Abu Dhabi: Covering 72 per cent of the Earth and supplying half its oxygen, the world’s oceans and seas are our planet’s life support system, said Dr Robert D. Ballard, founder and president of the Ocean Exploration Trust.
Dr Ballard told the audience at the majlis of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, the future of humans lies in the proper utilisation of the world’s seas and oceans.
“Ninety-five per cent of human population lives on less than 5 per cent of earth’s [surface],” he said, pointing out that he is not concerned about the future of Earth, which he described as a “teenage planet” which will live for billions of years. His concern lies elsewhere. “What I’m concerned about is the future of the human race,” he said.
Dr Ballard said that humans have domesticated animals on land more than 10,000 years ago, but are unable to farm fish properly.
In the lecture titled “The Importance of Sea to the Future of Human Race”, Dr Ballard spoke about the hidden treasures and resources in the oceans, including shipwrecks that encapsulate episodes of human history. In fact, one of Dr Ballard’s career achievements was the discovery in 1985 of the shipwreck of the famed RMS Titanic.
“The ocean is one of the largest museums on earth; there is more history in the depth of the sea than in all museums in the world,” he said. “The oceans contain lost chapters of human history.”
He pointed out that finding the Titanic wasn’t in fact his main mission. Instead, he had been dispatched by the US Navy as part of a mission to find two lost submarines during World War II.
“We estimate that there are two million ships at the bottom of the seas,” he said, pointing out that he had been able to chart trade routes in the Mediterranean and Black Seas.
Dr Ballard said the world’s seas and oceans are home to great riches of resources, including oil, gas and metals. Furthermore, he said the deep seas also teem with different forms of life that could be used in scientific research.
“It’s not uncommon to see a new species on every dive,” he said. “Most of the animals are transparent that you can see through them and see their heart beating.”
He said that even though photosynthesis is not viable in the deep, some creatures were two metres long and there are plenty of them.
Dr Ballard said the bottom of the sea has its own geography. “What’s really fascinating about the sea is the bottom,” he said. “A single mountain range covers 23 per cent of the earth surface. It’s a 72,000-kilometre mountain range with thousands of volcanoes, caves and canyons.”
Dr Ballard said the oceans also have great deposits of seamount, zinc and other mineral deposits that are commercially viable. He said there are mineral deposits in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Oman. “Most of these deposits lie in the high ocean where any nation” can tap into them, he said.
Another interesting thing about oceans is the extremophiles, which have commercial and medical applications, including treatment of cancer. “We are using extremophiles in medicine for breast cancer, cancer of the bladder,” he said. “That’s really useful.”
Extremophiles can also be used to conserve the environment, he said. “They eat oil (spilled in oceans) and are able to process toxins and make them harmless,” he said. For them “oil is really leaf juice.”
He said there is a lot of room in the warm oceans to be used for farming fish, which can create a solution for feeding humans. He also said that he’s working on a design for homes for ocean farmers, people who would work to maintain the deep ocean farms that Dr Ballard proposes.
The Ramadan series of lectures is part of His Highness’s effort to spread the spirit of knowledge and learning in the United Arab Emirates, by inviting renowned scholars, experts, officials and entrepreneurs to speak at his majlis at Al Bateen Palace in Abu Dhabi.