Rebooting our ocean operating system

National Geographic Fellow and ocean ecologist Enric Sala continues his blog from the National Geographic Endeavour.


Mission-Blue.jpgSala and other prominent marine scientists and thinkers are gathered on national Geographic’s ship, sailing around the Galapagos. They are part of  Mission Blue, an initiative to brainstorm strategies and options to rescue Earth’s oceans.

Mission Blue is the brainchild of National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle, who was able to convene the gathering after winning the 2009 TED Prize.

Earle’s TED wish: “I wish you would use all means at your disposal — films! expeditions! the web! more! — to ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas, hope spots large enough to save and restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet.”

By Enric Sala

Galapagos Islands–Another morning walk on land to watch iguanas, frigatebirds, and sea lions.

Female sea lions were milking their babies in the middle of our path, ignoring us completely. Needless to say, we walked around the path to not disturb them, after the mandatory “how cute/how sweet” statements.

Back on board, we were treated to fascinating talks and deep discussions.

Who said scientists can’t communicate? Well, most can’t, but on the National Geographic Endeavour we have some of the best science communicators out there.

Here are some of the thoughts that struck me most:


We need a new operating system for our relationship with the ocean (Dee Boersma, biologist/filmmaker and National Geographic grantee). We’ve been taking too much out of the ocean–the fish we like to eat–and thrown in what we don’t want–our sewage and garbage.

Photo by James Duncan Davidson, TED


If the ocean ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy–Steve Palumbi, marine ecologist, Stanford University, explaining that ocean health is essential for our health. Currently, many toxic chemicals that we use to make plastics make it to the sea and to our bodies alike. For instance, Inuit mothers in the Arctic cannot breastfeed their babies because their milk is too loaded with pollutants.

Photo by James Duncan Davidson, TED


If fish could scream, not many people would go fishing–Chevy Chase, actor. Well, Chevy is not exactly a scientist, but he showed us very explicitly how horrible it would be to catch a fish that is screaming and complaining about the pain inflicted by a steel hook. As he said, torturing an animal just for “sport” does not sound very human.

Photo by James Duncan Davidson, TED

In addition, we learned that blue whales can hear each other songs from as far away as 500 miles, and also that noise produced by humans–like ship noise is so disturbing the sound environment underwater that whales have to call louder to hear each other. We are probably making their life very difficult, and finding a mate is now a struggle for them.

Finally, some signs of hope. Steve Palumbi said that the list of solutions outweighs the list of problems. And we know that some of them, like marine reserves, work when well implemented and enforced. The question is: how to scale them up at the global scale?”


Marine Ecologist Enric Sala is a National Geographic Fellow. A 2005 Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow, a 2006 Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation, and a 2008 Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum in Davos, he also received the 2006 Prince of Asturias Award for Communication and Humanities with National Geographic. Sala’s experience and scientific expertise contributes to his service on scientific advisory boards of environmental organizations.

More blog posts by Enric Sala 

Lifegiving Power of the Sea

“We have learned more about the ocean in the last half century than in all of preceding history,” says Sylvia Earle, marine biologist. “But at the same time, more has changed.” Read the full interview.

National Geographic Galápagos Islands Photo Gallery



Meet the Author
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn