Colbert Report: Dr. Robert Ballard on Why Ocean Exploration Is a Good Investment

Space for Earth's Oceans: The Final Frontier

"We have better maps of Mars than our own planet," said Dr. Robert Ballard who counts 72 percent of the planet, its oceans, his back office. With nary a mention of the recently released Google Earth Super-Charged Ocean Edition, archaeological-oceanographer Ballard spoke with Stephen Colbert touching on his discoveries of the Titanic and new life forms, as well as the staggering disparity in funding and focus between our exploration of space versus the world's oceans. The show's chit-chat covering Ballard's famous discovery of the tube worms thriving near thermal vents tied in with some waxing philosophical about mankind and the reason why lobsters are red merely scratches the ocean's surface of what these two sharp minds have to offer, but as always it's a hoot! For the video, prepare to dive below for more...

With the federal stimulus deal being reached this week, it's interesting to look at where we place our financial priorities when it comes to taxpayer dollars being spent on exploration of our natural world. Ballard makes the case that as the United States has legal jurisdiction to 200 miles out to sea from its coastlines around the globe (including places like Hawaii and Guam), half the territory belonging to America lies beneath the water's surface; yet much of it remains unexplored. Ballard compares the budgets of NASA vs. NOAA thus:

NASA's budget to explore outer space, one year budget, would support NOAA's exploration program for 1600 years.

The importance of turning the lens back onto our home planet cannot be overstated and we look forward to doing so in the unexplored depths not simply with an eye toward human plunder, but with a renewed vigor and awe of our natural world. Some relevant comments from many salient points made by Sharkwater doc filmmaker Rob Stewart in an interview for Green TV:

One of the biggest issues facing the oceans is a lack of awareness. You can't see what goes on in the ocean the same way you see what happens in a forest or in an African savanna. So people don't know that we waste 54 billion pounds of fish every year while 8 million people die of starvation. They don't know that every single fishery will have entirely collapse by 2048. Or that 90 percent of all large predators in the oceans are gone. And if people could see that. If people could see the amount of waste and destruction in the oceans they wouldn't stand for it for a second.

It should be noted however that perviously Dr. Ballard has, in the process of drumming up enthusiasm for increased funding and interest in ocean exploration, touched on the rich bounty of resources yet to be tapped beneath the sea floor. As always, the needs of man and nature are not mutually exclusive should we choose. Balance between the amazing scientific and educational benefits often described by Ballard and the interests of commerce can be achieved if we keep our eye on the prize.

Ballard went into further detail as well in his 2008 TED Talk which you can view at EcoWonk »