Deep Dish TV Salon: Anne Doubilet

10/17/2014 Anne_doubilet

“There is a vital link between having a healthy ocean and a healthy earth. If we don’t have a healthy ocean we won’t have air to breathe, food to eat, water to drink. No ocean, no earth. There is a vital link between keeping Mother Earth protected and protecting “Mother Ocean.”
-Underwater photographer Anne Doubilet
Anne Doubilet presented a talk on conservation ecology at a recent Deep Dish TV gathering. Using beautiful slides collected 40 years of ocean diving, Ms. Doubilet illustrated both the beauty of the oceans and the dangers that they face. She discussed the impact human beings have on both the tropical and subtropical ecosystems of the Earth’s oceans. Petroleum based human energy consumption and the vast pollution from discarded waste in the modern world has an increasingly devastating impact, threatening earth’s oceans. Combined with massive over-fishing that is depleting vital links in the food chain, the very source of this planet’s life is stressed. She expressed disbelief that, in the face of all the evidence, there are still people denying climate change and its link to human behavior.
The challenge is to change that behavior. The question is whether our species can do so before it’s too late. It’s clear that without radical changes, the life sustaining quality of the oceans is in for a grim demise.
In addition to climate change induced ocean warming, three major threats exist to oceanic ecosystems today: overfishing, water pollution, and air pollution. Ms. Doubilet, an accomplished diver who was mentored by the legendary Eugenie Clarke, has spent thousands of hours diving around coral reefs. Over the course of her forty-plus year career, Ms. Doubilet has witnessed the destruction of coral reef ecosystems.
Doubilet’s commitment is to use her photographic art to make the invisible visible; to use her images to visualize the depletion of fish species, the death of living species inside the corals, the disintegration of the polar ice caps, and at the same time to engage us with the sheer fantastic beauty of marine life.
In basic ecology, there are two classifications of species when it comes to conservation. There are flagship species that generalize a particular area of concern regarding the conservation an ecosystem, and there are indicator species that give a realistic idea of how a species’ presence, or lack thereof, may change an ecosystem entirely. Flagship species are the animals you might see on the cover of World Wildlife Federation’s magazine, like whales and polar bears. The indicator species are less known, but have a ripple effect on their ecosystem if they were to become extinct. Corals are living organisms, home to 25% of the marine life in the oceans, including primary producers, indicator species - zooplankton. Whether we choose to support the blue whale, or the zooplankton in the tropical reefs, the message is the same. The environment needs to be protected from its biggest threat – us.
Ms. Doubilet pointed to our global production system, aimed to fill need for food and shelter, while not always directly driving crucial marine species extinct, often allows invasive species to thrive. By overfishing, certain key predators are removed from their ecosystem and are not able to regulate the food chain. This can cause reefs to actually be overrun with blankets of algae, depriving them of vital sunlight.
Is the fundamental problem the rapid growth of human population? Too many people on the planet? Too many mouths to feed? Too many thirsts to quench, crops to irrigate? Too much waste to discard? Is there a carrying capacity, beyond which the earth cannot sustain more people? Or is it a problem of how we have organized our societies and our productive energies? Perhaps our entire understanding of “progress” is actually self-destructive. Are we terminally blind to the link between our own needs for space to live and food to eat and the preservation of our coral reefs?
As the undeniable acidity of the oceans increases, will it take the death of coral reefs, a flagship ecosystem, for us to realize that our carbon footprint must be reduced? Scientists predict that all coral systems could be destroyed by 2050, when temperatures of the ocean could be elevated by just a few degrees. Let’s hope that we can slow our carbon emissions by various methods of conservation so these beautiful ecosystems photographed by Anne Doubilet can remain for posterity.

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