An exhibition to raise awareness of the ocean’s fragile beauty

Bruno David, President of the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle © Agnès Iatzoura - Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle

The exhibition "Océan, une plongée insolite" (an alternative dive into the ocean) showing at the National Museum of Natural History (MNHN) in Paris offers visitors the chance to dive into the depths of the ocean’s unknown. Through its immersive design and interactive devices, the exhibition brings to light the challenges we face to protect these unique ecosystems now under threat. Bruno David, President of the MNHN, looks at the major challenges facing marine exploration and protection of our oceans.

What messages did you want the exhibition to get across?

The idea is to show the unknown, or little known, faces of the ocean and highlight that ocean life cannot be summed up in a few marine mammals or fish. Our aim is to help the general public understand marine biodiversity while showing an extraordinary, or alternative, vision of its life. I am talking about this exhibition as “a vaccine against indifference”. Through the beauty of the living organisms displayed, such as planktonic species living in extreme environments, we aim to help visitors understand the issues affecting, and threatening, the ocean. We didn’t want to create an exhibition that would cause anxiety; instead we wanted its central themes to be beauty and the mysterious. The visitor is invited to take a magnificent, interactive and informative dive into the unknown.

Underwater landscape in the Antartic  NSF/USAP ©Steve Clabuesch

The ocean covers 71% of the earth’s surface but is still largely unknown. What is the greatest challenge we face in our exploration of it?

I would be more precise and say that the ocean represents 96% of the planet’s living space. Life occupies the entire body of water offered by the ocean, which is an average of 3,700 metres deep. Living organisms are present in the ocean to a depth of 11,000 metres and today only four people have reached such depths. To explore it further, we must of course address the challenge of its accessibility. Withstanding the pressure and the weight of a column of water poses a huge technological challenge that we demonstrate and explain in the exhibition.

Launch of the Nautile © Ifremer / Stéphane Lesbats

To what extent is the National Museum of Natural History involved in the study of these ecosystems?

The Museum’s vocation lies in understanding and archiving our natural heritage. In the face of biodiversity erosion caused by mankind, oceanographic missions are a vital means. We undertake all kinds of expedition, including oceanographic ones, through our programme "La planète revisitée" (the planet revisited). A team will shortly be setting off for Corsica where they will draw up an inventory of species living in the first 1,000 metres. The Museum is also highly committed to exploring the Southern Ocean around Antarctica. All these initiatives have resulted in over 2,000 new species being discovered each year.

What remains to be discovered about marine biodiversity?

Today about 300,000 marine species are known to science, which is not many. For example, we only know 1% of living organisms in abyssal plains. Some recent examples show us the extent of our “ignorance”: the TARA OCEAN expedition, which travelled 350,000km between 2009 and 2013 and analysed plenty of seawater samples, recorded over a million planktonic species! Which isn’t an anecdotal piece of information when we know that half of the atmosphere’s oxygen is supplied by phytoplankton. So we still have a lot to learn. In the exhibition, we give several examples of fields, like medicine, that would benefit significantly from better knowledge of this marine life.

What are the current threats to marine ecosystems?

There are many threats: overexploitation of resources, pollution (plastic, chemical, etc.), climate change, ocean acidification and maritime transport. Mining of seamounts and hydrothermal vents is another new threat. I don’t have any solutions to offer in the face of these observations except that we must control our appetite! We must consume less, encourage recycling and strive for an economy that is as circular as possible.

 

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Visit the exhibition "Océan, une plongée insolite" (an alternative dive into the ocean) at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris until 5 January 2020, and find more information on the special website.

The ocean is fascinating but it is now at risk from high levels of pollution, particularly plastic, caused by human activity. As a partner of the exhibition, SUEZ is committed to protecting the ocean and implements land-based waste collection, recycling and recovery solutions, as well as wastewater treatment processes. To find out more, discover our actions #SUEZ4ocean

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