‘Sea of Hope: America’s Underwater Treasures’

Our ocean is incredibly important. With 97% of the world’s water, the oceans help regulate temperature, absorbs heat, and so much more. There are underwater mountain ranges and forests, gorgeous coral reefs, and iconic animals that all call the oceans home. But with plastic pollution and commercial overfishing, the waters around the United States are seeing drastic population declines. And that’s what the documentary ‘Sea of Hope: America’s Underwater Treasures’ shows.

Following ocean legend Sylvia Earle, writer Max Kennedy, underwater photography Brian Skerry, and a crew of teenage aquanauts, ‘Sea of Hope: America’s Underwater Treasure’ looks at the ways in which the ocean around the United States is drastically changing for the worse. They explore topics like deep sea mining and overfishing in areas like the Gulf of Mexico, Cashes Ledges, and the Buck Island Reef National Monument in the hopes of inspiring others to care and advocate for these areas.

We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we came.

President John F. Kennedy
Deep Sea Mining

Not even the deepest parts of the ocean are safe from humans, as there is a growing interest in deep sea mining as terrestrial deposits of minerals and metals are depleting. The deep sea is the underwater area below 200 meters, covers roughly 65% of the Earth’s surface, and contains a vast array of geological features. But we still don’t know a lot about this part of the ocean. That is what opposition to deep sea mining has to contend with, as there’s so much unknown about what was there before and the effects of mining. As the ICUN states:

As the deep sea remains understudied and poorly understood, there are many gaps in our understanding of its biodiversity and ecosystems. This makes it difficult to thoroughly assess the potential impacts of deep-sea mining and to put in place adequate safeguards to protect the marine environment. 

Cashes Ledge

In the film, famed marine biologist Sylvia Earle describes Cashes Ledge ‘as the Yellowstone of the North Atlantic Ocean’. This area is found off of New England and is an underwater mountain range. In fact, Cashes Ledge is an underwater extension of the mountains of Acadia National Park and contains Ammen Rock, an underwater peak that’s so tall, it disrupts the Gulf of Maine current and creates a massive upwelling of cold nutrient rich water.

Cashes Ledge is also home to an incredible amount of biodiversity and the largest cold water kelp forest on the Atlantic seaboard. Fish species like cod, Atlantic halibut, and hake all use parts of this area as a nursery. Other species that often call this place home include plankton, squid, mackerel, sharks, numerous marine mammals, and seabirds.

Unless we keep the ocean from dying, none of us will make it.

Ashley Dawkins
Buck Island Reef National Monument, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

Established in 1961, this monument is the first nationally protected marine area and is home to coral reefs, a formation that’s called the ‘rainforest of the sea’. But these reefs, like others around the world, are highly susceptible to pollution, sedimentation, overfishing, warming of the seas, and physical damage.

Buck Island is small, only a total of 176 acres. But the surrounding ocean is home to an elkhorn coral barrier reef with coral formations, deep grottos, abundant reef fishes, and so much more. In addition to a hike on the island and white coral sand beaches, visitors can scuba dive, swim, or snorkel in the crystal clear waters around the island.

Ni’ihau and Papahanaumokuakea

Home to turtles, sharks, coral, monk seals and more, the waters around the island Ni’ihau and the Papahānaumokuākea National Monument play an important part to the ocean. Known as the ‘Forbidden Island’, Ni’ihau is mostly free of modernity and home to roughly 100 or so people. While there is no running water or roads on the island, there’s still solar powered electricity and the population is self-sustaining. The island is prohibited to the general public unless you have an invitation from the Robinson family, the current islands caretakers. (The Robinsons became the caretakers because Elizabeth Sinclair-Robinson bought the island from King Kamehameha V and the Kingdom of Hawaii for $10,000 for 1864.)

Located 155 miles to the northwest of the main Hawaiian Archipelago, Papahānaumokuākea is one of the largest marine protected areas in the world and made up of a vast but linear cluster of small, low laying islands and atolls and surrounding area. Two islands, Nihoa and Makumanamana, have archaeological remains pf pre-European settlement and use. The waters and islands of this site are home to most of the world’s declining population of Hawaiian monk seals and other parts are home to Laysan ducks, Nihoa finches, and Blackfooted albatrosses. Roughly 88 million acres of islands, atolls, seas, and basaltic islets are included in the national monument after then President Obama expanded it back in 2016.

“… In greedin’ times, you will destroy your own Earth. And that’s what’s happenin’. It’s in front of your eyes.”

Denny Guerra, commercial fisherman

While ‘Sea of Hope: America’s Underwater Treasures’ was released back in 2017, the message is, unfortunately, still incredibly relevant. Our oceans and the immense biodiversity that call it home are still struggling because of pollution, climate change, and more. We need to find ways to drastically reduce our carbon emissions, plastic use, unintended entanglements in nets, and more in order to help the ocean and in ways that doesn’t additionally harm the most marginalized and vulnerable folks.

You can watch ‘Sea of Hope: America’s Underwater Treasures’ on Disney+.

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