|Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ocean Adventures: Voyage to Kure: Essay|
"VOYAGE TO KURE" DISCOVERS A PARADOX IN PARADISE
By Jean-Michel Cousteau
In more than four decades of exploring the world ocean, I have learned with each expedition to expect the unexpected. Our "Voyage to Kure" once again confirmed that for everything familiar, we find the astonishing. This truly was a discovery of a paradox in paradise.
The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, a 1,200-mile chain of islands and atolls that form one of the most remote places on Earth, gave us a remarkable glimpse of an ecosystem largely untainted by human interaction, yet dramatically impacted by the modern world far beyond the horizon. We studied and filmed a realm that is thriving in many respects, but is perched on a very precarious balance between diversity and destruction.
While these islands are a celebration of the uniqueness brought on by isolation, they are also a stunning example of the impact that human beings have on our planet. The NWHI are embattled from a foe far away. The enemy is often the human world and its byproducts thousands of miles off the islands' shores.
We discovered shocking scenes -- hundreds of seabirds, mostly young albatross, lie dead along the beaches with an endless variety of debris lodged in their decomposing bodies. On almost every island we explored, the landscape was littered with the discarded products of human society from thousands of miles away -- cigarette lighters, golf balls, toothbrushes, children's toys, and fishing floats among others.
How could this happen to the most remote islands on the planet? While the NWHI are largely uninhabited, the North Pacific gyre, a convergence zone of the entire North Pacific Ocean acts as a "pollution highway," bearing debris along its path. The debris becomes encrusted with fish eggs and are plucked from the ocean by albatross adults seeking food for their fledglings. They swallow the eggs encasing the debris, return to their chicks, and regurgitate the deadly combination into the hungry mouths of their young. These young birds simply cannot digest these materials and the accumulation of debris over their first six months of their lives can result in starvation and possible death.
We collected and documented thousands of products that covered the NWHI. They came from all over the world -- the U.S., Japan, France, countries throughout Asia and around the globe. Pollution like this knows no nationality. We cannot blame one country or culture. The "citizenship" of this pollution belongs to all of us, and it is our charge to find an answer for the proper disposal of non-biodegradable products that are affecting every level of this delicate food chain.
While we were often overwhelmed by the vastness of the challenges the NWHI faces, we were heartened daily by the small, intimate stories we found during our journey. Our crew was enamoured with our precocious playmate, Monk seal #030, who, was always there to greet us on our night dives, three evenings in a row. We became instant friends with the Bodeen family who live in a solitary community on Midway Island and reside in a neighborhood few of us can image. And, of course, there's Lanai, our Laysan albatross mascot, who warmed all of our hearts. The injured fledgling joined our ship as we brought her to an animal rehabilitation park in Honolulu where she will serve as an ambassador representing all the species found in the NWHI.
Why was the expedition team so touched by these vignettes? Because this team has heart that goes far beyond the science and the filmmaking we set out to do. Twenty-three people from four countries bound by one common goal -- explore this rare spot on the globe and tell the world the exceptional sights, sounds and stories we had the privilege to see for ourselves. In five weeks aboard The Searcher, we all made the inevitable compromises in close quarters to make both living and working a pleasure.
You can have great leadership on your team, but it would be meaningless without a formidable crew who are highly trained, prepared and imbued with the spirit of discovery. I am very proud of each and every member of this expedition, and they have my respect and gratitude.
Only the technology we have today allowed us to make this documentary in five weeks. These are wonders of design and technical skill that my father could have only dreamed of when I was a child.
The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands will always remain a special place for our team, and we hope this documentary, Voyage to Kure, will make their conservation and preservation important to the world. We need a global, comprehensive management plan for the entire NWHI chain and we must continue to support the process to elevate its status from a coral reef reserve to a national marine sanctuary to provide it more protection.
Just as importantly, we need to provide more research funding and support to the dedicated men and women of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA, and the State of Hawaii who are giving their all to safeguard the NWHI. With the constant threat of illegal fishing, intrusive species and human pollution, we should give them the opportunity to succeed at the highest level.
When we embarked on this expedition, our native Polynesian friends described to us the ancient wisdom of malama -- a caring for our land and sea to ensure a balance among all forms of life. What we saw and filmed over five weeks showed that balance to be threatened, but unbowed. Now, the outcome belongs to all of us and our collective will to protect one of the most remote and beautiful places on Earth.