I feel I’ve been neglecting the watery side of things lately.
Well, conveniently, and also what brought it back to my attention, Grist is doing a series of articles on the ocean (they are all really cool!), all interviews with people who interact with it a lot (people who fish, explore, surf, etc.). One of the early articles is about what’s deep in the ocean. It is about ocean explorer David Gruber, who particularly studies bioluminescence and fluorescence.
Some of what the article/interview goes over is how fluorescence and bioluminescence are being studied for use in more human-relevant areas, like neuroscience and cancer research, but I was much more struck by his attitude towards visiting the deep ocean which is really, really wonderful (all indented text quoted from linked article):
I’ve always been inspired by previous explorers. But if you think back to the first polar expeditions and the first jungle expeditions, their explorations were focused on the idea that it’s the first time humans are going to these places, and coming back out with samples of things just to show that they’ve been there.
But the thought that exploration is a way of conquering nature is really outdated. I wouldn’t fathom going out and coming back with a whole bounty of things to show people that we’ve been to these places in the deep sea. I think that comes with the realization that we’re much more dominant than all the other species, and with that great power and technology comes a greater responsibility. Exploration is now about showing where things fit among all the other species.
I think it’s also different in that I go about exploration as a gentle process. A lot of deep sea exploration has been with submarines and remote operated vehicles that have big titanium arms, designed for the oil and gas industry. I’m working to do really kind of delicate, gentle collection with soft robotics — and to load down on all the information we can from just one specimen. Even though the deep sea is so vast and unknown, I think it’s important for scientists to set the precedent that we’re taking steps to be gentle as we explore.
I always try to avoid the bio-prospecting angle [to conservation]. There are so many more reasons to protect the ocean other than the fact that we can use it to find new medicines for us. The ocean represents our creative human heritage of where our genes came from. We should be interested in protecting and respecting it even if an animal isn’t making a protein that could be used for pioneering cancer drugs. But it does show that there are so many reasons why we should protect biodiversity.