Water is life. The ocean produces nearly every other breath we take. A warmer ocean has less oxygen. A more acidic ocean produces less food. A more polluted ocean sickens life within it and us above.
It’s clear the relationship of humankind with the global ocean is now central to life on Earth. The two of us are committed to changing that relationship, starting in Seattle.
We’ve both led organizations conserving Puget Sound and the greater Salish Sea. Our work has encompassed decades of advocacy around habitat restoration, orca recovery, tribal treaty rights and climate-friendly energy policy. Even as we continue in that work, we have come to understand that investment in conservation education is central to our ability to save the planet.
To tackle the enormity of the ecological challenges facing our planet and our ocean, we must shift hearts, minds and values. We believe Seattle is the right community to lead this shift. That’s why we chose to help lead the Seattle Aquarium more deeply into its conservation mission. And that’s why we support the public-private partnership we’re forging to bring this to the region.
Historically, we humans have perceived ourselves as separate from the natural world. But now in the Anthropocene, the era of human consequence upon the natural world, every life form is in our care. The question is whether we will accept and act on that responsibility.
Many of us never experience the underwater world, even those of us who live at the ocean’s edge. Some of us know the facts of its troubled state. But information alone doesn’t move people to action. How can we help the public connect emotionally to our blue planet, and imagine themselves inextricably tied to it? How can we help turn this caring into collective action for the sake of our ocean, for our own sake?
The Seattle Aquarium’s new Ocean Pavilion will be that place to inspire a new generation of ocean conservationists through science, yes, but also through empathy, urgency and agency. The vision of the new, expanded aquarium has at its core an “ocean ethic,” or a declaration about our role in what’s at stake as the Earth warms and the world’s ocean sours. It will be rooted in our home waters but will encompass the whole Pacific Ocean. The expanded aquarium campus will serve as a new education platform that aspires to engage the entire community — including the expected 20 million additional waterfront visitors per year — in conversation about what we value.
Guided by its mission of “inspiring conservation of our marine environment,” the aquarium has reached more than 27 million visitors throughout its history. That includes more than 2 million schoolchildren — 43,000 in 2019 alone and 65% of those with scholarships. The aquarium also mobilizes thousands of passionate volunteers, engages a new generation of ocean leaders and, as a research institution, is focused on critical global issues like climate change, single-use plastics and saving endangered species.
This one-time investment of public funds will provide a unique, not-your-grandparents’ aquarium experience that brings together conservation, education and inspiration. It will serve as the crown jewel of our new waterfront, as a new public space that will reconnect us with our downtown core and with our maritime past. The building itself will “teach” as the new Ocean Pavilion reflects the aquarium’s central value of sustainability. With its pioneering state-of-the-art green technologies, it will be one of the most efficient aquariums in the country and 100% fossil-fuel free.
It’s time for us to lead. Seattle sits at the cutting edge of global health, innovation and social change. The expanded aquarium will provoke a deep examination of those things that we value, illuminate the connection between ocean health and human health, and will make clear for many Dr. Sylvia Earle’s refrain, “No blue, no green. No water, no life.”
It’s time to embrace this once-in-a-lifetime moment. The clock is ticking.