We all deserve the tools to go and explore. There’s stories like Laura James, who used her robot to find out that sea stars in her area were dying. And she started this whole citizen science campaign, collected data and drove awareness for sea-star wasting syndrome, to try and figure out what was happening there.
There are stories of fishermen in Mexico, who used the robot to create marine protected areas where Nassau grouper were spawning, to protect the future of this species. It’s really amazing stuff. We found that if you give people the tools, they’ll do the right thing. But we need to take it a step further.
And, actually, I think we can dust off Stephen Mather’s playbook.
So what did he do? So, the first thing that he did was he focused on infrastructure. So 1914 wasn’t just a time for the parks, it was also a time for the automobile, the Model T was rolling off the line, and Stephen Mather understood that this was going to be an important part of American culture.
And so he partnered with highway associations around the country to build big, beautiful highways out to these parks. And it worked, he’s basically invented car camping.
And he knew that if people didn’t go to these places, that they wouldn’t fall in love with them and they wouldn’t care. So that was a really insightful idea that he had.
The second thing they did, was they focused on visionary philanthropy. So, Stephen Mather was a successful businessman from Chicago, and anytime there was a parks association that needed funding, anytime there was a highway association that needed funding, they’d step in, write the checks, make it happen. There’s a great story of his friend William Kent, who recognized there was a small patch of redwoods left on the base of Mount Tam, and so he quickly bought the land and donated it to this National Parks effort.
That’s Muir Woods today — it’s one of the most popular national parks in the whole country. My parents are visiting here from Minnesota, and they don’t really even care about this talk, all they’re talking about is going to Muir Woods.
But the last thing is critical — Stephen Mather focused on engagement. In one of the first meetings that they had around this new system, he said, “If you’re a writer, I want you to write about this. If you’re a business owner, I want you to tell your clubs and your organizations. If you work for the government, I want you to pass regulation.” Everybody had a job. “Each of you, all of you, have a role to play in protecting these places for future generations.” Each of you, all of you I love that.
That’s the plan — simple, three-point plan. I think we can do the same.
So, this was the headline when Obama created the Papahanaumokuakea National Monument: “Lots to see, but good luck trying to get there.”
But like Mather, we should focus on the technology of our time, all of this new, amazing, digital infrastructure can be built to engage people with the oceans. So, the National Marine Sanctuary has created all these wonderful VR 360 videos, where you can actually go and see what these places look like.
Our team is continuing to build new tools, this is our latest, this is the trident underwater drone, it’s a diving submarine, it’s sleek, you can fit it in a backpack, it can go down to 100 meters, deeper than most divers can go. It can see these environments that most people have never had access to. New tools are coming and we need even better tools.
We can also use more visionary philanthropists. So, when Erik and I started this, we didn’t have any money, we were building this in his garage.
But we went to Kickstarter. And we found over 1,800 people, almost a million dollars we’ve raised on Kickstarter, finding other people who think, “Yeah, that’s a good idea. I want to be a part of that.” We need more ways for people to get engaged and become visionary philanthropists themselves.
We’ve also had traditional philanthropists, who’ve stepped up to fund us in the SEE initiative — the Science Education and Exploration, who are going to help us get donated units out to people on the frontlines, people who are doing the science, people who are telling the stories, inspiring communities.
You can go on to OpenExplorer.com and see what people are doing, it’s hugely inspirational. And it will also, hopefully, spur you to get involved. Because there is plenty of room to get involved. We want to hear what ideas you have for telling these stories.
Because that’s just it — this is all about engagement. There’s all sorts of interesting, new ways for people to participate in the protection of these places. And the understanding Like, Reef Check — scuba divers are going down and swimming transects and counting fish and biodiversity data. They’re getting the information we need to protect these places.
If you’re going down to the beach, participate in MPA Watch Document, what activities you see going on in these different areas. There is room for everybody to participate here. And that’s just it, that’s what we need. We need to build a future for our grandkids’ grandkids.
Last month, I went out sailing, and we got out to the Farallon Islands, 25 miles off the Gate. And most people think of this as kind of a bird sanctuary, but we took our robot, and we sent it in. And the people on the boat were astonished at the life beneath the surface. I mean, these are really, really important ecosystems. Really, and this is a whole wild world we haven’t yet explored.
And we have an opportunity right now, just as they did 100 years ago, to protect these places, to put in a plan, to keep people engaged.
So last year, when the executive order came out, putting all of the progress we’ve made, all of these new marine protected areas, under review, there were over 100,000 people who commented online. Almost all of these letters were saying, “Don’t do it; protecting these places is the right thing to do.”
My message to those 100,000 people, those 100,000 letters is: don’t wait for Washington. We can do this ourselves.