In 1965, Jacques Cousteau built a house 100 meters below the surface of the sea. One of the six oceanauts who lived and worked in that house for one month recalls his first excursion on the seabed at such depths. “As soon as I exit the sphere, I am struck by three things: hoses and cables replace the bubbles… the seabed replaces the surfaces… and night replaces day.”
I remember sitting in a college classroom and watching a slideshow of the first spaceship revealing its approach and landing on planet Venus (the Russian Venera mission). I was amazed by each new image, progressively revealing the unseen surface of the planet. Although life might be present inside its thick cloud cover, the unveiled surface resembled a scorched potato.
The Seamounts Expedition makes me feel this way. Like exploring a new world. Deep beneath the surface of our oceans, there are vast desert canyons and plains that the human eye has never seen. And in the immensities of space, the physical laws conspire to create an oasis for life, revealing astonishing shapes and colors to the robotic visitor. At the very same time it was discovering these oasis of life, the Seamount Expedition observed their blind destruction by humans.
When will we realize the clemency of the physical conditions that keep us alive in this district of the universe? We are at the interface, between our frail atmosphere and the empty seas, on the shoreline between life and death in a seemingly desert solar system. Life is a chance, and as far as we know it only exists right here, on a planet we mistakingly call Earth when it is mostly covered in Water. We must care for it, or we will watch it trickle through our open hands.
[Originally published on IUCN’s Seamounts Conservation and Management webpage]