This week, take a winter vacation to some of the most critical and vibrant places on our planet . . .
American oceanographer and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle has identified numerous “Hope Spots” around the world that are special places critical to the health of the ocean.
While some Hope Spots are already protected, others have not been as lucky—yet. The spots are varied in geographic location and physical characteristics, but they are all equally important to the health of the ocean, and therefore the health of humans.
Here are just five of the many beautiful, interesting, and important Hope Spots on planet Earth. Where are your favorite ocean Hope Spots? Why?
Vibrant coral reefs, remote islands, towering underwater mountains and deep-sea canyons can be found in the Coral Sea, located off the northeastern coast of Australia. It is home to corals (of course), whales, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, rays, and seabirds. It is one of the last places on Earth where big fish can still be found in healthy numbers. The World War II Battle of the Coral Sea in 1942 left the Coral Sea littered with shipwrecks.
- What island nations call the Coral Sea home?
- What nations were the belligerents in the Battle of the Coral Sea?
Chile’s marine territory is composed of 6,400 kilometers (3,977 miles) of coastline and a multitude of offshore islands. The southern fjords provide habitats for whales, dolphins, seals, and other marine mammals. A beautiful display of coral, including several species unique to the area, can be found below the surface. Chilean fjords and islands are experiencing several threats, including industrialization and overfishing along Chile’s coast, bottom trawlers near the Juan Fernandez Islands, and invasive species throughout the region.
- What are some straits and channels associated with Chile’s fjords?
- Where else in the world can you find fjords?
Located on the central western shore of Africa—right in the nook where it looks like South America should fit—is the Gulf of Guinea. In 2015, Gabon created a marine protected area of ten marine parks covering more than 46,000 square kilometers (18,000 square miles). The network—encompassing about 23% of Gabon’s territorial waters—will safeguard whales, sea turtles, and other marine species inhabiting the nation’s coastal and offshore ecosystems. Threats to the region’s wildlife include egg poaching, the construction of new oil wells, overfishing, and bottom trawling.
- What nations share the Gulf of Guinea?
- What geographic coordinates meet in the Gulf of Guinea? (Hint: The big ones.)
The Ross Sea, a deep bay just off the coast of Antarctica, is distinct from many other Hope Spots because it is one of the most ecologically intact, least-polluted, near-shore ecosystems. Its current state is very close to that which it has enjoyed for millennia, providing a peek into the past for researchers. A portion of the sea is covered by the permanent Ross Ice Shelf, which is roughly the size of France. The Ross Sea is home to 32% of Adelie and 26% of emperor penguin populations worldwide. The biggest threat to the Ross Sea is global warming.
- What deep-sea creatures live in the Ross Sea?
- Why is global warming harmful to the Ross Sea?
Located along the continental shelf of the Gulf of Mexico, this Hope Spot boasts a variety of soft corals, subtropical and tropical invertebrates, and more than 90 species of fish. Recreational and commercial fishing, commercial trawling, and long-lining threaten the habitat and fish populations. Parts of the area are protected by the Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary, but there is still a large portion of the gulf that lies outside that jurisdiction.
- What nations share the Gulf of Mexico?
- What industries dominate business in the region?
If you are interested in learning more about Hope Spots and the rest of Sylvia Earle’s work, visit her website and find out what you can do to help!
This post was written by former National Geographic intern Jane Mulcahy in November 2010, and is just as relevant today!