Oceans of Opportunity

rising tides, seafaring states, & a ‘piece’ of mind

'A New Life in the Sea' by Michael LombardiI’m blogging from the Hele Islands, a small group of largely uninhabited cays within the Solomon Islands, where I’ve spent the last ten days supporting scientific dives as part of an expedition for the American Museum of Natural History. While I hate to use the word ‘adventure’ given my feeling that it consumerizes more purist exploration, the last ten days have been all of an adventure and more.
I’m not sure where to start…

It’s been a surreal voyage in many ways. I’m sitting here in the salon of the MV Alucia with all of the creature comforts of home, a well equipped dive operations platform, and great WIFI connectivity and at the same time am looking out the window at uninhabited islands, warm, calm, blue water, beautifully evolved coral reefs, and not a spec of light pollution on the night horizon. Once every several days we are visited by a group of locals by canoe who are curious to be in the company of a 183′ yacht full of high tech equipment, cameras, and mad scientists – it’s quite likely the same curiosity that came when Columbus brought ships to the New World. Very, very surreal.

Every time I’m in the field, I try to take home at least one unique worldly experience that will be appreciated for some time and ideally help guide my work in a positively impactful direction. Here in the Solomons, particularly the out islands, what resonates most is the seafaring and subsistence state of life for the local peoples. These out islands remind me of my early visits to the Exumas, Bahamas more than 15 years ago now, where communities were very much isolated from one another, and from any major industrial hub, yet still survived and quite peacefully at that – just as humans did for many thousands of years before it all got screwed up.

Quite strikingly however, is taking note that an island nation like the Solomons is going to face immense pressure from a rising tide. In time, their shorelines will vanish, and what were isolated communities will be forced to come together to share space and all of that space’s resources. An interactive map produced by National Geographic shows us a projection of ‘rising seas’ if and when all of our ice melts and sea level rises more than 200 feet from its current level. Places like here in the Hele Islands are basically wiped out. Scary – and a very serious thing we need to be thinking about.

On the long trans-Pacific flight to get here I finished reading John Englander’s High Tide On Main Street
– among the most concise yet profound literary works on the coming coastal crisis. The book is a reality check. Englander frankly communicates that the world is changing – that is a fact. What is lacking is our response, or rather efforts in re-engineering how human civilization will take to the sea. Two issues come to the forefront, and these are issues at scale from small island communities to major coastal industrial areas: 1) existing coastal resources will literally be underwater and left unusable; and 2) human population is on the rise and will be pushed into an even smaller living space here on Earth. #2 will almost certainly tip the scales for sustainability at the scale we are living at right now. Very, very scary – but very much a reality.

So, where do we go? I’ve written frequently about undersea habitation, seafaring communities, new evolutionary pathways for our species, even the idea of a Homo aquaticus. The reality is that we need to embrace the idea that humanity will be forced to change just as our world changes around us. Once example of cultural evolution in action is the coast of Dubai, which can be seen changing in a time lapse satellite image series. These are bold but necessary seafaring steps.

Coming back to sitting here in luxury with a surreal perspective of a remote part of the world that is vanishing right before my eyes reinforces the one thing that I know I can do as my ‘piece’ of the big picture – take small steps to improve human performance within and beneath the ocean. There are still so few that realize what the majority of our planet looks like. Taking even the smallest steps to bridge that gap will help with the popular trending we need to realize our future, our sustainability, and our new life in the sea.

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