“Like a puzzle…we’re losing pieces of the earth…but we don’t know how to put them back together again.”
“Right now is the moment when our actions will shape everything that follows.” Take it from someone who has lived long enough and seen enough of the world to know that the earth has changed, just in the past 50 years, drastically enough to threaten all life on it. Meet Sylvia Earle, one of the most decorated oceanic explorers, male or female, ever, and the subject of the new Netflix documentary “Mission Blue.” Directed by Fisher Stevens (The Cove), this film is, on the surface, a biographical tale of Earle’s expeditions from the 1960’s through the present while on the forefront of discovering new depths of the ocean, cataloging new species, and developing new diving technology; consequently it also documents the decline of the ocean ecosystem, the focus and backdrop of these explorations.
Every bone in her body a curious one, Earle’s passion for the ocean developed as a child growing up along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. At the time there were twice as many coral reefs, ten times as many sharks, and twenty times as many blue-fin tuna in the world as there are now – oh, and only ONE oil rig near Earle’s hometown…now there are 30,000. Throughout her career, Earle has witnessed these numbers plummet to an unsustainable and unsafe amount. Her mission, MISSION BLUE, is to get the entire world to protect the ocean as much as we do land. With this film, Earl, Stevens, and the crew – including legendary director and diver James Cameron – are able to depict an issue that is, honestly, hard to convey. As quoted in the film, “the ocean could be empty, but it would still look the same from the surface.” This is true, and helps generate excuses for not acting, gives some people justification for polluting and overfishing, and adds on to the “why should I care mentality” that plagues this generation.
Why should we care? When Earle dove down 2.5 miles into the ocean, she found the skeleton of a reef she saw in her youthful diving years, the same one that inspired her entire career. She also found beer bottles and cafeteria chairs – 2.5 miles down! This kind of careless pollution combined with disasters like 2010’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion not only wipe out the “cute” animals (think seals and penguins) but more importantly the algae, plankton, and seaweed that feed all marine life. With the bottom of the food chain gone, the valuable fish that are inhumanely poached for consumption will also die. This creates a dead zone. Dead organisms create CO2, which sucks up oxygen, killing more organisms. Above the surface, humans suffer as well, and not just because of the fish market. Oceans provide half of the oxygen on the planet and absorb most of the CO2. If what’s happening to the levels of oxygen and CO2 underwater happens up here, we’ll have dead zones we can actually see, and we’ll be part of them.
“Mission Blue“ touches upon other related issues, like the power of the ocean as the climate changes and how this is changing the face of the earth and threatening our homes. Also the basis of veganism: how organisms (humans included) are what they eat. Some species of fish are used solely for chicken feed…so really the chicken we eat are made up of fish. Same with the omega oils we get from fish – it comes from the plants they eat. Outside of the film the same is true for beef – cows eat a plant-based diet, therefore we eat meat made of plants – so why not just go to the source of all of this nutrients – the plants?
The take away message Earle is sending with her Mission is that what she saw underwater – though most of us have never and may never see it – is not only worth saving for its own sake, but for the sake of humanity as well. So if you have a Netflix account, I highly recommend you dive under with Earle and join her on her Mission.
You can also help preserve what is left of marine life while enjoying it by supporting ecotourism efforts. Local communities are provided with jobs, parts of the ocean are protected from fishing and pollution, and humans are able to interact with their environment in a positive, life-changing way.