The GIRL of THE SEA of CORTEZ is my favorite Peter Benchley novel. It's a high-spirited adventure story that speaks to my personal love of the ocean and all its fascinating creatures. The story takes you under the sea to experience the spectacular, but it also shares the threats facing our seas. While this book was written 30 years ago, Peter was prescient about mans complex relationship to the sea. This captivating story is even more relevant today than ever.
--Gregory S. Stone, Ph.D., Chief Scientist for Oceans, Conservation International
"The ocean drives the water cycle, the carbon cycle, the oxygen cycle, the nitrogen cycle … it drives the way the world works. Even if you never touch the ocean, the ocean touches you every day. And it’s only now, as we get into the 21st century, that we’re beginning to put the blue part of the planet on the balance sheet."
"It is our responsibility to preserve and cherish this pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."
--Carl Sagan, Astronomer + Author
“For most of history, man has had to fight nature to survive; in this century he is beginning to realize that, in order to survive, he must protect it.”
--Jacques Cousteau, Oceanographer + Explorer
Less than 100 miles [160 kilometers] off the coast of Florida, Bimini lies low and flat on the horizon. The several islands that make up this Bahamian island chain are studded with palm trees, surrounded by sandy beaches and neatly laid out resort hotels, restaurants and marinas. A notable tourist destination for big-game fishing, this place is famous for once being home to Ernest Hemingway — and it is here that I recently found myself on both a personal and professional odyssey.
Personal, because I was there with my dear friend Wendy Benchley, together to honor her late husband and my best friend, Peter. Professional, because we were there with a Discovery Channel film crew making a documentary on how the movie “Jaws” — based on Peter’s book of the same name — changed the world. The special airs tonight as part of Shark Week — which itself probably wouldn’t exist if it hadn’t been for “Jaws.”
I first met Peter and Wendy about 32 years ago in Bermuda, under the guidance of a mentor we all shared: the great ocean explorer Teddy Tucker. We immediately kicked off a lifelong friendship based on the solid foundation of our passion for the ocean: they just off the fiery heels of “Jaws” mania, and me with the much lower profile of an oceanographer beginning his career.
At first we spent our time together studying whales, exploring the deep sea, night diving on seamounts, finding shipwrecks, and all manner and form of exploring the oceans, which make up over 70 percent of the Earth’s surface and 95 percent of the biosphere.
But soon we began to notice fewer fish, bleached corals, pollution and many other symptoms that told us our beloved ocean was dying. The three of us then began focusing our time and careers on ocean conservation. Peter and Wendy began full-time advocacy work, making good use of their public names. I worked the NGO world, first at the New England Aquarium, but eventually running CI’s global marine program.
I am hard-pressed to meet a colleague who has not been affected by this film. In addition, the public fascination with sharks spurred by “Jaws” helped lead to a dramatic uptick in shark research which has shaped how we understand the ocean today.
As Wendy and I swam with these magnificent animals and I watched their interactions with the other reef residents, I saw for myself just how essential they are to all life in the sea and all life on Earth. Their removal from an ecosystem can have devastating effects upon the species below, as sharks help to keep these marine systems in balance. The presence of apex predators can lead to greater species diversity and density; in essence, sharks are critical to sustain the fisheries we depend on.
Yet despite their importance, around 100 million sharks are killed each year — many to meet the demand for shark fin soup, a cultural delicacy in many Asian countries that often costs as much as US$ 100 per bowl. In addition, sharks are often caught as accidental “bycatch” by commercial fishing nets which are set to catch other species — an extremely wasteful practice.
Today, almost 40 years after the release of biggest shark film of all time, the fate of the world’s sharks hangs in the balance. If we are to have any chance at reversing the depletion of these crucial species, we need to both reduce the demand for shark-related products and to work harder to develop and manage improved commercial fishing techniques. It won’t be easy, but as I see global discussions on ocean health gain traction, I’m optimistic that we are beginning to move the needle in the right direction.
Greg Stone is CI’s chief ocean scientist. “How ‘Jaws’ Changed the World” airs in the U.S. on Tuesday, 8/14 at 9 p.m. EST. You can celebrate Shark Week by sharing our viral whale shark video with a friend.