13 May 2009

Beagle Campaign opponents: ocean awareness FAIL

Earlier this week, The Beagle Project endorsed The Beagle Campaign, a band of Royal Geographical Society fellows who seek 'the reactivation of the Royal Geographical Society's multidisciplinary research projects to greatly advance geographical science and knowledge.'

With the vote on the campaign's resolution less than a week away, the campaigners are ...well, campaigning and the RGS is urging its fellows to vote 'no'. Opinions are flying right and left in the press and online.

We've already explained in our endorsement why we support the campaign, but, since then, several wrong-headed statements have come out of the mouths and pens of the nay-sayers and they need some shouting down:

And so, to Christopher Ondaatjeo who said, "When the RGS was formed there was a need for exploration to places in Africa and so on; that need is not really there now."

...and to Max Davidson, who wrote, "However the vote goes at the special general meeting, perhaps the biggest problem facing the RGS is the shrinking world it inhabits: the great mountains have been scaled, the big rivers tamed. The expeditions that attract publicity today tend to be stunts rather than scientific research."

...and to Michael McCarthey who wrote, "Exploration is geography's past, and a very glamorous past it was, dangerous and romantic. Yet by the end of the Second World War, certainly by the 1960s, most of the globe had been discovered, if not mapped in detail; there was no more North-west Passage to be searched for."

...I give you this short video:



David Gallo explains how we've only explored 3% of the ocean, and the surprising discovery that the deep sea may contain more biological diversity and density than a tropical rainforest (thanks to Graham Steel for reminding me about this video)


In other words, there is absolutely more exploring to be done especially - but not exclusively - in the oceans. In its executive summary "The Legendary Ocean - The Unexplored Frontier" the U.S. Department of Commerce (Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere: Office of the Chief Scientist, NOAA) makes this statement:
"The ocean remains as one of Earth’s last unexplored frontiers. It has stirred our imaginations over the millenia and has led to the discovery of new of new lands, immense deposits and reservoirs of resources, and startling scientific findings...[snip]...In spite of the development of new technologies, comparatively little of the ocean has been studied...[snip]...As exciting and enlightening as ocean discoveries have been, they will pale in comparison to future discoveries.”
Deep sea scientist Craig McClain told me in an email that by his calculations based on the amounts of sampling he and collaborators have done with each of the different sampling devices (sleds, cores, ROV, submersibles, etc.), "we have sampled probably much less than 1% and probably closer to 0.5% an area roughly the size of Alaska".

And it's not just the oceans. Only 1-10% of the estimated number of multicellular species on Earth are known to science and if you added in unicellular organisms that number would be down to a tiny fraction of a percent. These organisms will both interact with and respond to a changing climate, having a profound affect on our own species' future.

1 comment:

Eric Heupel said...

Wow. Massive fail. Those statements were from RGS members? I'm sorta shocked. Wasn't it geo folk who actually discovered the amazing life at vents? So maybe now the biologists and deep sea ecologists should take over the awesome task (and opportunity) to map and study the deep. Don't worry, we'll do our best, and if we get stuck we'll holler, oh, wait sorta hard to hear what with the 2+km of water. Oh well...

Should be one on every deep sea cruise.