Sylvia Earle & Tierney Thys, "Oceans Alive"

This lecture was presented as part of The Long Now Foundation’s monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking.


Tuesday May 20, 02014 – San Francisco


Video is up on the Sylvia Earle & Tierney Thys Seminar page.


Audio is up on the Sylvia Earle & Tierney Thys Seminar page, or you can subscribe to our podcast.


Oceans alive – a summary by Stewart Brand

Neither of them eats fish.

Both marine biologists applaud the improved regulation of American fishing and the resulting recovery of important fisheries, but they note that 90% of our seafood is imported, and one-third of that is caught illegally. Two-thirds of global fisheries are overfished. Eating a tuna, Earle points out, is like eating a wolf or a tiger. It is a magnificent predator often decades in age. We no longer commercially harvest wildlife on land. Why do we do it in the sea?

Noting that 15% of land has become protected in the last 100 years, the speakers said we have just started on protecting the ocean. About 3% is now protected, in 8,000 Marine Protected Areas. The goal is 20% by 2020. One hero of the movement is Palau’s president Tommy Remengesau, who this year declared that commercial fishing would be banned in its entire ocean economic zone—230,000 square miles. Likewise New Caledonia just created a 500,000 square mile “Natural Park of the Coral Sea.”

Ocean science keeps yielding profound discoveries. A sea-going photosynthetic bacteria named Prochlorococcus was identified as recently as 1986, yet it may be the most abundant photosynthetic species on Earth, responsible for 5-10% of all the oxygen in the atmosphere. Without their ancestors we wouldn’t exist. Deep-diving Earle noted that daylight only reaches about 1,000 feet down in the ocean. Most of the world’s life therefore lives in total darkness, and “bioluminescence is the most common form of communication on Earth.”

Thys observed that the greatest need is for coordinated, consistent remote-sensing in the ocean, and that is increasingly being provided by small robots that travel on their own on and under the surface, sending their data to satellites as well as cabled observatories. Small satellites also are multiplying, providing daily, detailed information from above. Citizen science is growing along with the Maker movement.

“Life came from the ocean,” Thys concluded. “And the life in it continues to nurture life everywhere. We owe the ocean some nurture back.”

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