The Gulf of Mexico: What’s at Stake

This video highlights the vast diversity of marine life throughout the Gulf at risk from the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster. The video provides an underwater tour of the Gulf by sub and scuba, encompassing the U.S., Cuba and Mexico. Produced for the opening of the first State of the Gulf of Mexico Summit in 2006, it was also shown before Congress on 5/19/2010 as part of the testimony of Dr. Sylvia A. Earle.

Waiting for the Oil?

Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys

On July 18, 1975, the tanker Garbis spilled 1,500 to 3,000 barrels of crude oil into the warm, turquoise, coral-rich waters roughly 26 miles south-southwest of the Marquesas Keys, Florida. The oil was blown ashore along a 30-mile stretch of the Florida Keys, east of Key West. I was 16 and enjoying my second summer at Seacamp, a marine science camp on Big Pine Key. Rumors of the spill raced throughout the campus until finally, instructor James Smithson decided to find out for himself what menace might be approaching. He took a small away team aboard his 21-foot Mako, “Isurus,” and made haste south toward the reef tract. We waited impatiently for word back as the sun fell to the horizon and scattered its tranquil orange glow across the water. What I saw next filled me with dread. The Isurus entered the harbor, its white hull stained with enormous swaths of dark brown oil. In that moment the menace was no longer abstract, and to my young mind, everything we treasured — the corals, the mangroves, the fish, the turtles –was on the brink of extermination. Read more

OMG, I Thought You Were Dead!

You’ve seen it in the faces of infants when they recognize their mother’s smiling face above. You’ve seen it on the face of an old friend across the room when she suddenly recognizes you…after all those years. And Doug Shulz, producer at Partisan Pictures, saw it clearly on my face, when he tapped me on the shoulder and pointed toward an old friend I hadn’t seen in nearly 35 years.

When we humans recognize a friend, our faces convey it with a distinctive widening of the eyes. Combine that with the surprise of seeing someone we aren’t expecting to see, our eyes grow even wider, often accompanied by a cartoon-like jaw drop. Judging from Doug’s expression while observing my face, I can only imagine how wide my eyes were. Since we were 20 feet beneath Cuba’s Gulf of Mexico waters, it must have been difficult for him to discern between an expression of surprise and delight versus a textbook example of wide-eyed diver panic. My eyes were transfixed on my old friend with a funny name whom I hadn’t laid eyes on since I was a teenager. Larger than life, vibrant, and embracing the sun, my friend was very much alive and healthy, clearly enjoying the good life in Cuba.

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Cuba Loses its Mother Ocean

Dr. Maria Elena Ibarra Martin

Cuba has lost its Mother Ocean. Dr. María Elena Ibarra Martín, director of the University of Havana’s Center for Marine Research (Centro de Investigaciones Marinas, CIM) since 1981, passed away yesterday afternoon after a month-long struggle following heart surgery. CIM is the only academic institution in Cuba where marine biologists are trained, and her loss is mourned by hundreds of her students, many of whom grew up to become her colleagues — and friends. Her selfless, tireless dedication goes far beyond words, and the impact she has made on education, conservation, and her unique model of personal integrity will no doubt endure for centuries to come. When I last saw Doctora in February, she was as busy as ever, wrestling mountains of paperwork on her desk while never letting go of her visionary perspective about conservation and education. Nor did she ever let go of her special fondness for sea turtles and her love for and dedication to her students.

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Free Speech(es): 50 Years, 50 States, 50 Speeches

Fresh from the Eisenhower Administration era, your friendly neighborhood Ocean Doctor turned 50 today. In doing so, I outlived my father, William L. Guggenheim, who tragically died at 49 when he was lost at sea. It was my days as a boy, fishing with my dad off of Cape May, New Jersey, that I truly inherited his passion for the sea, and I feel lucky to have been able to spend much of my life near, in, or best of all, under the water.

To celebrate my 50th, I’d like you to send me on a journey this year, a journey to visit our next generation, in their schools, and share with them some of the awe and wonder of my experiences in the sea, including the important lessons that go along with them. So I’ll be donating one speech to one school in every state and U.S. territory (accredited schools, public or private, K through college level). I’m waving my speaking fee and travel expenses. I don’t require anything except an enthusiastic audience and maybe a glass of water. (I would encourage a class project to find creative ways to offset my travel’s carbon footprint to your school.) I’ll show my videos, share my adventures, and my enthusiasm for the wonder of the deep blue part of the planet.

I’ll honor the first request I receive from each state and U.S. territory (Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa) and, of course, the District of Columbia. If you or someone you know would like to take me up on this offer, just fill out the Book a Speaker Form on the 1planet1ocean web site and indicate that you’re submitting the request for the “Free Speech” project.

I look forward to this adventure and wish all of you a happy 50th, whenever it arrives, or whenever it was.

Can Cuba’s Mysteries Help Save the World’s Coral Reefs?

Healthy elkhorn coral in Cuba's Gulf of Mexico (Photo by Abel Valdivia)Until that tranquil morning in late June 1974, the sum total of my SCUBA diving experience had been in a landlocked state, in a stifling, moldy indoor YMCA pool in the Philadelphia suburbs and a Pennsylvania quarry, flooded with icy soup-green water. Barely comprehending the new world of pungent humidity, mountainous afternoon cumulus clouds, and lush tangles of flowering succulents I experienced at water’s edge during my first visit to the Florida Keys, I was wholly unprepared later that morning when I found myself seated in sugar-white sand with 40 feet of warm, clear aquamarine water above my head. As impossibly multi-colored fish passed slowly within reach before my wide 15-year-old eyes, my gaze broadened as I marveled at the towering jetties of coral around us, living layer cakes of corals upon corals, brown and mustard rock-like structures, encrusted with brilliant red, violet and orange coralline fans and branches, swaying in the warm, nourishing current and, like eager spring blossoms, reaching toward the dancing sunlight scattered on the surface above. Read more

Oceans Day Message from the Next Generation

Anna & I Recently in MontréalIf you know the history of my “OceanDoctor” moniker, then you know my daughter, Anna, had everything to do with it. This weekend marks two significant events: World Oceans Day and the one year anniversary of the OceanDoctor blog. These events have given me a moment of reflection. Read more

The Heart of the Bering Sea Beats with Discovery

Kenneth Lowyck in DeepWorker Just Before Discovering a New Species

Kenneth Lowyck in DeepWorker

It’s hard to get a big smile out of Ken Lowyck, Greenpeace’s capable Action Unit Coordinator (and sub pilot) based in Toronto. I snapped the photo to the right and captured Ken’s pre-dive excitement last summer on August 1, just minutes before he was launched on the dive to 700 feet in Pribilof Canyon in the Bering Sea that resulted in one of the expedition’s most important discoveries. I imagine the modest smile that appeared on his face has returned today as Greenpeace has announced that the tiny, unassuming white sponge he retrieved on that dive was never before documented by Homo sapiens, and may well herald future announcements of other new species from the expedition. Read more

Blogus interruptus

Guanahacabibes, Cuba Read any authority’s advice about blogs and you’ll see at the top of the list: “Blog regularly.” Even for someone who enjoys writing as much as I do, I don’t believe in writing for writing’s sake — I like to share original experiences and ideas, not just rehash stale news. Still, I’ve experienced quite a few blog-worthy adventures in the four months since my last post shortly after the Bering Sea Expedition, but haven’t written a single word. Read more

A Sea Turtle Is Born in Alaska

Esperanza Returns to a Tranquil UnalaskaI awakened at 4am in my bunk to something strange. The ship was still. After enduring two days of pounding seas and gale-force winds, we had at last arrived at the island of Unalaska and were nearing the port of Dutch Harbor. A few hours later, juggling my cameras, I tried in vain to capturethe profound tranquility of that early Alaskan morning as dawn’s gentle glow painted small swaths of green across the surrounding mountains atop a canvas of deep blues and grays.An incredible journey was nearing its end, and I was reluctant to let go. So was the wildlife. In a moment, the morning silence was replaced by shrieks from the deck below. They were shrieks of joy as once again we were surrounded by whales as a pod of humpbacks divided itself evenly and passed closely along both sides of us, filling the morning air with their spouts and flukes. Read more