Wildlife & Wild Places

Summit at Sea: Bringing the Ocean Home

Two things about ocean conservation were as crystal clear as the Bahamian waters last week at Summit at Sea, where nearly one thousand young business leaders, artists, non-profit founders, and others gathered to inspire, team up with, and get to know each other:

1. We are all connected to the ocean.
2. If we’re going to protect the ocean, we need to feel that connection more.

 

A Caribbean reef shark floats above the distant ocean floor, still visible in the clear waters of the area. Image courtesy Christine Shepard/RJD.MIAMI.EDU.

 

National Geographic Ocean Fellow Enric Sala and Emerging Explorer Kenny Broad were right at the front lines helping make that connection. Their stories of exploration and adventure had the crowd hooked, so to speak, from the beginning.

One part of Enric’s talk in particular really stuck in people’s minds. When exploring the nearly untouched Southern Line Islands (see photos, videos, and more), he was stunned to find more sharks than he’d ever imagined. There were in fact more predators than prey. Imagine looking out at the African savanna, seeing vast herds of herbivores, and then seeing five times as many lions prowling around and amongst them. The ecological pyramid as we know it was turned upside down.

This slide from Enric's presentation shows how the proportion of herbivores, carnivores, and top predators was completely inverted at a pristine reef.

 

This inverted pyramid image was discussed enthusiastically by people milling about afterwards and became a topic of conversation the next day as well. Not only is it a striking visualization, it’s a striking realization: reef degradation is so severe now, that until this discovery we didn’t even know what a healthy reef looked like.

 

(Watch Enric Sala declaring this Southern Line Islands dive as the best of his life.)

Enric called this the “syndrome of the shifting baselines.” As the environment degrades over time, each generation sees weaker reefs and thinks they are normal. “Our perception of what’s natural changes,” he said, adding that then in turn “our expectations change and diminish. So we are happier and happier with less and less.”

In order for people to truly appreciate the severity of our impact on the ocean then, we need to spread the word about how rich with life a truly untouched reef can be. Help by recommending this article via the Facebook button below.

Next Up: Kenny Broad and the Wonders of Underwater Caves

Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. He is currently beginning a new role as communications director at Adventure Scientists, founded by Nat Geo Explorer Gregg Treinish.Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of nationalgeographic.com for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010.He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history.

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