Both beautiful and dangerous, the ocean must be respected
Recently, you couldn’t turn on a TV, open an app, or read a newspaper without seeing the minute-by-minute account of the search for the Titan submersible which went missing during its long descent to the wreckage of RMS Titanic.
While their fate was unknown, it was hard to imagine yourself in its passenger’s position, 12,500ft down in the freezing darkness of the Atlantic Ocean. Sadly, our hopes of a happy ending didn’t come true, but, the journey of these explorers, the search to find them, and the investigation that follows will reveal much about the future of ocean exploration and our relationship with the ocean.
In a completely different part of the world, I met with fellow conservationists in the Middle East last November to discuss the creation of a new marine protected area in Jordan. During discussions, we were thrilled to be joined by Canadian filmmaker and ocean explorer, James Cameron, via video link. Taking a moment to speak with us during his world tour promotion of Avatar: The Way of Water.
Cameron, of course, made the iconic story of Titanic even more so with his 1997 blockbuster starring Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Throw in epic vocals from Celine Dion and the old lady throwing the diamond in the ocean at the end, and you’ve not only won 11 Oscars but also won the hearts of audiences and a new generation of ocean explorers.
In addition to the tragic love story of Jack and Rose, the heartbreaking fate of over 1,500 passengers who were lost on the doomed vessel was a stark reminder that the ocean, although beautiful, can be extremely dangerous. Now, having claimed the lives of five new victims 111 years later in the Titan submersible, the ocean’s danger must be met with respect.
Cameron, who has visited the site of Titanic over 33 times, starting in 1995 in order to capture footage for his upcoming movie, described it as “one of the most unforgiving places on earth”. He was even at the bottom of the North Atlantic on September 11, 2001. When he and his colleagues resurfaced, they had no idea that the new American nightmare was being faced miles away.
More people have been to outer space than to the bottom of the ocean, so it’s the perfect opportunity for would be explorers to find undiscovered treasures and mark their name in history. However, as Cameron rightly points out "It’s not like you can call up AAA to come get you."
The ocean has always been a source of fascination to millions since the dawn of humanity. Ecotourism has now grown to represent over £135 billion globally and innovative marine ventures regularly emerge bringing new tech and experiences for those willing to pay big ($250,000 a pop in the case of OceanGate). However, when it’s immense power is forgotten or ignored, the results can be deadly.
In Titan’s case, the water pressure at 12,500ft below the surface is roughly 400 atmospheres. That’s equivalent to 4,000 tonnes pushing on an area of one square meter, according to Associate Professor Eric Fusil, Director of the Shipbuilding Hub at Adelaide University. So, thanks to little regulation and stresses placed on a critically flawed hull design, five people lost their lives in milliseconds as the vessel imploded from the immense pressure.
A different example of the ocean thrill seeker is the growing phenomenon of shark cage diving, where tourists (mostly unlicensed divers) pay to swim in a submerged steel cage right next to sharks. Because sharks are naturally timid animals and will rarely approach humans of their own accord, tour operators will resort to the only trick that will get sharks to overcome their apprehension and willingly approach humans: blood. Operators bait sharks by throwing fresh fish and fish scraps into the water, in a controversial practice known as ‘chumming’. Shark baiting is dangerous because it has not only led to a number of injuries for both the sharks and divers in the cage but also allows sharks to begin associating humans with food. They can smell humans from miles away, and if they come close hoping to get fed and find there’s no food, they can get angry and attack surfers, divers, and other innocent bystanders.
And for those of us who can’t afford to dive to the Titanic or with sharks, rip currents are the leading cause of rescues by lifeguards at beaches. A rip is a strong, localised, and narrow current of water that moves directly away from the shore. Scarily, they can reach speeds as high as 8 feet per second - faster than an Olympic swimmer can sprint! This makes rip currents especially dangerous to beachgoers as these currents can sweep even the strongest swimmer out to sea.
The last thing I would ever want to do is discourage those who love the ocean. After all, I dedicate my career to speaking about it nonstop, but these are merely a few examples of its dangers for the unprepared. So, if we are going to explore the ocean and enjoy it, we must approach it with respect, proper regulation to protect human and marine life, and education on how to navigate these waters safely and responsibly.
Conservative Friends of the Ocean wishes to send our condolences to the loved ones of the five Titan passengers:
- Hamish Harding - Shahzada Dawood - Suleman Dawood - Stockton Rush - Paul-Henri Nargeolet
May they rest in peace