June 8

World Oceans Day with Alex Rose

Planet Earth. If you didn’t know better you’d think it was mostly land, but as it turns out, our home is primarily water. It seems that maybe we should have named it Planet Ocean instead! This incredible blue marble we live on is host to innumerable species, many of which live in the sea, a vast place that is still shockingly unknown to us. We have more accurate maps of Mars than we do of our own ocean floor, a clear indicator that we have a lot left to learn and explore, which is why I can’t imagine a more fulfilling career than one in ocean science. I’m Alex Rose, and I’m an aquatic biologist, environmental journalist, and underwater photographer. My jobs afford me the privilege to get to experience our underwater world, and I feel it is my responsibility to “share the view” whenever possible. My last 13 years as a SCUBA diver have delivered countless memorable moments, and in celebration of World Oceans Day (June 8th), here are a few that stick out most to me.

Huge groups of animals are always fascinating to watch. Whether it’s a murmuration of starlings, a swarm of ants, or a school of fish, I am endlessly mesmerized by large collections of individuals moving together as one. In Raja Ampat, Indonesia, one of the richest reef areas on the planet, the biomass of fishes is mind boggling, especially at certain times of year. In November, the reefs are blanketed in silversides, small baitfish that look like slivers of a mirror. On one dive, I was about 100ft deep in the middle of a canyon with corals and sponges covering the walls on either side of me. Everything suddenly got dark and when I looked up to identify the cause, I saw a cloud of silversides above me that was so thick it blotted out the sun. A few moments later when the fish began to part, I could see the distant silhouette of my friend Tony about 50ft above me completely surrounded by what must have been tens of thousands of tiny silver fish. In that moment, I took an image that always reminds me that we are in fact a part of nature, not apart from it.

The Sea of Cortez is known for big animal encounters with whale sharks, sea turtles, sea lions, and the like, but it also happens to be full of some fantastic macro life as well. One time when photographing sea lions on a dive in La Paz, I put my finger down on a huge boulder to stabilize myself in the current. After maybe half a minute in this position, I felt a little pinch on my finger. Surprised, I looked down to find a minute fish peering out of an empty, sponge-encrusted barnacle appearing to be quite displeased with my choice of location. I got closer and saw that the instigator of my finger pinch was a Cortez barnacle blenny that had poked its head out of its house and bit me! These fish aren’t more than two inches long even as adults, but what they lack in size they more than make up for in personality. I returned to the same spot on my next dive, but this time with my macro lens so I could make a portrait of this pugnacious little fish.

A few years back, I was the documentary photographer on an Explorers Club expedition to Clipperton Island, the most remote atoll in the world. Just how remote is that? Well it takes about 100 hours to get there from the west coast of Mexico, and that’s if the seas cooperate. This uninhabited dot of land in the Pacific looks pristine from a distance, with white sands, blue waters, and a single palm tree ideal for cocktail sipping. But once you make land, you see that the reality is far from perfect. Every inch of the atoll is covered in plastic garbage. From micro plastics to refrigerators, a massive amount of trash ends up here, and underwater, miles of discarded longline and ghost nets from commercial fishing operations pollute the reefs. If the most secluded island on Earth isn’t safe from the impacts of human habits, then nowhere is. Clipperton is a loud wake up call to find ways to reduce our dependence on single use plastics.

There is nothing quite like ice. It is spectacularly beautiful and helps to regulate our planet’s climate while providing critical habitats for countless animals. We’re unfortunately losing it at an unprecedented rate, especially in the Arctic where temperatures are heating up faster than anywhere else on the planet. Every year seems to set an new record, and not the good kind. Snorkeling among these melting ice giants was a profound experience that really made me think about our impact on the planet. It’s hard to imagine that any of our individual choices could affect icebergs, but collectively, our combined actions are reshaping the globe. Politics frequently get in the way of the decisions that must to be made to fight climate change, but we need only look to the reality of life at the poles. Ice doesn’t have an agenda, it just melts. We need to work towards leading more sustainable lives in order to protect and save these precious ecosystems.

Manta rays are regarded as being quite intelligent. With the largest brain to body ratio of any fish, these smart elasmobranchs (sharks, skates, rays, and chimeras) are self aware, feed cooperatively, and express their moods through color changes. On a memorable dive in Indonesia, I visited a cleaning station in about 60ft of water, a location where mantas frequently go to get detailed by cleaner fishes and shrimps. A visibly pregnant manta was getting serviced when I arrived, so I hung back so as not to disturb her and shot photos from a reasonable distance. After a few minutes of this, she began approaching me, and swam within a foot of my camera, slowing down as she passed by so she could actively make eye contact with me, which she did many times. After taking photos for the next 10 minutes, I stashed my camera under a coral head and just swam with her until I was low on air and had to surface. Getting to connect and share space with this most majestic of ocean beings will stay with me forever.

This is just a tiny sampling of the wonder of our world ocean. I’m happy to say that with a recent round of funding, the nonprofit I represent will soon be able to discover the secrets of our seas down to 3,300ft (1000m). The mission of Deep Hope, a nonprofit founded by Dr. Sylvia Earle, is to democratize access to the sea through the deployment of citizen submersibles as deep as the Twilight Zone, an ecologically important and little understood part of the ocean. Construction will begin this summer, and we hope to be conducting expeditions by 2024. As Sylvia always says, “the deeper we go, the less we know”, and we can’t wait to get down into deep blue space and push the boundaries of our knowledge. Learn more by visiting¬†www.deephope.org.