- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 29, 2002

Terry Garcia is on a mission.
Mr. Garcia, executive vice president of mission programs at the National Geographic Society in Northwest, says he is trying to educate the public about the importance of the oceans.
To accomplish this, the society supports about 350 teams of explorers each year. The organization has invested $2 million in one project the Sustainable Seas Expeditions.
"You can't drive into the ocean with the kids to see the bears and the trees like at a terrestrial park," Mr. Garcia says. "We wanted to bring the ocean alive to the public."
The Sustainable Seas Expeditions are the result of a five-year partnership between the National Geographic Society and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Silver Spring to explore one of the last frontiers: the ocean. Through the information collected, the organizations strive to raise interest in the oceans, which they hope will lead to the oceans' preservation.
The project, which culminates in March 2003, is a deep-water research and education program, primarily of NOAA's 13 National Marine Sanctuaries, which are protected waters that serve as natural classrooms and laboratories. It began in April 1998 with a $5 million grant from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, which supports programs having a positive effect on the environment.
Sylvia Earle, a National Geographic explorer-in-residence who is the project's director, says she has been excited to lead the expeditions using new technologies that have provided a way for personal observation in unexplored areas of the Earth.
Her team has been the first to use Deep Worker submersibles, which can travel about 2,000 feet into the ocean. The systems are one-person submarines made by Nuytco Research Ltd. in North Vancouver, British Columbia. They have allowed humans to descend farther into the ocean than ever would have been possible with scuba diving, which usually limits a diver to about 130 feet.
"Ninety-five-plus percent of the ocean has never been seen at all," Ms. Earle says. "We don't have gills. We look at the surface and think that's what the ocean is, but it is a three-dimensional place."
The pilot of the Deep Worker sits in a climate-controlled capsule and remains in constant contact with its mother ship through wireless communications. It is equipped with a hydrophone to record ocean sounds and a mechanical arm that can extend up about six feet.
In case of an emergency, the pilot has an oxygen reserve of 72 hours and a mechanism to remove carbon dioxide. If necessary, the operator can eject the command capsule so that it can shoot to the surface like a cork.
To document the journey below the sea, the submarine is outfitted with a variety of cameras, which include an Aries 3CCD underwater digital camera, a Mini-Benthos 35mm still camera, a Sony digital video recorder, Sony X-999 lipstick camera and a Rock House interior "pilot cam" board camera. It also has two 400-watt HMI lights and two 250-watt quartz lights, which aid in illuminating the ocean for videotaping.
"Teacher in the sea" Mike Guardino, who is a science teacher at Carmel High School in Carmel, Calif., says he enjoyed his dives in a Deep Worker in the Monterey Bay and Carmel Bay. He is one of about 100 people trained to pilot the sub. He plans to share his underwater video with his students.
"There is not any fear factor," Mr. Guardino says. "It's more fun than intimidating. You are basically limited with how long you can go without going to the bathroom."
Haidee Williams, science specialist at Region 13 Education Service Center in Austin, Texas, which is a branch of the Texas Education Agency, says she enjoyed sitting on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico in the Deep Worker and simply observing. She will share the video she took with teachers from about 68 school districts in Texas.
"It's a totally different world," she says. "It's peaceful, but it's exciting. You can watch all the fish swim around, cleaning and guarding their territory. It's another reality, almost, but at the same time, you have to keep in mind it's real, very real."
Francesca Cava, education program manager for the Sustainable Seas Expeditions in Santa Barbara, Calif., says the public often forgets about the influence of the ocean on human life.
"Oceans as a topic is not required to be taught in any grade level of schools," Ms. Cava says. "Most people don't get any information about the ocean except by accident. If it is so crucial to your life, you need to know a little about it just to live on the planet."
Water is essential to life and covers about 75 percent of the Earth's surface. The oceans make up about 70 percent of that water, providing humans with food and energy. Each day, the oceans absorb enough heat from the sun to equal the thermal energy contained in about 250 billion barrels of oil. Through ocean thermal energy conversion systems, this thermal energy is converted into electricity, often while making desalinated water.
The climate and weather of the Earth also are affected by the oceans. For instance, items placed in the atmosphere that destroy the ozone layer create more opportunities for solar radiation to warm the ocean. When the ocean becomes warmer, more clouds accumulate in an area, which causes rain. When it becomes dramatically warmer, the area experiences an El Nino storm, which causes destructive flooding.
Further, Ms. Cava says the public should be concerned about placing oil down gutters and pesticides or herbicides in gardens. Even people living in inland states, such as Kansas or Iowa, can affect the oceans. The products they place in the environment eventually make their way to the oceans through lakes, streams or rivers.
For instance, because of runoff carried by the Mississippi River, there is a "dead zone" in the ocean at the river's mouth with no life of any sort. There are more than 50 dead zones throughout the world's oceans that have been created by toxic material.
"You can't keep putting things into the oceans and expect nothing to happen," Ms. Cava says. "In the past people said, 'The ocean is so big. It can take anything we put in it.' That's not true."
Because of the Sustainable Seas Expeditions, scientists have discovered many banks that seem to spawn aggregation sites within about a 60-mile radius of the protected area in the Gulf of Mexico, says G.P. Schmahl, manager of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, based in Bryan, Texas. These are critically important for the health and reproduction of the fish that live there, such as snapper and grouper.
"Fishermen will discover these aggregation sites and fish there because there will be lots of fish [in the area], but this harms the area because they aren't giving the fish a chance to reproduce," Mr. Schmahl says. "In the future, we wonder whether that area should be protected."
Thriving coral reefs were discovered at the southern portion of Pulley's Ridge in the western Florida shelf of the ocean, says Billy Causey, superintendent of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in Marathon.
This is unusual because corals usually exist only in water less than 100 feet deep where there is more sunlight. However, this area features corals from 220 feet to 260 feet deep, he says.
Mr. Causey hopes this region would be protected in the future from outside intrusions, such as ship anchors that could damage the corals.
"Our scientists were able to observe and classify corals that we didn't know existed," he says. "We used the Deep Worker to document that and characterize why it's so important."
Dan Basta, director of the National Marine Sanctuary Program at NOAA, says that although the Sustainable Seas Expeditions gathered various scientific information about the oceans, he considers its biggest success to be educating the average person.
"Unless the public mobilizes, we won't see change," he says. "There is a lot to do. We have only begun to address the problems we need to solve in our oceans and in our coastal areas."

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