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Explore 2016: What are the future challenges for exploration and fieldwork?

‘The manned exploration of the deep ocean should become the next epic story of human endeavour’ – Oliver Steeds ‘The manned exploration of the deep ocean should become the next epic story of human endeavour’ – Oliver Steeds Triton & Nekton
22 Nov
Geographical presents extracts from four explorers at the RGS-IBG Friday Night Lecture for Explore 2016

Explore 2016

On Friday 18 November 2016, the Ondaatje Theatre at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) was packed as four very different speakers kicked off Explore 2016, the society’s 40th annual fieldwork and expedition planning weekend, with the traditional Peter Smith Friday Night Lecture.

Their mission: to educate the assembled crowd about their respective projects and how exploration has been crucial to their success, and to use their experiences to elaborate on the future of exploration, and what it might look like another 40 years from now:

Tom Allen, The Transcaucasian expedition

It’s by first going out and exploring that we’ve begun to understand the situation in the Caucasus today, and how to shape tomorrow’s work. I truly believe that this firsthand connection with people and places, the perspective you earn, and what the world looks like beyond the headlines: these are gifts that can only be gained through exploration.

I apologise if this sounds in any way cliched or pretentious, but in my opinion, we should continue doing exactly as we are right now. Those of us who are newcomers should not concern ourselves with saving the world, but should go out with open-hearted curiosity, discover what it is that makes us tick, serve our apprenticeships as explorers, and see how we fit into this vast puzzle that we call fieldwork and exploration. Those of us at the height of our superpowers should put our talents to the best possible use and share our discoveries generously, to ensure that the knowledge and narratives that come from exploration and fieldwork have a voice in the fast-changing landscape of society. And those of us who have grown too modest to mention the long decades of our experience should continue to guide and encourage the next generation of explorers to do the same as we have.

Oliver Steeds, Nekton Mission Bermuda

The challenge that we have is that, despite being the most important part of our planet, less than 0.0001 per cent of the deep ocean has actually been explored. We have better maps of Mars and the Moon than we do of our ocean. So I believe that the deep ocean is now the most critical frontier that we have ever faced.

But throughout human history, our pioneering journeys into the unknown have pushed back the frontiers of our knowledge and changed our relationship with our planet. The scientific exploration of the deep ocean is, literally, I believe, the most critical journey humanity has ever taken. But currently the governance and protection of the ocean is limited by a lack of knowledge, about how it can continue to provide the ecosystem services that we need for the well-being of future generations. Policy makers and business leaders need access to independent, peer-reviewed scientific data to inform decisions. So ocean governance is inexplicably linked to ocean science. And if we want to catalyse widespread ocean governance, we need to radically accelerate our understanding of the health, the resilience, and the value of our ocean to us.

The manned exploration of the deep ocean, could, and arguably should, become the next epic story of human endeavour.

fridayClockwise from top left: Emily Penn, Oliver Steeds, Tom Allen, James Borrell

Emily Penn, eXXpeditions

For me, I think it’s summed up by this one word: connection. First it’s about connecting to people. We have one ocean, just like we have one atmosphere. It connects all of us, and we’re suddenly dealing with these huge challenges that cross all boundaries, all cultures, and to overcome those one of the most important things we need is to be able to connect and communicate with one another.

The second connection is about the problem. Connecting with the issue – like I had the opportunity to do [with plastic] in Tonga – allowed me to figure a solution. And the more we understand our planet, the better solutions we will then be able to provide for our future.

Finally, it’s about connecting to what inspires us, in this case, connecting those people with the ocean to inspire this community of change-makers. Because we can only care for what we love, and we can only love what we know. We cannot wait for any politician to solve this problem for us. Ultimately, it’s you and I, it’s individuals, companies and citizens who have the power to make the change that we really want to see in the ocean.

James Borrell, Expedition Angano

The things that the people [at Explore] do make a real difference. If we didn’t do any of these things, there are more species that would be extinct, there’s more wildlife that would have disappeared. The world would have lost a little bit more of its wonder. So everything you do does make a difference. Conservation can and does work, we just need to do more of it.

There are so many challenges for preserving biodiversity on Earth. This next century will be the most important century for the environment both in the history of the planet and for the future of the planet. The species that are on the Earth in a million years will be decided in the next hundred. There’s never been a generation that has more opportunity and more power to influence the fate of the natural world than the one that’s here now. Remember that you’re the ones that can make a difference.

For more information fieldwork and expeditions, contact Geography Outdoors at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)

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