James Nestor wrote the book, Deep: Free Diving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves, after traveling to the Mediterranean to watch a free diving competition. Prior to the competition he was a certified scuba diver, but it was not until he learned about how the human body reacts to the depths of the ocean without scuba gear that Nestor really began to understand the importance of the ocean. He did not just study free diving and human physiology in the water, but he worked to understand all aspects of life in the ocean. Nestor writes, “The ocean occupies 71 percent of the Earth’s surface and is home to about 50 percent of its known creatures — the largest inhabited area found anywhere in the universe so far.”
I love learning about how large, deep, and diversified our oceans are. I live in Reno, NV, in one of the only places on Earth that does not have a river that eventually makes its way to the ocean. Our high desert climate is about as far from the ocean as one can be, which perhaps is why I am so fascinated with the life in water. Learning about the varied life in the ocean fascinates me because we have only studied the ocean to a very limited extent, and in many ways the deep ocean can be compared to outer space in terms of how difficult it is to reach and the extent to which it has been explored and understood.
In Nestor’s quote he writes that the ocean is home to about 50 percent of Earth’s species, and what I find interesting is that many marine biologists believe that we do not know all of the creatures and life forms living in the ocean. We have truly only explored a small percent of the ocean, and there are many more living organisms to be discovered in the vast depths of the worlds oceans.
For me, thinking about the ocean in this way forces me to think about human relationships with the ocean. Many of our relationships are not positive, through history we have not done a good job thinking about ocean health. It is easy for our trash to accumulate in watersheds that drain into the oceans, and oil shipping and exploration have had many negative consequences for ocean life. In addition, we have inhabited huge areas, typically bays and estuaries, along our coastlines and reduced the habitat for many marine species. While human societies should not be constantly limited in order to save animal species, thinking about how we can live in a state of harmony with oceans and marine life is not just a nice thing to do, it is a necessary responsibility of all humans.
James Nestor talks about the incredible abilities of marine animals in his book Deep, and he compares humans, our evolutionary past, and our physical limits to those of marine mammals and other ocean life. When speaking about diving to incredible depths and perceiving the world he refers to sharks, “Sharks, which can dive below six hundred and fifty feet, and much deeper, rely on senses beyond the ones we know. Among them is magneto reception, an attunement to the magnetic impulses of the Earth’s molten core. Research suggests that humans have this ability and likely used it to navigate across the oceans and trackless deserts for thousands of years.” Nestor explains that at 600 feet below the surface the pressure exerted by the ocean is about twenty times grater than the atmospheric pressure at the surface. This is the absolute limit of the human body, but other animals, whales and sharks for example, are able to survive these depths.
What this section speaks to me about is the incredible diversity in life on our planet. With conservation it is important that we do not force society into blocking projects and developments that may be crucial for societal advances on the basis of preserving natural harmony, but at the same time, seeing the incredible adaptations among all forms of life is inspiring and could unlock new potentials for humanity. An adaption that leads sharks to be able to navigate by magnetic senses may not directly correlate to human advancement, but understanding that living organisms can adapt these senses may provide a spark of motivation for someone in the future. The possible breakthroughs in science, medicine, and technology are a strong base for expanding education and research of marine life, and that life must be protected through conservation in order for our continued research. Unfortunately fun discoveries and potential discoveries that could help humanity cannot be considered always more important than a growing and improving society. Individuals living along the coast rely on shipping, and forcing ports to close by changing shipping lanes so that we can better preserve and save a species of shark to study magnetorecption might not always be the best way to think of conservation.
Aside from conservation, what I am constantly reminded of when I read passages that deal with animal senses that seem alien when compared to human abilities, is that we truly do not know everything of our world. I have come to understand that it is ok to not know everything about the world. It is difficult, but necessary for us to accept that we can not be 100 percent aware of everything around us or everything that influences us. It is tempting after years of academic work to adopt the idea that one knows everything, can sense everything, and understands their perceptions of the world, but it is a fallacy. We cannot perceive the world based on our perception of magnetic fields, and keeping that in mind helps us remember that we cannot sense and be aware of all the forces acting on our lives. I have become comfortable with the idea that there are things that are hidden from me due to my lack of physical senses and mental perspectives. That comfort helped me to understand that no matter how much I study something or think I know something, there are always different views and ideas that I cannot see which may hide information from me. Knowing this allows me to listen to others and try to gain more perspectives. I may not gain a new sense like magnetoreception, but knowing that it exists reminds me to be open.