Cover image for Blue frontier : saving America's living seas
Blue frontier : saving America's living seas
Helvarg, David, 1951-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : W.H. Freeman, [2001]

Physical Description:
299 pages ; 24 cm
1. Fool's gold -- 2. From sea to shining sea -- 3. Oceanographers and admirals -- 4. Quarrel on the littoral -- 5. Oil and water -- 6. A rising tide -- 7. Paradise with an ocean view -- 8. Flushing the coast -- 9. The last fish? -- 10. Drowning in red tape -- 11. Sanctuaries in the sea -- 12. The seaweed rebellion.
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GC1020 .H45 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Oceans cover over 71% of the earth's surface, absorb far greater amounts of carbon dioxide than rain forests, and exert a powerful control over climate, clouds, and weather. Yet our living oceans are imperiled as never before, plagued by overfishing, reckless development, and pollution. Will future generations be able to enjoy the riches of our nation's greatest environmental treasure? A fascinating account of America's oceans and ocean politics, Blue Frontier explores the impact of history, commerce and policy on marine life - and by extension all life on earth. From the legacy of Navy-funded ocean research and development since World War II to the latest controversies surrounding beach closures, collapsing fish stocks, killer algae, hurricanes, and oil spills, Blue Frontier takes readers on an adventure-filled tour of America's last great wilderness range. Helvarg argues that sensible policies can still halt the onslaught of industrial destruction, despite today's wide-open development along our coasts and in our offshore waters. Profiling the growing number of coastal citizen-activists, local governments, and waterfront communities that are working to protect and restore healthy seas for all of us, he shows how informed individuals can make a difference. An impassioned call for a new approach to ocean stewardship, Blue Frontier is essential reading for anyone interested in saving our maritime culture and heritage.

Author Notes

David Helvarg lives in Washington, D.C.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Our concerns about environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity focus on terrestrial ecosystems. Viewed from the water's edge, the ocean leaves the impression that all is well with the seas. That is, until one reads Blue Frontier, in which ocean enthusiast Helvarg describes the enormous environmental problems hidden below the surface. In 12 chapters he discusses such topics as plans to mine mineral resources of the sea, reckless development of coastal areas, large deadened areas of coastal waters resulting from urban pollution, subsidized overfishing, and bureaucratic obstacles to enforcement of environmental regulations governing ocean resources. The author exposes the collusion, past and present, between politicians of both parties and special interests to block or weaken efforts and laws to manage and protect the coastal environment and ocean resources. In spite of the dismal situation, the author is optimistic that grassroots efforts by various groups will bring about changes necessary to ensure the future of the blue frontier. Based on literature, extensive travels to both coasts of North America, and interviews, the book is supplemented with chapter endnotes and a bibliography. An essential addition to the environmental science library. All levels. R. L. Smith emeritus, West Virginia University



Chapter One Fool's Gold The deep oceans contain oil and mineral wealth to rival Alaska's North Slope and California's Gold Rush. --Time magazine, 1995 The sea is not a bargain basement. --Jacques Cousteau, 1963 If the opening of America's western frontier can be traced back to the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-1806, the declaration of America's Blue Frontier can be traced to a 1972 Central Intelligence Agency cover story.     Of course, I had no way of knowing that on a dark summer night in June 1977, as I watched the Deep Sea Miner Two , a 560-foot, 20,000-ton, converted Liberian ore carrier slip out of San Diego harbor. The dock area around the Tenth Avenue Terminal had been sealed off to curious onlookers hours before the ship's unpublicized departure. I stood alone outside the barbed wire-topped hurricane fence, taking notes as a pair of uniformed guards on the pier watched me, speaking nervously into their walkie-talkies. The crew members who tipped me off to the ship's departure were warned not to discuss their destination or the nature of the tests to be conducted. For several of them who had served in the navy, it was not unlike going on a WESPAC (Western Pacific) deployment, except that this ship, with its strange radarlike white geodesic dome covering the derrick at midship and its pipe storage racks and air compressors crowding the topside and superstructure from bow to stern, looked far more peculiar than any of the warships tied up at the Thirty-second Street Naval Station. The ship, I discovered, was owned by Ocean Mining Associates of Gloucester Point, Virginia, a joint venture of U.S. Steel, the Sun Company (formerly Sun Oil), and Union Minière of Belgium. The consortium was one of several formed in the early 1970s in response to news that Howard Hughes's Summa Corporation was committing hundreds of millions of dollars to an unprecedented deep-sea venture.     The Deep Sea Miner would be working 1000 to 1500 miles southwest of San Diego. There, in waters up to 20,000 feet deep, using dynamic positioning props to keep the ship steady, crewmen would sink dredges attached to several miles of pipeline. Compressed air would then be fed into each pipe to create a suction that would pull manganese nodules off the bottom of the sea. It was dangerous work, comparable to dropping a long, potentially explosive siphon from a blimp that was trying to remain stationary in gusting winds and clouds 4 miles above the earth. If the pipe string ruptured, the pressure could turn sections of broken pipe into steel spears, impaling ship and crew. Still, like many dangerous shipboard operations that take place every day on America's Blue Frontier, the Deep Sea Miner managed to get the job done without incident, recovering several tons of nodules.     A manganese nodule itself is fairly unimpressive. You can probably see one at a local oceanographic center or university marine lab. Up to 8 inches across, it lacks the speckled shine of a good mineralized throwing rock, looking more like a lump of soft coal. This may be because its growth pattern is less like that of the hardened spawn of the earth's upthrusting mantle than of an oyster pearl. It precipitates minerals out of the surrounding sea around a small nucleus such as a shell shard or shark's tooth. These accreted nodules are said to cobble parts of the deep ocean floor like the fabled streets of El Dorado and are invariably described in news reports as potato-sized, although you would have to be talking about those little gourmet numbers, not an Idaho spud. Their mineral content includes manganese, copper, nickel, and cobalt. And while most assays of nodules tend to be low, their total volume is truly staggering.     Samples of manganese nodules have been found and analyzed for their mineral content as far back as the cruise of the HMS Challenger in 1872-1876. Carrying out the first modern oceanographic expedition, Challenger used rope dredges to retrieve the slime-covered lumps from 5000-meter depths in the mid-Pacific.     By the 1960s the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and other research stations were involved in the Moho and Deep Sea Drilling Projects, attempts to drill through the ocean floor to the earth's mantle--big science projects conceived as a way to match the drama and attention space exploration was then receiving. Using converted oil-drilling ships with multiscrew dynamic positioning, they developed many of the techniques that are being used today for deep-sea oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico. At the time these techniques were also seen as having potential for manganese mineral mining. On September 21, 1967, the Maltese ambassador to the United Nations, Dr. Arvid Pardo, gave a three-hour speech to the UN General Assembly, suggesting that the deep ocean floor, with its vast mineral wealth, be seen as "the common heritage of mankind," an idea adopted by the UN in 1970.     Then, in November 1972, Howard Hughes's newly formed Summa Corporation announced the launch of a massive 619-foot ship, the Hughes Glomar Explorer , to begin commercial recovery of deep-sea nodules. Dozens of enthusiastic articles on the project began appearing in major mainstream and scientific journals around the world. Few doubted that while the economic risks were enormous, the reclusive billionaire was just the type of man to make a daring investment in order to corner a new market and lead the entrepreneurial pack. What the deployment of the Hughes ship would actually lead to was not commercial mining of the seas but the first major remapping of the world's oceans since the sixteenth century, when Queen Elizabeth I of England gave up on church-negotiated ocean boundaries and endorsed the Dutch concept of mare liberum, or free seas.     For Russian and American submariners during the Cold War, the seas were anything but free; they were a cold, dark, claustrophobic place in which to hunt and hide, where submariners were blind as whales in black water but with far less sophisticated propulsion and sonar systems.     In March 1968 a diesel-powered, nuclear-armed Golf 11 Soviet submarine, the Red Star , sank in the North Pacific. A venting problem while recharging its storage batteries probably caused the powerful explosion that tore open its stern plates, sending seawater surging into the tail section of the craft, pulling it backward and downward in a deadly fast spiral. Within moments the Red Star reached crush depth before plowing into the soft bottom more than 3 miles down, traveling close to 200 miles per hour on impact. Her entire crew of some 100 men perished. They were among many submariners from both sides who would be crushed, drowned, burned to death, or irradiated during the Cold War, including, only two months later, 99 men aboard the USS Scorpion , lost in the depths of the Atlantic. While Moscow had no idea where or why its submarine disappeared, the U.S. Navy, using a combination of its top-secret $16 billion Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) undersea hydrophones and intercepted satellite transmissions, was able to key in on the area where the Soviet sub went down.     In their definitive book on Cold War spy submarines, Blind Man's Bluff , reporters Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew describe how the navy, in a major intelligence coup, had the spy submarine USS Halibut pinpoint and photograph the sunken Red Star using cable-winched sonar arrays and still cameras (that also showed the skeleton of a sailor in a sheepskin coat lying outside the wreck). The Russian sub contained code books and encryption gear and three nuclear missiles and their guidance systems, all valuable booty if they could be recovered. Leaders of the navy spy program suggested returning to the Red Star to do some silent salvaging, using C-4 explosives and a primitive version of today's ROVs (remote-operated vehicles) lowered by miles of cable from a stealthy American sub floating above. They were shocked when their plan was rejected and in its place the CIA proposed building a massive salvage ship to scoop the obsolete Soviet diesel boat whole from the ocean floor. The CIA plan (code-named Project Jennifer) went forward with hundreds of millions of dollars in contract payments going to Hughes, Lockheed, and Global Marine, an oil rig platform manufacturer, to build the gargantuan spy ship Glomar Explorer . Eventually, more than 4000 people were employed in the construction and operation of the Glomar . Outraged navy men, including spy sub coordinator John Craven, quietly complained that the Nixon White House was using the CIA project to pay off its political patrons and California defense contractors before the 1972 elections. The fact that Howard Hughes was a long-time secret contributor to Richard Nixon's campaigns, as well as having provided a highly suspect loan to the president's erstwhile brother, Donald, added weight to the charge. The public unveiling of the giant spy ship cum ocean-mining vessel on election day 1972 may have even reflected someone's cynical sense of humor.     Several possible cover stories for the Glomar were considered, including the idea that it was going on a treasure hunt, looking for lost Spanish galleons full of gold. But the CIA worried that such a romantic tale, linked to a mysterious figure like Howard Hughes, might attract too much attention from congressional CIA oversight committees, among others. So, the cover story chosen was that of a manganese mining ship.     While Howard Hughes was working with the CIA, the Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating Hughes's financial empire and the takeover of Air West, a small regional airline. CIA overtures to have the SEC investigation sidetracked failed. The SEC was about to obtain a court order for Hughes's files when, on June 4, 1974, there was a mysterious break-in and robbery at his Los Angeles communications center. The files the SEC was after, along with $68,000 in cash and a memo discussing Hughes's work on Project Jennifer, disappeared. Having been denied access to the information it was after, the SEC investigation quickly ground to a halt.     At around the same time the Glomar Explorer , having completed a series of sea trials, was launched on its "mining" mission.     Two weeks later about 5000 delegates from 48 nations met in Caracas, Venezuela, for the United Nations Law of the Seas (LOS) Treaty convention. The talks, which had been going on in a desultory fashion since 1958, went into overdrive as news of Hughes's half-billion-dollar ship heading out to sea hit the assembly with the force of a tropical cyclone. Many delegates were outraged by the idea that the Glomar might soon begin sucking up thousands of tons of mineral-rich manganese nodules from the ocean's depths. Those dark lumps were suddenly seen as a trillion-dollar godsend by the UN's poorer nonaligned nations, organized as the Group of 77 (G-77). Looking to the 1970 UN resolution declaring the seabed "the common heritage of mankind," G-77 called for the establishment of a UN-administered international seabed authority, labeled the "Enterprise," to participate in the expected mining bonanza. The Soviet Union, sensing a no-cost opportunity to align itself with the Third World and against the United States, quickly endorsed the G-77 plan (it would later abstain from a final agreement).     As the mining debate was heating up, the CIA salvage operation was turning into a costly bungle. On July 4, 1974, the Glomar arrived on station over the sight of the sunken sub and began lowering a giant eight-fingered claw and steel netting attached to a three-mile tether of connected lengths of hardened steel pipe. Assembling the tether as they went, the ship's crew, made up largely of roughnecks from the offshore oil industry, dropped the claw through the Glomar 's wet well. It took them several days before they reached bottom and were able to snag the submarine. Lifting it at 6 feet a minute, they managed to raise it more than a mile before the badly damaged craft fell apart. In the end, they were able to recover only about 10 percent of the submarine and the bodies of six sailors, which they buried at sea. No missiles, code books, or encryption equipment were recovered.     Back at the LOS convention, the U.S. delegation was arguing that by producing new mineral wealth from the ocean depths, private corporations like Summa were, by definition, contributing to the common heritage of mankind. It was an argument the majority of delegates vehemently rejected. The CIA could only take grim satisfaction in watching its cover story blow up into a major political cause célèbre. Hoping to return for a second salvage attempt (that never happened), the CIA continued to place mining articles in major media around the world, while the U.S. media ran feature stories on the Glomar in Business Week , the New York Times , and the Wall Street Journal . To maintain the story's credibility, the Summa Corporation also entered into a business agreement with American Smelting and Refining to process their recovered ore. They even sent a small ship out into the Pacific to collect several thousand pounds of manganese nodules for publicity purposes.     Even after the Law of the Seas conference ended, the cover story continued to reach new, influential audiences. "The Hughes goal, it is reported, is to mine some 3 to 4 million tons of nodules annually," the Congressional Research Service reported to the U.S. Senate in December 1974, going on to project the future value of U.S. deep-sea manganese mining at $534 million by 1985. "We are confident that this document will serve as a valuable tool in our deliberations and policy-making," Senator Warren G. Magnuson, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, noted on receiving the report. Two years later Magnuson would lend his name to legislation establishing America's first 200-mile claim on its ocean frontier, a domestic fishery law aimed at excluding Soviet bloc factory trawlers.     With thousands of employees working on Project Jennifer and whispers in Washington and Los Angeles of recent failure and boondoggle (on top of Nixon's Watergate scandal and resignation), it was inevitable that the true story of the Glomar 's mission would come out. The first exposé, with the run-on headline "U.S. Reported After Russian Submarine / Sunken Ship Deal by CIA, Hughes Told," appeared in the February 7, 1975, edition of the Los Angeles Times . The New York Times investigative reporter Sy Hersh was also onto the story but had cut a deal with CIA Director William Colby to hold off on publication. Soon all bets were off, and there was widespread media coverage of the failed mission.     Oddly, despite the unraveling of the Glomar cover story, many of the world's leaders were now convinced that large-scale ocean mining was feasible.     A number of mining consortiums had been organized by energy and mineral companies out of fear that Hughes's Summa Corporation would get the jump on them. Membership included the Sun Company, British Petroleum, AMOCO, Mitsubishi, Noranda, Kennecott, Union Minière, and International Nickel.     By the end of the decade deep-sea mineral wealth, and who would benefit from it, was a major source of international tension, even though the practical costs of developing open-ocean dredging, transport technology, ports, and processing facilities (along with a decline in world metal prices) guaranteed continued land-based mining for the foreseeable future.     Michael Molitor, a former Law of the Seas official with both the United States and the UN, recalls a visit he made to the Canadian headquarters of International Nickel during this time. "They had this world map with small lights in Guatemala and Africa and all these places they had mining rights, including a single light out in the middle of the Pacific. And there was this dial to turn that showed the price of nickel rising, and as you'd twist that dial all these lights would come on showing when these mines would become profitable, but no matter how far you turned that dial that one light in the Pacific never went on."     Still, at the UN mining fever was running high.     "Deep-sea mining was one out of nine or ten issues on the table, and the only one that was not resolved to the satisfaction of the Americans," recalled Elliot Richardson, former U.S. attorney general and ambassador to the Law of the Seas convention. After standing up to Nixon during the Watergate crisis, the former Republican lawman, five years later, was named to head the U.S. delegation to Law of the Seas by Democratic President Jimmy Carter. Carter hoped Richardson would be able to untangle the diplomatic mess created by the mining issue.     By 1980 Richardson had worked out a compromise agreement that would see a mixed corporate-UN mining regime established, but in 1981 a new delegation appointed by the Reagan administration nixed any "give-away" of deep-sea nodules, insisting that the ocean's resources belonged by right to those with the capital and technology to claim them.     "The Law of the Seas [treaty] would have been signed off by the Carter administration if he'd been reelected, but the conservative ideological baggage brought in by Reagan on the mining issue forced a shift and those negotiations were stranded," Richardson told me.     University of Southern California Professor Robert Friedheim, a former navy consultant on LOS, agrees: "Richardson had negotiated everything the U.S. wanted but for ideological reasons the Reagan team rejected any reference to `the common heritage of mankind.' That threw the process into a state of complete chaos."     Although the Law of the Seas convention eventually established 16 solid agreements on freedom of navigation, maritime commerce, maritime law enforcement, marine environmental protection, and marine scientific research, the lack of a seventeenth provision on mining left everyone nervous. Fearing that Western corporations would soon begin mining off their shores, members of G-77, like a school of panicked mullet, quickly moved to assert control over nearby marine fisheries and oil, gas, and minerals by declaring 200-nautical-mile (230 statutory miles) Exclusive Economic Zones.     Domestically, the debate over this radical EEZ concept had been going on at least since Chile, Ecuador, and Peru made 200-mile fisheries claims back in the early 1950s. The U.S. Navy, State Department, and distant-water tuna fishermen formed a freedom of the seas coalition opposing EEZs. They saw them as a threat to global fishing and the navy's right of passage through potential trouble spots like the Strait of Hormuz and narrow channels surrounding Indonesia. In favor of enclosure were the domestic fishing industry and the National Petroleum Council, which wanted to move its offshore rigs into deeper water on the Outer Continental Shelf. The Interior and Commerce Departments backed this group. After the Law of the Seas negotiators recognized the right of free passage through strategic straits for military ships, the navy abandoned its fishing allies, and the balance of special interests shifted in favor of enclosure.     Although the United States refused to sign on to the final LOS Treaty in December 1982, it wasted little time in following the example of other coastal states, with President Reagan declaring the world's largest Exclusive Economic Zone on March 10, 1983.     Two weeks later Secretary of Interior James Watt declared 70,000 square miles of this new ocean frontier open for mining. Wagons, ho! Watt, who earlier attempted to declare a billion acres of the Outer Continental Shelf available for oil leasing, was no friend of the marine environment, or the dry one for that matter. A Christian fundamentalist, he favored unlimited development of America's natural resources. And while personal faith should not be a factor in evaluating political appointees, Watt seemed to take pleasure in aggressively arguing his beliefs as justification for what were essentially nineteenth-century frontier policies. Asked in a congressional hearing why he was so determined to see public resources developed, he responded that there was no point in long-term conservation because, "I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns." Lanky, bald, and funereal in appearance, Watt was also not above questioning the patriotism of those who disagreed with him.     After a run-in with the militantly moderate National Wildlife Federation, he asked, "What is the real nature of the extreme environmentalists, who appear to be determined to accomplish their objectives at whatever cost to society? Is it to delay and deny energy development? Is it to weaken America?" Among the gaffes that led to Watt's forced resignation was his attempt to ban the Beach Boys, those wholesome muses of surf culture, from giving a free Fourth of July performance on the Washington Mall.     The EEZ territory Watt wanted to open up to mining was the Gorda Ridge, a recently identified site of deep-water volcanic chimneys, or "black smokers," off the coast of northern California and Oregon. Like bumpy free-standing tea spouts, these superheated chimneys spew dark concentrations of percolating minerals, including zinc, iron, and copper, which form towers of so-called polymetallic sulfides that can stand up to 150 feet tall (researchers named the largest of these chimneys "Godzilla"). At the base of the towers can be found the same colonies of chemosynthetic clams, crabs, and strange feathery red-and-white tube worms that were first identified off the Galápagos back in 1977.     Reagan's hawkish Secretary of the Navy John Lehman argued that mining these deep seabed minerals would ensure secure domestic sources of strategic minerals for future defense. Environmentalists countered that the proposed lease sale was a vast giveaway of a public resource based on little or no scientific knowledge, with the added risk of destroying newly discovered life-forms. The mining industry, watching the price of land-based minerals heading south, was even less enthusiastic about the proposed sale than the enviros. Within a year the lease plan had been put on hold.     The Law of the Seas Treaty required ratification by 60 nations before it went into effect. This took more than 10 years. By then the United States and other Western nations had been talking with the UN about revisiting the mining provisions. This resulted in new terms more favorable to private development. On July 29, 1994, the Clinton administration, having achieved the deal that the Reagan administration demanded, joined what was by now 159 other nations in signing the Law of the Seas Treaty.     But North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, refused to hold hearings that would allow the Senate to ratify the treaty. As a result, in 1999 the United States, not being an official signatory, was thrown off the LOS commission assigned to establish the rules for ocean mining. The navy and State Department were also excluded from other LOS commissions on which they wanted to participate.     According to the senator's staff member responsible for Law of the Seas (who did not want to be quoted by name), the senator did not believe the Clinton agreement went far enough in protecting U.S. companies from paying mining royalties to "a bureaucracy where the U.S. doesn't have a greater vote than anyone else." I asked, "Would the treaty pass the Senate if Helms offered it up for a vote?" "His view is some other chairman can take it on as a priority, but it's not going to be his priority."     As Elliot Richardson told me a few months before his own death at age 79 on December 31, 1999, "Jesse Helms is doing significant damage to U.S. interests. But the navy and the Pentagon haven't been able to budge him, so I don't suppose anything will happen while he's there."     With the UN no longer claiming a share of "the common heritage of mankind," talk of strip-mining the deep seas once again came into fashion. By the year 2001 the island nation of Japan had a well-funded and ongoing commitment to developing deep-ocean technologies. At JAMESTEK (Japan Marine Science and Technology Center) in Yokohama the government and leading corporations like Mitsubishi were leapfrogging the unmanned Kaiko remote-operated vehicle and the Shinkai 6500 (the deepest-diving manned submarine in the world) down to the bottom of the sea. In 1995 the Kaiko came within a few feet of the U.S. Navy's 1960 record dive site, almost 7 miles down in the Pacific's Marianas Trench (where the robot's cameras recorded a sea slug and a shrimp). With few mineral deposits of its own, Japan's interests seem linked, at least in part, to a desire for resource independence through ocean mining. The United States, Japan, France, Russia, and Germany have for some time been granting unilateral "exploration licenses" to mining companies in the international waters of the mid-Pacific Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone, an area where manganese nodules have a fairly high mineral content. The U.S. claim alone in 2001 covered some 190,000 square miles.     In a reprise of the rhetoric of the 1970s, a 1995 issue of Time magazine mentioned deep-ocean "oil and mineral wealth to rival Alaska's North Slope and California's Gold Rush," while Karl Jugel, then head of the ocean minerals division of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), claimed the beginning of large-scale mining of the seas was just a question of "when the nickel market is going to recover."     The movie The Abyss portrays a technically credible picture of a mid-twenty-first-century mining operation, including a tracked and human occupied deep-ocean dredger/ore processor linked by slurry and communications lines to a surface support and ore transfer ship.     Still, the future is rarely what the common wisdom projects it to be. Today, many Americans feel that what is technologically feasible does not always translate into what is healthy or desirable. The oil and gas industry, for example, has given up new exploration off the East and West Coasts of the United States, including Alaska's salmon-rich Bristol Bay, not because there are not large reserves of oil there, but because popular pressure and changing environmental policies require they look elsewhere. Similarly, concern over preserving the ocean's health and genetic diversity based on new scientific knowledge about the deep sea may scuttle the "inevitability" of large-scale ocean mining.     Deep dredging or suction mining for manganese nodules even far out at sea can be expected not only to cause heavy mortalities among slow-breeding bottom dwellers but also to suffocate surrounding benthic communities, according to a number of studies. Every 10,000 tons of nodules recovered each day would generate 40,000 tons of sediment in the water column. These sediment plumes, carried by the currents, could remain suspended in the water anywhere from two weeks to 49 years (the time it takes for certain surface nutrients to settle on the deep bottom). The creation of this ocean smog could restrict light penetration and reduce planktonic growth that supports most life-forms in the ocean. It could also directly contaminate open-ocean fish stocks. Current mining claims overlap the migratory routes of yellowfin tuna and swordfish. Mining would also requires centrally located mining smelters and onshore processing facilities in areas like Hawaii.     Hawaiian waters themselves have been found to contain manganese crusts rich in cobalt. However, when the Department of the Interior's Mineral Management Service called a public hearing on leasing these manganese seabed crusts in 1992, close to 1000 angry citizens turned out on the Big Island, some dressed up as whales and dolphins. From native advocates of Hawaiian sovereignty to representatives of the tourist industry, fishermen, flower growers, surfers, and retirees, they spoke out forcefully against any type of mining proposal, arguing that the ocean already provided them with an economy and lifestyle that they were unwilling to risk for some new mineral bonanza.     Abraham Piianaia, a native scholar of Hawaiian history, suggested that a careful harvesting of fish and new medicines would be a more respectful way of approaching the deep sea. "My people are a maritime people," he explained. "They looked upon the sea not merely as a body of water, they looked at the sea as a source of food, a pathway to another place. The sea provided medicinal things that they used. The sea provided recreation when they needed that.... And now you read a lot of stuff, of Western science that says the source of all life is the sea. This may be true. And yet these simple people found that out years ago."     America's deep oceans, once perceived to be a biological desert whose main value might be found in mineral mining, waste dumping, and nuclear weapons testing, have more recently been identified as a key factor in ocean circulation, climate, and productivity (through nutrient upwellings), as well as a rich habitat for a wide and wondrous range of life. In terms of volume, 99 percent of the earth's livable habitat is in the oceans. But only now is human exploration of the middle and deep-ocean frontier below 660 feet (the planktonic zone) beginning to yield a sense of just how much of that life we have yet to know or understand.     An observation camera rests on the deep-sea bottom off Monterey, California, recording the movement of sea cucumbers, mollusks, and clams gathered around a cold water seep, a methane-rich chemical vent not unlike the scalding hot geothermal vents found elsewhere. A large seven-gill shark cruises by the camera. Thin spiderlike creatures float like mosquitoes around the pressure-sealed lights. What appears to be a rock will sit in front of the camera for months on end. Suddenly, over a period of days it will grow appendages and begin to crawl out of view. Ethereal translucent jellies hover on the periphery of the lights, flashing bioluminescent signals at them like alien code from a Steven Spielberg movie.     Scientists estimate that there are at least a million new species of life undiscovered in the deep oceans, not counting Architeuthis , the giant squid. Until recently much of our knowledge of this life came in the form of pressure-exploded fish and torn-up jellies lifted from the abyssal depths in trawler nets. ROV robot submarines now use specially designed slurp guns and pressure vessels to capture and preserve live specimens of deep-sea life for display at places like the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium.     "There are trends in oceanography just like in anything else. This area's now like the hot bar in a college town. For awhile the place to work for a young scientist was Woods Hole in Massachusetts, then Scripps in San Diego. Now it's Monterey, Monterey, Monterey," says Bill Duoros, who, as manager of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, is not exactly an unbiased source. Still, his claim resonates with many people in marine science.     Looking out across the cool blue waters of Monterey Bay is like that first sweet shock of recognition when you fall in love. The heart of the world's second largest marine sanctuary (after Australia's Great Barrier Reef), its near-pristine waters teem with life, from mobs of barking seals to spouting gray whales to shoals of shearwaters scudding across its surface like squall lines. Just offshore, its submarine canyon contains sheer cliff faces more than 6000 feet deep that gradually fan out onto 10,000-footdeep abyssal hills. But until the 1990s maps of the canyon were not available to the public or civilian scientists.     "Beginning in 1983 we had run an EEZ mapping effort using multibeam sonar ships," says Skip Theberge, a 28-year veteran of the NOAA Corps (the smallest of America's uniformed services, with some 280 members trained at the Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York). Theberge was in command of the NOAA research vessel Mount Mitchell , which mapped Monterey's deep canyon, a place that turned out to hide more than rockfish. "What we did was so accurate the navy submarine community felt threatened, so it was all classified." When the maps were declassified at the end of the Cold War, Monterey's deep waters began drawing scientists like chum draws gulls.     Gary Greene, a research scientist and former director of the Moss Landing Marine Lab (operated by the California State University system), has been on the scene since before it was a scene. He remembers his first submersible dive into Monterey's canyon back in 1970. He was on board the Nekton , a small steel sub, along with pilot Larry Headley. Headley sat upright in the conning tower as Gary, then a graduate student in geology, lay on his belly by the forward observation porthole, his legs sticking between Larry's feet.     "We'd detected a deep hole. It turned out to be the bottom behind where a massive landslide had filled in part of the canyon. We landed on the side of this steeply inclined mud and sediment dam about 1000 feet down, at the sub's maximum depth. Then, as we tried to cruise along our tail began to drag. We assumed it was tangled up in a cable or something. You could unscrew the Nekton 's tail section and float free, but between me having to crunch up in the bow and Larry wiggling around with the wrench, our movement must have set off another slide. I was looking out the porthole and everything suddenly went black from this big mud cloud, and we could see the pressure and depth gauges rising as we were pushed downslope beyond the sub's limit. We were trying to blow ballast [with compressed air from a pair of scuba tanks] but nothing was happening. The prop was making a loud clanking noise and then something fell out of the rudder. Then it started to get lighter outside and we were rising and I could see the mud cloud below us as we broke free."     I asked if they went back down again. "We dove again that day, but not in the same place." He pauses. "The strange thing is Larry got killed the following week in that sub. He was the observer and Rich Slater was the pilot. They had raised a Chris Craft that had sunk off Catalina, but then the line securing it broke and the boat sank back through the water column and hit their sub."     "It came tumbling down stern first and hit my porthole and cracked it and then, because of the pressure, the glass just imploded," recalls Rich Slater, now co-owner of Delta , a similar two-person submersible. "I got hit in the face and knocked out. The sub filled up with water and went back to the bottom, about 260 feet down. When it hit I woke up underwater and got the hatch open, and we both got out of there real fast. I was unconscious when they found me near a kelp bed on the surface, my face all bloody, my eardrums blown out. I was deaf for months. They had to put a bunch of stitches in me. My face is still scarred from the glass." I notice the scars but they do not seem too bad, mostly they blend with the crow's feet and character lines accumulated during a life fully lived. "Larry was a better swimmer than me, but he had these rubber boots on that must have filled with water. We think that's why he didn't make it back up," Slater explained.     "I can appreciate the risk involved but it's also important to get down there. The more we know about the ocean, the better off we'll be," says Don Walsh. Speaking from his ranch 30 miles inland from Coos Bay, Oregon, Walsh is one of just two men who have been to the very bottom of the ocean, 35,800 feet down in the Marianas Trench. That was back in January 1960, more than 40 years ago. No person has been back since, although the $50 million ROV Kaiko came close in 1995, sending video images of that slug and shrimp back to the surface through its control cable. (Since remote control radio signals don't work well underwater, most robot subs have to be connected to the surface by a powered tether.)     Walsh got to the bottom on board a far simpler vessel, the bathysphere Trieste , a 50-foot-long, gasoline-filled flotation hull atop a 10-ton steel observation chamber built by the Swiss inventor Auguste Piccard, who sold Trieste to the U.S. Navy (his son Jacques piloted the craft on its record-setting dive). The navy later used Trieste to help locate the wreck of the nuclear submarine Thresher , which sank in the spring of 1963 with 129 men onboard. In October 1999, at age 68, Don Walsh went 8000 feet down in the Atlantic to look at hydrothermal vents, aboard a Russian MIR submersible. "That was the alpha and omega for me," he said. "First seeing earth recycling itself in the trenches back in 1960 and now seeing the earth creating itself at these chimneys."     Today you can see the Trieste at the Navy Museum at the Washington Navy Yards. Visiting this inner space craft at the museum's old converted armory building, I'm surprised how strangely fragile it seems, like a thin-skinned aluminum blimp above a heavy metal observation sphere with a tiny glass viewport. I accidentally pull a hose loose and quickly reattach it, glad we're on the surface. Compared to the Spirit of St. Louis or Gemini space capsule at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, which are seen by some 10 million visitors a year, this pioneering vessel is a neglected relic of one of America's boldest explorations. This is particularly odd when you consider that hundreds of Americans have followed Alan Shephard and John Glenn into space, but only one American has ever been to the lowest point on the earth's surface.     "There wasn't much of a navy selection process," Walsh chuckles. "I was one of only two volunteers. When I went down there it was one of the last geographic frontiers on the planet, but today we don't see much interest in making the national investment needed to explore the deep oceans."     A 1996 report from the National Research Council entitled Undersea Vehicles and National Needs agreed, reporting that support for ocean research (and the undersea vehicles needed for it) "has declined steadily in the United States, while the nation's need for knowledge about the oceans has grown." Little has changed in the years since.     Scientists are only now beginning to appreciate what the deep oceans might offer. Cold hydroseeps discovered in the Monterey canyon are being explored as sources of new bacteria and pharmaceuticals. The relation of these methane-rich seeps to earthquake faults is being studied by geologists from the United States and Japan, while fisheries experts are only beginning to understand the marine food web that we are rapidly depleting (midwater jellyfish, for example, appear to make up the bulk of biological mass in the bay). Pollution dispersion and the role of the oceans in the creation of weather, climate, and as a carbon sink in a warming greenhouse world are additional areas of study being pursued.     "The great thing about the canyon is that within an hour of leaving dock you can be in 3000 feet of water," says Chris Grech, until recently chief ROV pilot for the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), which is one of 27 marine institutes now located along the bay's crescent shore. Established in 1987 by the late David Packard, the management wizard who with partner Bill Hewlett founded the giant Hewlett Packard (HP) computer corporation, MBARI has become the premier U.S. institute dedicated to creating new technologies for deep-water exploration. With $230 million of Packard Foundation money invested to date, its sprawling 140,000-square-foot oceanfront facility at Moss Landing, California, is an emerging force in oceanography.     "When our father set up the family foundation, he challenged us to contribute to the world in some new way," recalls Julie Packard, a tall, slender woman with penetrating brown eyes. Since both she and her sister, Nancy, were marine biologists who shared their father's love of nature, it did not take long for them to suggest converting an abandoned sardine cannery in Monterey into a world-class aquarium that would bring the experience of the bay to the public. Once the aquarium, with its multistory kelp forest exhibit, surge machines, and in-house sea otters, became self-supporting (with more than two million visitors a year), David Packard decided to establish MBARI as a separate science institute. "Dad was very excited about the bay's deep water. He wanted to do something major as an engineering challenge, the challenge of getting down there intrigued him," Julie recalls.     The choice of whether to put development money into multimillion dollar manned submersibles or into ROVs was the next issue he had to consider. It was a debate that in earlier years had divided the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (robots) from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (manned subs). While many scientists have tended to favor use of America's aging fleet of climb-aboard submersibles, industry (oil and gas, fiber-optic cable-laying, and marine rocketry) has opted for tethered robots that can be loaded onto ships of opportunity and, when necessary, sent on "suicide missions" among the wrecks, blowouts, and other disasters that periodically befall offshore operations. "It's really not an either-or choice. It's more like a toolbox from which you should pick the right tools for the job," says Don Walsh.     Still, with his experience in the development of HP robots for manufacturing and hazardous duty (inside nuclear containment vessels), David Packard decided to focus his resources on developing a new generation of ROVs. These would emerge from a collaboration of engineers, computer designers, and the marine scientists who would advise them on what they needed.     Chris Grech sits in the pilot seat of his control room on board MBARI's twin-hulled $22 million ROV mother ship, Western Flyer . A short, wiry, piebald man with mustache and goatee, he could easily pass for one of Sir Francis Drake's pirate captains (who sailed these same waters some 300 years ago). I watch as he scans a bank of monitors, a computer touch screen, and the slave controls that can adjust the movement of this 117-foot platform ship to those of an exploratory robot 12,000 feet below.     I walk down a few steps into a large metal-walled room in the heart of the vessel and over to a hulking blue, green, and yellow ROV with the MBARI seven-gill shark logo on its side. The ROV, named Tiberon , is 7 feet tall, 6 across, and 9 deep and is equipped with eyelike stereo video cameras, strobe lights, force feedback gripper claws (that allow the operator to feel resistance), and slurp guns (for sucking in octopuses, jellyfish, and other live samples). It is suspended between an open moon pool for easy deployment and recovery and a huge spool containing 12,000 pounds of control wire. The robot itself looks like a police tank sitting on top of a bear cage. This description does not please Tiberon project director Bill Kirkwood. "The prototype was a 928 Porsche," he admits ruefully.     MBARI owns a second deep-diving ROV, the Ventana , which operates off the Point Lobos (a smaller ship known as the "Point Puke" to those who have to take it out in rough weather). Sailing four days a week, it uses a microwave relay to provide a live video link from its robot's underwater cameras to scientists and aquarium visitors back on shore who get to share in a real-time exploration of the canyon.     In February 1991, Grech, working down the coast from Monterey, piloted the ROV Ventana to the newly discovered wreck of the USS Macon , a navy dirigible that crashed and sank in 1450 feet of water in 1935. Built in 1933, the Macon was the largest aircraft in history, a 785-foot rigid-frame airship that also acted as a sky-based aircraft carrier for five Sparrow-Hawk biplanes. The fighter-spotter planes were stored in an internal hangar (much like the ROV Tiberon is stored inside the Western Flyer ). They flew off and were recovered with an air hook hanging below the dirigible. The loss of the Macon to a violent gust of wind that drove it into the sea, killing two of its crewmen (81 others escaped by life raft), marked the end of the great age of American airships. Appropriately, its rediscovery marked a new era for underwater exploration by equally exotic craft.     "As we searched for the remains of the ship, we were microwaving live images to Dave Packard's house in Big Sur," Grech recalls with a grin. "He held a barbecue for his VIP friends and various scientists to show them what this new technology could do and it worked perfectly. They saw it as it was happening, the debris field, the outline of the Macon planes. It was really cool and very strange, plus it kept the boss happy."     Monterey's submarine canyon is now yielding a bounty of new treasures. "We're discovering about five new species of animals a year with the ROVs," Grech says. One of these species, the Calyptogena packardana clam is named after David Packard (who certainly contributed enough "clams"). "The public doesn't have a concept, not a clue about all the animals down there," the ROV pilot smiles, shaking his head in amazement.     But the biotech industry does. In Monterey and across the Blue Frontier the discovery of new life-forms has set off yet another wave of mining fever, this time involving bioprospecting for drugs, medicines, and microbes.     More than half of our present medicines derive from terrestrial plants and animals, including penicillin cultured from a common mold. But as society abuses antibiotics, feeding them not only to sick children but also to cattle, chicken, and farmed fish, more resistant strains of bacteria emerge, posing a troubling new threat to human health. In addition, traditional threats from viruses, cancers, and many other maladies continue to frustrate medical science. And so, as Abraham Piianaia suggested, we have begun to look back to the sea.     For years, ocean science centers like the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Massachusetts and the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science have used marine animals for biomedical research. MBL discovered limulus amoebocyte lysate (LAL), a blood derivative of horseshoe crabs that is used to test for bacterial toxins. They also use horseshoe crabs to study vision (the helmet heads of the crabs have about 1000 large rods and cones per eye versus the 300 million you are using to read this). Toadfish, with well-developed inner ears, are used to study balance. Two toadfish even got to ride along with John Glenn on his final mission into space.     At the University of Miami I'm led on a tour through a stucco warehouse full of sea hares (think guinea pig-sized, frilly, green sea slugs). Their big ganglia make them useful recruits for the study of brain and memory. I'm also shown pools of nurse sharks being raised for nonvoluntary hospital work (despite the media myth, sharks do get cancer, just not as often as smokers). In years past the CIA took an interest in venomous sea snakes and deadly stonefish. More recently, orthopedic surgeons discovered that porous hard corals make strong artificial bone implants that are not rejected by the body. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) Natural Products Branch recently began expanding its marine life collections. Since Taxol, a compound that freezes cancer cell growth, was first derived from the bark of yew trees in the early 1990s, seven other compounds with similar effects have been identified. Six of them come from marine organisms, including soft corals.     Other promising discoveries include anti-inflammation chemicals from sea feathers, virus-killing proteins from sea grass molds, and the bioremediation (toxic cleanup) potential of the bacteria Beggiatoa , which allow chemosynthetic clams and seaworms to convert hydrogen sulfide into energy.     The hardy microbes that thrive in the extreme conditions of heat and pressure around deep-sea vents and chimneys have become a favorite target of bioprospectors since the discovery and patenting of Pyrococcus (for DNA fingerprinting) in the late 1980s. While these microbes may hold great promise for drugs and industrial and agricultural processes, they are hard to collect and hard to work with once they are brought to the surface.     "Of all these microbes, you can only culture around 1 percent of them. But you can take a beaker of water or sediment containing these microbes and [using genetic engineering] do gross DNA extraction," explains Dr. David Newman, of the NCI Natural Products Branch. "We can also take gene clusters from one of these organisms and, like those plastic pop-it beads from the 1960s, reassemble them in a different sequence and see what we get."     With only 1 percent of federal research and development money for biotechnology being directed to the marine environment (where 80 percent of the planet's life-forms exist), a number of pharmaceutical companies have chosen to fund their own university-based ocean research. This has created situations rife with potential conflict of interest. Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, served on the University of California's Institute of Marine Resources Advisory Committee from 1983 until 1989, when he quit.     "What finally got to me," he recalls, "I went to a meeting at Scripps, where the scientists were saying they weren't going to pursue this one promising find involving marine plants because they couldn't patent it, and the research was being funded by the pharmaceutical companies. And I said, `What if it's a cure for cancer? You're not going to study it 'cause they can't make money off it? You're a public institution!'"     With vast potential for profit as well as progress, marine microbes and other life-forms retrieved from public waters using taxpayer-funded tools (like navy-owned academic ships and submersibles) might be expected to provide a direct return to the U.S. Treasury, perhaps through some kind of royalty payment such as exists for offshore oil and gas. But to date there has been no discussion of this in Congress. If Congress were to act, it likely would establish a token fee acceptable to the drug companies, given the huge sums industry spends to influence those kinds of decisions. In 1998, for example, pharmaceutical and health products companies spent more than $165 million lobbying Washington and an additional $13 million on that year's congressional elections.     Another little-examined issue is what the risks are when genetically altered species developed for aquaculture and other purposes are introduced into the marine environment like so many loose pop-it beads spilled on a dance floor. Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have cloned the gene for the blue crab's molt-inhibiting hormone (MIH). After blue crabs molt naturally (having outgrown their old shells), they briefly become softshelled and can be eaten whole. The researchers inserted the molt-inhibiting gene into insect cells in order to replicate large quantities of MIH. They hope to use this material to find a way to genetically block the hormone's release. If they succeed, they could force crabs to molt on command, providing a year-round supply of softshell crabs for the seafood industry. The risk, according to critics of the biotech industry, is if such an MIH blocker gene got loose in the wild, it could turn blue crabs into soft targets for predators and disease, spelling disaster for the crabs, the ecosystems they inhabit, and the fishermen who depend on them. While public policy discussion of these issues lags, technology-driven science and exploration leap forward with the exuberance of wild dolphins in a ship's bow wave.     In 1998 the navy-owned University of Washington research vessel Thomas G. Thompson left Puget Sound heading for volcanic chimneys 200 miles off the coast. These formations are part of the Juan de Fuca Ridge, located northwest of the Gorda Ridge area, which was proposed for mining back in 1983. The University of Washington and the American Museum of Natural History in New York were cosponsors of this expedition. A video crew from the PBS television show Nova was also along to record the adventure. A year earlier the ROV Jason and Woods Hole's submersible Alvin were used to map and inspect several promising chimneys. Using transponders to help place the ROV, a series of sonar scans and stereo video and digital pictures were taken and then turned into a 3-D mosaic map by computer imaging software. The Alvin then went down to the seafloor to collect tube worms and to allow scientists to take a firsthand look at the chimney life, including giant spider crabs, white crabs, snails, sea stars, skates, rattail fish, and assorted hangers-on. Biologists suspect that some of these lowlifes could represent the first ecosystem on earth that goes back almost four billion years.     On their return journey, the researchers carried the Canadian ROV Ropos , which, like many a Canadian, knows how to handle a chainsaw, in this case an underwater Stanley saw equipped with diamond-studded teeth. One and a half miles down they snared and sawed off several chimney tops (now on display at the American Museum of Natural History). They then slowly reeled them to the surface using 8000 feet of yellow line. When the third chimney broke apart coming on deck, they found its interior full of exotic microbial life and shiny with yellow flecks of chalcopyrite, known to an earlier generation of frontier prospectors as fool's gold.     While the promise of quick and easy riches from the oceans' depths has not been realized, real treasure may yet be found as a result of the CIA's Glomar Explorer fiasco of the 1970s. This treasure may prove greater than military intelligence, copper, cobalt, or new microbes for the lab. For in recklessly laying claim to an ocean wilderness larger and rougher than any previous frontier in our nation's history, we have also stumbled onto an opportunity to reclaim an important part of our past. The American oceans remain, much like Patriot's Bridge at Concord, the battlefield at Gettysburg, the Rocky Mountains, or the Golden Gate, an essential element in defining who we are as a people. Copyright © 2001 W.H. Freeman and Company. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Thrashedp. 1
1 Fool's Goldp. 11
2 From Sea to Shining Seap. 31
3 Oceanographers and Admiralsp. 49
4 Quarrel on the Littoralp. 65
5 Oil and Waterp. 83
6 A Rising Tidep. 103
7 Paradise with an Ocean Viewp. 123
8 Flushing the Coastp. 145
9 The Last Fish?p. 165
10 Drowning in Red Tapep. 187
11 Sanctuaries in the Seap. 209
12 The Seaweed Rebellionp. 229
Notes and Referencesp. 251
Bibliographyp. 275
Indexp. 283