I applaud President Bush’s recent decision to commit $1 billion to space exploration in the 21st century. However, I believe the president would be well-advised to make an equal commitment to exploration of Earth and the one aspect that makes our home planet unique in the known solar system – our oceans.
While the red planet – Mars – holds great fascination for many, it is the blue planet – Earth – that sustains life. The singular reason that life exists on our planet is the fresh and salt water bodies that make up 70 percent of the surface of planet Earth. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that our own physical bodies also constitute 70 percent water.
The question of what happened to the seas of Mars, if they existed, and why they dried up billions of years ago is important – if for no other reason than as a cautionary tale. However, I believe an even more important question is why the people of this planet continue to ignore the impacts of their actions on our oceans.
The oceans of our blue planet provide so much to us – protein as a major source of food, life-saving compounds used in medicines, and life-giving rains that form as a result of the interaction between the ocean and the atmosphere. And we have yet to scratch more than the surface of the sea. Experts estimate that we have explored only less than 5 percent of the ocean.
What other secrets lie beneath the sea?
Along with my father, Jacques Cousteau, I have spent my life exploring the ocean. Since first being thrown overboard by my father at the age of 7, I have been compelled to explore, to discover, to understand the secrets of the sea.
An oft-quoted fact is that we know more about the surface of the moon than we do about our own planet. Since the vast majority of the surface of our planet lies beneath the sea, we MUST devise the proper tools to map and explore these vast areas.
Now is the time to make such an investment. Never before have we had such a wealth of information before us. And never before has the need for ocean exploration been so great.
The roadmap is clear. We have many resources, such as the Pew Oceans Commission Report, the recently released NRC report “Exploration of the Seas: Voyage Into the Unknown.” And the pending report from the congressionally authorized U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy.
The tide is rising. The experts have spoken. Now is the time. The best minds in the country have been convened numerous times in the last few years. The president’s Panel on Ocean Exploration issued its report in 2000.They recommended an annual investment of $75 million annually in ocean exploration.
A paltry sum compared to the recent commitment of $1 billion for a reinvigorated space exploration program. However, that would be a significant increase over the current annual investment of just $14 million.
Unlike some others, I do not believe it is necessary or productive to denigrate one program in favor of the other. I have always been a strong supporter of our space program and will continue to be.
However, I believe just as strongly in the need for exploring the oceans of our own planet. In fact, I believe an equivalent investment should be made in our blue planet.
Mr. President, I encourage you to be truly bold. I encourage you to go where no man has gone before. I encourage you to commit your administration to a $1 billion investment in ocean exploration.
In order to truly understand the red planet, or any others in the solar system, we must first understand the blue planet and the oceans that make our home unique. The reality remains, that for all of our exploration of the cosmos, Earth is our home and our only alternative.
Jean-Michel Cousteau is president of Ocean Futures Society and trustee of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, www.NMSFocean.org. Readers may write to him at: Ocean Futures Society, 325 Chapala Street, Santa Barbara, Calif. 93101. (c) 2004, Ocean Futures Society Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.