLATOW: Yeah. If we--everybody gets out there on those coral reefs, aren't they going to be wrecking them, you know?

Dr. EARLE: They don't have to. You can accommodate thousands of people in museums and they don't have to destroy everything that they see. They can enjoy it and take away wonderful experiences, but leave everything intact.

FLATOW: Or make more underwater parks, like they have in Florida, right, Pennekamp Park or other places like that

Dr. EARLE: Absolutely. Well, in fact, the idea that the ocean should be respected overall, and as we exploit it--and we will, we are taking things out and letting things flow in--but we must be mindful of the most critical areas and take special care there, the breeding areas for fish, the aggregations where fish get together and whoop it up and do what it takes to make more fish. I mean, we should certainly protect those occasions and those places. And there are places specifically that attract not just one kind of fish, but many kinds, for whatever reasons, maybe the currents are just right for dispersing the eggs once they are in the water column. And breeding ar--feeding areas and nursery areas, and we can identify those. They are being identified.

FLATOW: Let me just saying I'm talking with Sylvia Earle this hour on TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News. There's so much to talk about, so little time. But let's talk about the deep areas, the other places that are unknown. And, you know, people say there's no place--we have to go out into outer space and the moon and Mars because those are the new frontiers. We've got 95 percent of the Earth we've never seen before, don't we? I mean, we have no idea what's down there.

Dr. EARLE: Right on. We have some idea. In fact, diving into the sea is like diving into a cross-section of life on Earth, a history of life on Earth. All of the major divisions that have ever been still has some representation in the sea, as far as we know. I mean, we don't have a perfect record from the fossil history, but we do know that only about half of those that we find in the sea occur on the land. So if you are thinking about getting an idea of life on Earth, jumping into the sea is a good place to start. Even in a bucket of water, you might find a dozen phyla of animals, mostly in small form, but they're there.

FLATOW: What about the canyons in the deepest parts of the oceans that remain unseen? You talk about the mounts. Let's go in the other direction.

Dr. EARLE: Mmm. Yeah. I mean, once at the Explorers Club, I followed a mountaineer who was so pleased, but also a little sad that he had just climbed, he said, the last great peak to be attained, and that those who followed him just didn't have the possibility of having the joy of being the first. And I--it was a great set-up for me, because I said, `Well, with all due respect to mountain climbing on the land, there are thousands of mountains out there under the sea--tens of thousands--that have not been climbed,' never mind that you have to start at the top and work your way down, but they're not only formations of tremendous interest geologically and otherwise, but biologically, they host this great array of creatures that we are just beginning to know.

Rain forests are wonderful for similar reasons that they have--they host these--this glorious array of diversity. But think of what's out there in the ocean that hits on these big, broad sections of life, not just splintery ends of individual species, thousands of species of insects, but think about the great trunks of life, jellies and starfish, relatives and things that never occur on the land at all that we have yet to get to know. And you've got to do this, Ira. You must do this.

FLATOW: All right. Listen, you know, if I can overcome my claustrophobia and squeeze into one of those little deep-sea divers, I will. But we only got a couple of minutes left, Dr. Earle, but these seem like great ideas. Where do we get the drive, the money, the leadership to do these things from?

Dr. EARLE: Well, I think it's--again, I've never been more optimistic than right now about the excitement about the ocean. The National Ocean Commission--for the first time in decades, a commission was appointed in this country to look at the ocean and its importance to humankind. There was a commission that independently formed, the Pew Oceans Commission, that came to very similar conclusions about what we need to do to reform fisheries, to establish within the ocean policies that are really geared to protecting the assets there. And that includes establishing networks of protected areas, national parks, if you will, sanctuaries--whatever you want to call them--the places that we really respect, and it doesn't mean that you don't got there, but it means that you keep them intact because they're so valuable for all the things that we care about in the ocean.

The conference that we had called Defying Ocean's End that brought nations together, that was another turning point, I think, but it's happening all over the world. I was just at a Wilderness Congress in Alaska; another conference, the first International Marine Protected Area Conference, in Australia just a few weeks ago. I think the world is finally waking up to the fact that the ocean is not infinite in its capacity to just accept and rebound from whatever we do to it, and that it's so important to us, everything we care about. We have to take care of it if it is to take care of us.

FLATOW: Well, that's where we have to leave it. It's a good thought, and Dr. Earle, I want to thank you for taking (technical difficulties) and please come back and talk more about your underworld explorations and keep us abreast of how things might be getting better, because I hope it's true, as you say it is. Thank you. Dr. Sylvia Earle, a marine biologist and also she is executive director for Marine Programs at Conservation International in Washington. Thanks again for taking time to talk with us.

Dr. EARLE: We'll see you underwater, Ira.

FLATOW: We will.


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I'm Ira Flatow in New York.

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