Deep-Sea Biologist Says Ocean Conservation Should Unite People

With human activities affecting the deepest realms, protections are more vital than ever

Deep-Sea Biologist Says Ocean Conservation Should Unite People

It’s often said that humanity knows more about the surface of the moon than about the deepest reaches of our seas. A desire to learn more about the latter environment—and use that knowledge to help protect the ocean—drove Diva Amon to become a deep-sea biologist.

Diva Amon
Diva Amon

Amon, from Trinidad and Tobago, is the newest of six Pew Bertarelli Ocean Ambassadors, a group of global leaders with a shared interest in safeguarding our ocean for generations to come. One way to accomplish that goal is by advocating for marine protected areas (MPAs), which are proved to boost biodiversity and ecosystem resilience, both within and outside their boundaries.

The Pew Charitable Trusts spoke with Amon to get her insights on the importance of protecting the ocean. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: What excites you most about becoming a Pew Bertarelli Ocean Ambassador?

A: I’m really hoping that this will be a symbiotic relationship—a chance for me to learn more from the other ambassadors and the Pew-Bertarelli team about how we should manage the oceans, and for me to bring my unique perspective, as a scientist and a woman of color from a developing country, in a way that will have an impact.

Q: Drawing on that unique perspective, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in ocean conservation?

A: That, ultimately, we’re all just people. Too often, groups with perspectives different than our own are divided into sides, such as industry versus NGOs. We must remember that everyone’s positions are molded by what they’ve lived and also deserve respect.

Q: What made you want to study the deep ocean, a largely unexplored realm that’s out-of-sight and out-of-mind for most people?

A: My earliest memories all center on the ocean. Seeing a dead manta ray on a beach with my mum … touching a starfish my dad had just retrieved … wishing that I had a magical tool that would allow me to see all the ocean life down in the depths while staying dry up on the boat. Growing up in the Caribbean was definitely the spark, but even though the area around Trinidad and Tobago is 65% deep sea, meaning depths of over 200 meters, I never really gave that part of the ocean much thought, much less realized it was a career option. It wasn’t until I attended university that my tutor, Professor Paul Tyler, took me under his wing and passed on his love of the deep ocean. As I’ve continued to learn about the incredible depths that provide more than 95% of the space for life on the planet, my love has been cemented even further.

Q: What can you say to those of us who aren’t scientists studying the deep ocean about the importance of protecting it?

A: The deep ocean not only contains some of the most pristine habitats on Earth, but its massive size provides services that keep our planet healthy—and keep us alive. It plays a key role in regulating our climate, cycling nutrients, providing resources, and also potentially offering solutions to some of the greatest challenges to face humankind in the future—such as the development of new medicines or sources of energy. But sadly, the depths are already changing, with wide-ranging impacts from pollution, climate change, fishing, and other human-related activities. We need to remember that everything is connected, and no part of the ocean is out of our reach.

Q: Part of your job involves going on research expeditions. What’s been your most memorable one?

A: This is such a difficult question to answer because on almost every single expedition we see amazing sights that no one on the planet has seen before—whether it’s a new species, behavior, or habitat. In 2010, I was fortunate to participate in a research cruise searching for hydrothermal vents in the Cayman Trench. It was my first time on any research vessel, much less one with such incredible deep-sea experts and technology. I’ll never forget the moment the vents appeared on the remotely operated vehicle’s video feed: towering thin chimneys gushing superheated black fluid surrounded by undocumented species of all shapes and sizes. These were the deepest hydrothermal vents in the world, and they were right here in my Caribbean backyard. A tear—or 20—of joy was definitely shed that day!