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Earth? Better call it planet ocean!

Tuesday, Jun 21, 2016,14:34 IST By Metrovaartha A A A

New Delhi | Oceans occupy about 71 per cent of the earth’s surface but we know more about the surface of the Moon and about Mars than we do about the deep seafloor despite the fact that we have yet to extract a gram of food, a breath of oxygen or a drop of water from those bodies, says a new book. Today oceans happen to be the last frontier for humankind.

The future of humankind will depend to a great extent on the resources to be taken from the ocean volume and the seafloor says the book ‘Oceans and the Future of the Human Race’, by Sudipta Kumar De. Even with the technology available today humankind has better maps of the surface of Mars and dark side of the Moon than of the bottom of the oceans. While a dozen people have walked on the Moon 384,400 kms above the earth’s surface, only three have descended and come back from the deepest part in the sea, just 11 kms below, the book says.

Most of horrifying part of our realization is that the ocean’s vast resources are not limitless though once thought to be too big to fail, but our ignorance is vast, says the book brought out by GenNext Publication. Today, we can go to Mars, but the deep ocean really is our final frontier.

The unexplored oceans hold mysteries more compelling, environments more challenging and life-forms more bizarre than anything the vacuum of space has to offer, the book says. Ocean, the living blue engine, is also the cornerstone of the earth’s life support system. If it is in trouble, so are we, the author says.

Possible solutions to the world’s energy, food, environmental and other problems are far more likely to be found in the nearby oceans than in distant space, the author says. The space is a distant, hostile and barren place, the study of which yields few major discoveries and an abundance of overhyped claims.

By contrast the oceans are nearby and their study is a potential source of discoveries that could prove helpful for addressing a wide range of national concerns from climate change to disease; for reducing energy, mineral and potable water shortage, the author says.

Also, it is cheaper to go down than up. NASA is spending billions in search of extraterrestrial lives while there are at least 750, 000 new species still waiting to be discovered beneath the waves, the author says.

When millions of poor people die from hunger, lack of medicine and water, it is an ocean scientist who can help them, not a space scientist, the book says. For the scientists who dedicate their lives to the pursuit of knowledge about the sea, it is a sad state of affairs.

Although money from private and nonprofit corporations appears to be on the rise, they cannot support the level of funding that basic oceanographic research requires, the book says. This is an unfortunate reality, but this is also a part of the job of being an ocean scientist. Even around 150 years ago the situation was better.

For many scientists overfishing now ranks as one of the greatest impacts of human activity on oceans. It increases the vulnerability of ocean ecosystems and contributes to the decline of other elements of the marine food-chain, including birds and mammals. Today, 70 per cent of global commercial fisheries are in trouble.

Nine of the world’s 17 main fishing areas face serious decline. These include the Gulf of Thailand, the waters of South East Asia, the North Sea, the Mediterranean, Australia, the Grand Banks and the Baltic. Also, of the 80 million metric tons of fish caught every year, fishing fleets dump millions of tons of dead ‘by-catch’ at sea, the author says.

In ancient India, there existed a strange belief that if any Hindu crossed the seas, he would lose his religion. But taking a close look at India’s maritime history there is evidence of very large number of Indians who should have had lost their religion as they had crossed the seas to trade and build empires in distant lands, the author says.

Those Indian traders had a fair knowledge of all the ancient oceans and seas. According to Marcopolo an Indian ship could carry crews between 100 ¬†and 300. Kautilya’s Arthashastra lays down the functions of the Port Commissioner and Harbor Master. The Board of Shipping was one of the six departments of the Mauryan empire, the author says.

The author rues that today apart from historians hardly anybody is interested in the past. We should pay interest to the historic oceanography because its learning connects us to the world’s overall history-commerce, warfare, resources and weather because mighty oceans have shaped humanitys past, the book says.

India is endowed with a rich marine biota all along its approximately 8000 km coastline. The coral reefs that occur in her tropical water demonstrate the highest level of known diversity among marine species.

The marine diversity is largely unexplored and therefore, offers a great challenge and opportunity for new discoveries, the book says.