August 11, 2023 opinion

Titanic sub highlights need for more ocean exploration, not less

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Justin Sau in Oxford, United Kingdom

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The recent Titanic sub incident has raised a lot of concerns about the safety of further ocean exploration.

However, it’s still of paramount importance that we continue to explore the depths, even if we need to be more cautious about how we do it. After all, there’s a whole world waiting to be discovered — just maybe watch out for icebergs.

In June of this year, the Titan, a submersible operated by tourism and expeditions company OceanGate imploded during an expedition to view the wreck of the Titanic.

Despite many safety concerns, OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush responded that he was “tired of industry players who try to use a safety argument to stop innovation”. While very much flawed in one aspect, Rush’s argument was correct in that innovation in the realm of ocean exploration is extraordinarily important, perhaps even more so than space exploration.

While many set their sights on the vast expanses of the Milky Way, we ignore our own precious little blue-green marble. Over 80% of the ocean has never been explored, mapped, or even seen. Out of an estimated up to million species that exist in the seas, roughly two-thirds have yet to be discovered.

I would imagine that the understanding our planet’s life support system would be a top priority, especially with so many environmental challenges facing us. But in 2022, NASA received nearly four times the funding of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization (NOAA).

Don’t get me wrong, space exploration is vital and should not be discounted in any way, but why are we flying off to different planets when the problem (and possibly the solution) is on this one?

Some argue space exploration is more important since it would let humanity become a multi-planetary species, but would that be worth the cost?

Would we just be running away from our own problems, leaving a trail of destruction across the solar system and not learning from our mistakes? Not only that, Statista states that “In 2022, global government expenditure for space programs hit a record of approximately 103 billion U.S. dollars.” It would take practically all our resources to send even a fraction of the population to a different planet.

The ocean is also as much a reservoir of untapped potential as space is. There are possibilities of enormous oil and gas reserves, and while oil drilling is a bit of a contentious issue right now, improved knowledge of the deep sea would help us understand how to better manage and use essential resources.

The ocean also holds new sources for medical therapies and treatments traditionally extracted from terrestrial sources. A number of marine-derived anti-cancer compounds have been approved for clinical use, while several others are undergoing trials.

Safety is still a vital concern, but the challenges we face in exploring the oceans can provide new technology and engineering innovations with applications elsewhere. Additionally, it will add to our limited knowledge and inspire young people to seek critical careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, just like space has.

Neil Armstrong’s famous words are repeated everywhere: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Well, it may be time we take a dive.

Written by:

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Justin Sau

Culture editor

Hong Kong, SAR

Born in 2007, Justin studies in Hong Kong at the HKIS. Fluent in English and Mandarin, he is interested in journalism, English literature, history, and sports.

Justin joined Harbinger’s Magazine in 2023 as a contributor, writing predominantly about culture. In 2024, he took over the Culture section of the magazine.

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