Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Shocking Loss of Biodiversity

This post was written by expedition team member Wendy Benchley.

The devastating reality of a depleted sea rocked my soul yesterday. The El Bajo seamount still rises with majesty from the sea bed, but it is fundamentally changed.

Moon rise over the Sea of Cortez

Twenty five years ago, I remember the thrill of swimming off the edge of the seamount into the open blue water to cruise with schools of jacks, tuna, grouper, hammerheads and, with luck, a manta ray of two. Now the only schools of fish were tiny chromis and on the top of the mount were small numbers of angel, butterfly, trigger, puffer and scorpion fishes. My heart leapt when off in the distance I saw a grouper. Imagine that, one grouper is now a treat in this depleted sea!

The data and images we are recording will be important to move ocean conversation issues forward. I keep hope alive by focusing on the work Greg Stone, the New England Aquarium and Conservation International did to create the California-sized Phoenix Islands marine protected area in the Pacific ocean. If we could create more of these areas there is a chance the ocean could regain enough health to provide the fish protein needed to feed the world.

Perhaps this afternoon I will see a different ocean. I'm in high anticipation--it's my turn to ride in the DEEPSEE. Claustrophobia was worrying me a couple days ago, but now that I've seen the superbly trained pilots put the expertly crafted sub through its paces, I feel not a twinge of anxiety. I hope to see a deeper ocean filled with life and perhaps a manta or two to make my heart sing.

- Wendy Benchley

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