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viewpoint

The mysteries of the sea

| Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Pressing my hands against the Plexiglass, bathed in the dark blue hue of the water’s reflection, I watched as a massive shark moved ominously inches from my face, disturbing the spongy corals beneath him.

I remember visiting the Shedd Aquarium for the first time years ago, racing through the exhibits with my older brother to locate the playful sea otters, to pet the silky fins of stingrays and to ogle at the various fish, squid and turtles floating steadily in their tanks. The abundance of colors, shapes and textures would flood my senses as I felt transported to a new world so different, yet so connected to my own.

As I discovered the tremendous diversity in marine life, I began to feel that the more I learned, the more mysterious the sea became. The exhibits in most aquariums attempt to imitate different aquatic habitats, but aquariums are obviously synthetic, unnatural environments that can never reflect the reality of marine life. Many of the organisms have been bred in captivity, never experiencing the unique communities their ancestors enjoyed. Some of the best aquariums in the world provide an extraordinary, but inevitably illusory view of the thriving, deep-sea world existing far out of our reach.

According the National Ocean Service, 80 percent of our ocean is unmapped, unobserved and unexplored. Although scientists and explorers strive to reduce that percent in search of undiscovered creatures and plants, in many ways, the mystery of the ocean doesn’t disappoint me. On a planet that’s brimming with seven billion people, it may seem there are few places the human hand has failed to touch. I enjoy thinking about the dark, depths of the ocean and the communities that have likely flourished for centuries in a haven of their own because I like to believe every creature deserves a piece of the planet.

My fascination with marine life sometimes betrays my respect for the mysteries of the sea, but I’ve come to realize that’s only natural. As humans, we are compelled by our curiosity to see and understand everything on our planet and beyond. While that intense desire to know pervades much of my existence, I’m beginning to appreciate the unknown more and more. Often the beauty of nature lies in our mere perception of the environment — the warm orange indicating vast canyons or the lush green vegetation dominating forests — overwhelming our senses with color and life. But I see a particular beauty in nature’s inherent ability to transcend our human lives simply because of its magnitude and its mystery, and to me, contemplating the sea has particularly reinforced that notion. The strength and power of the ocean persists, no matter how forcefully we push to conquest over it.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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