The ocean covers around 70 percent of our planet’s surface and holds over 96 percent of the Earth’s water. It is our planet’s largest ecosystem driving our weather, regulating temperature, and ultimately supporting all living organisms, but we know very little about this underwater world. More than eighty percent of this vast environment has yet to be explored by man. When I look out to the ocean and see where mountains, forests and mangroves collide with this expansive body of water it is easy to think there’s nothing more but water beyond this intersection; but beneath the surface begins a whole new world full of life just out of sight.
When I arrived in French Polynesia is was several hours past sunset, so I wasn’t able to truly admire the island and my surroundings. I woke up the next morning only to realize we were steps away from some of the clearest water I had ever set my eyes on. I quickly prepared my camera, grabbed my dive gear and walked out to this underwater oasis. Swimming around the shallow reefs off the coast of French Polynesia was a huge eye-opener to ecosystems beneath the surface. It seemed as if the reef was a never-ending underwater garden teaming with life. With just one kick of my fins I would spot a species of coral that I had never seen before. I was so amazed by its beauty and spent hours snorkeling around these reefs encountering sharks, rays, and more species of fish than I’ve ever seen in one location. An estimated 25 percent of all marine life live throughout coral reefs like this and are some of most biologically diverse and vulnerable ecosystems on Earth. Later that day I spoke to a local biologist about how beautiful their reefs were, and she responded with, “If you think this is beautiful you would have been awestruck by how it looked 10 years ago.” In the previous years they had a massive bleaching of their corals from extreme ocean temperatures. To date, more than 50% of coral reefs around the French Polynesian island of Moorea have been bleached. In fact, over 50% of the our planet‘s reefs have died in the last 30 years and up to 90 percent may die within the next century if we fail to reduce CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.
Growing up I was deeply inspired by the colorful underwater worlds in nature documentaries on National Geographic and was always awestruck by how beautiful tropical coral reefs were. I’ve been extremely fortunate to be able to visit some of our planet‘s biodiverse hotspots, but when I'm there I'm constantly reminded of that I should have seen it 10 year earlier. This photo gives us an idea of this ecosystem and their inhabitants as they are today. The unfortunate reality is that baseline has shifted and will continue to shift towards a world with less biodiversity if we all fail to critique and improve all aspects of our own lives and how we all live as a species. After reading this, I hope you gaze at this photo and are inspired to choose a path of sustainability in your own life. If more of us choose that path, when you visit a tropical reef it will look like this one or perhaps even more pristine. The thin blue line holds our hope for the future.