When the lunar module Eagle landed on the moon 40 years ago, I was in Denver with my five sisters, mom and dad watching the blurry, ghostly images of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin tentatively walk on a barren sea called Tranquility. The excitement in our living room was palpable. The seemingly impossible goal that President Kennedy charted out eight years before had just happened. I felt emboldened, empowered and infused with the notion that anything is possible.
The previous summer I experienced my own exploration awakening, having the opportunity to study invertebrates at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. As a Colorado native, I was astounded to discover a wealth of life in oceans. It was a world filled with incredible diversity of forms and functions, from seastars to lobsters to exotic small creatures, many of whose daily rhythms were profoundly linked to the far away moon and its influence on the Earth’s tides.
The Apollo triumph had an unexpected impact on how we view our oceans. It energized a new focus on the vast unexplored regions of our own home planet. And through iconic images like the Apollo 8 “Earthrise photo,” an entire generation was inspired to cherish and protect our planetary home, which from the perspective of space is an ocean-dominated world.
Last month, a government report detailed the danger that climate change poses to oceans and coastal areas. Ocean acidification, resulting from the uptake of carbon dioxide by ocean waters, is harming corals, shellfish, and other creatures. Warmer ocean waters are stressing corals, causing systems to move to new places and enhancing diseases. Climate change is leading to greater coastal erosion and stronger storm surges. These changes complicate efforts to protect oceans and coasts already under heavy stress from pollution, overfishing and habitat destruction.