The Political Ocean
By DON WALSH
DON WALSH served 25 years in the Navy, during which time he was involved
in many aspects of Navy oceanographic activity. In 1975, he founded and
chaired the Institute for Marine and Coastal Studies at the University
of Southern California. He left that post in 1983 to devote full time
to International Maritime Inc., which he founded in 1975 and still heads.
With the executive and legislative branches of government being controlled
by different political parties there are considerable differences of
opinion on how to run the nation's business. The Y2K presidential election
seems likely to sharpen the differences and, quite possibly, cause additional
problems, particularly on budgetary matters.
What does this mean for the national ocean program? Essentially, very
little. In the early days of the Republican-majority Congress the "reformers" wanted
to use everything from a scalpel to a meat axe to reorganize government.
If implemented, their proposals could have had a major negative impact
on ocean science and technology. Today, almost all of the earlier theatrics
and rhetoric has been replaced by a massive inertia. This means that
the funding pattern of the past few years probably will be followed--i.e.,
some ocean programs will grow slightly, most will keep pace with the
rate of inflation, and a few will suffer some reductions.
Within the national ocean community the concern over static budgets
for research and development (R&D) remains a constant. Essentially
there has been no real growth in oceanic R&D for almost two decades.
Considering the massive ocean-related problems affecting the planet--global
warming, the increase in marine pollution, and threats to the very existence
of many marine species--it seems obvious that the United States must
make greater investments in this area. But that is not being done. There
is considerable rhetoric about "bold initiatives" but very
This situation is particularly disappointing in an era when the expanding
U.S. economy is providing annual federal budget surpluses. The global
problems are real, the solutions both expensive and elusive. As the only
true global superpower the United States could exercise both leadership
and commitment to studies of the world ocean, but is not doing it.
The National Ocean Conference
The Conference, reported in some detail in last year's essay, was held
in May 1998 in Monterey, Calif., to considerable praise for the general
overall concept and execution. It was the first time the president, vice
president, and the cabinet secretaries of departments with ocean-related
programs all had met at the same time to discuss a national ocean program.
And the Conference did lay out most of the ocean-related problems facing
the nation and the world. The discussion agenda was comprehensive, and
most of the 500 people who participated were "the right people."
But many of the actions that were promised by the senior government
officials attending seem to be old wine in new bottles. Little if any "new
capital" was provided to fund the 11-point program proposed by President
Clinton. On balance, therefore, the Conference was a positive thing,
but those in the ocean community regard the promises made with growing
"America's Ocean Future"
In September, the Secretaries of the Navy and Commerce submitted a joint
report to the president that basically summarizes the findings and recommendations
of the National Ocean Conference. But it is not a verbatim transcript;
the Conference outputs have since been modified by the federal agencies
that wrote the report. The report does answer Clinton's directive that
his cabinet provide him with "additional recommendations" for
a long-term federal ocean policy. Because the Navy and Commerce Departments
were the two principal organizers of the Conference, they took the lead
in drafting the report, the full title of which is "Turning to the
Sea: America's Ocean Future."
"Turning to the Sea" is not a follow-up report, therefore,
on the other initiatives proposed by the president at the Conference.
But it is a very useful compendium of the actions needed to create and
implement a comprehensive national ocean program. In drafting the report,
the writing group was guided by four "core principles":
Sustaining the Economic Benefits of the Oceans. "Future generations
deserve to inherit healthy, bountiful oceans."
Strengthening Global Security. "Freedom of the seas is integral
to the strength and security of our nation."
Protecting Marine Resources. "Strong protection of our ocean and
coastal environment, using a precautionary approach and sound management,
is no longer a choice, but a necessity."
Discovering the Oceans. "Exploring and understanding the oceans
is critical to our well-being and survival."
The report covers 25 ocean-related subject areas ranging from coral reefs
to merchant shipping and from fundamental ocean science to marine tourism,
and proposes over 140 recommendations for action. This is a good start,
but it ignores reality. If all report recommendations were funded the
added costs to the federal budget would be staggering. The best that
can be hoped for, therefore, is that the recommendations will be seen
as a "menu" with some priorities higher than others.
The fundamental problem with a long-range program published so close
to the end of an administration's tenure is that it may not carry over
to the next presidency. A hold-over "long-term federal ocean policy" may
be regarded as "no longer operative" by the newcomers of either
Any person interested in gaining a general knowledge of America's ocean-related
problems and opportunities should read the report, though. To request
a copy, write:
U.S. Department of Commerce
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Office of Public and Constituent Affairs
14th and Constitution Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20236
Phone: (202) 482-6090
Fax: (202) 482-3154
Clinton Declares U.S. "Contiguous Zone"
President Clinton issued a proclamation on 2 September declaring a U.S.
Contiguous Zone. His announcement coincided with the release of the "Turning
to the Sea" report discussed earlier.
The United Nations Law of the Sea Treaty (LOS) provides that a coastal
state can declare a 12-mile-wide contiguous zone extending out from the
outer limit of its territorial sea. The treaty also stipulates that a
coastal state can lay claim to a territorial sea 12 miles wide. In combination,
this means that a coastal state can carry out certain activities to a
total distance of 24 miles. The contiguous zone is not the sovereign
territory of the coastal state, but the LOS treaty provides that the
coastal state may exercise certain policing and enforcement powers in
the zone related to such problems and violations of law as marine pollution,
piracy, the transport of contraband, and similar matters.
The United States has followed most other provisions of the LOS Convention,
even though it is not a party to the Treaty, but until the president's
proclamation it had never laid formal clam to a contiguous zone. The
Clinton declaration will give U.S. marine law-enforcement and regulatory
authorities more latitude in keeping America's coastal waters safe. Clinton's
action was both uncontroversial and unremarkable, because almost all
of the world's other coastal nations already have declared contiguous
"Ocean Policy Act" Continues to Languish
In May, Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) introduced the "Oceans Act
of 1999"--the third time he had submitted such a bill. The Senate
passed the bill in 1997 but it died in the House. The 1999 version, co-sponsored
by senators from both parties, would create an ocean commission charged
with developing a national ocean policy and determining what actions
would be needed to implement that policy.
In June, Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) introduced a similar bill--also called
the "Oceans Act of 1999"--in the House. This also was Farr's
third try. His bill proposes both a Commission on Ocean Policy and a
National Ocean Council. Members of the Commission would be persons not
in government; the Council would be composed of cabinet members.
Both bills have been generally praised by the U.S. ocean community,
which believes the nation needs a roadmap to properly structure a national
ocean program. Unfortunately, there has been no significant action taken
on either bill, and at the end of the First Session it seemed likely
that nothing would happen until early in 2000--if then.
Marine Salvage and Tourism
The traditional international law of marine salvage goes back several
hundred years. Basically, the intent of salvage is to restore property
to its owners. Since the salvor takes all the risk he is entitled to
a significant reward if successful. This practical rule of thumb has
been relatively successful for hundreds of years.
There is no international tribunal to adjudicate salvage claims. Instead,
the high courts of maritime states can take jurisdiction over salvage
claims. For example: In 1998 RMS Titanic Inc. (RMST), the "salvor
in possession" of Titanic, asked a federal court in Norfolk, Va.,
to block a planned tourist visit to the wreck site. RMST claimed that
the company's salvage rights extended to taking visitors and commercial
photographers to the site. The court agreed and the tourist company,
Deep Ocean Expeditions (DOE), was banned from a 165-square-mile area
surrounding the wreck.
DOE appealed and in March 1999 the U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond,
Va., ruled, in a 30 decision, that the lower court judge had erred
in blocking visitor access to Titanic. The court noted that a salvor
works to recover the property of others. If a salvor believes he can
make more money by leaving some or all the property in place to sell
visitation and photographic access the term salvage no longer applies.
The court did reaffirm the traditional rights and duties of a salvor.
However, it made clear that controlling visits to the site is not among
the salvor's rights, as long as the visitors do not interfere with salvage
operations, do not take anything, and do not disturb the site. RMST later
appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case, but the court
DOE made its first expedition to Titanic in September 1999, with 14
participants making 14-hour dives 12,500 feet down to the wreck. Two
Russian Mir-class submersibles were used; each carried a pilot and two
passengers on each dive.
The cost per individual for the 10-day expedition, including one dive,
was $35,000. The company plans two more "Operation Titanic" expeditions
Recent advances in marine technology and operational techniques now
permit the discovery, classification, and recovery of almost any object
on the seafloor at any ocean depth--almost always at considerable cost.
Recent books and magazine articles have described ongoing deep-ocean
salvage operations on such well-known ships as the WWII Japanese submarine
I-52 (17,800 feet), the Central America (8,000 feet), and the Brother
Jonathan (250 feet). All of these operations have two things in common:
the search is focused on recovering cargoes of gold, and the salvors
have the experience, ships, and equipment needed to recover the gold.
This is treasure hunting of the highest order.
Unfortunately, the term "treasure hunting" has a bad name
in certain quarters--thanks to a few operators who break the law, promote
fraudulent schemes, or do not concurrently conduct archaeological studies
at important salvage sites. To marine archaeologists the term treasure
hunter comes close to cursing. In recent years a growing number of nations
have taken notice of the problem, and some are seeking to ban all salvage
activities at certain sites. The U.N. Law of the Sea Treaty gives coastal
nations control over the "resources" in their 200-mile-wide "Exclusive
Economic Zones"--which is where most of the best known and/or highly
valued shipwrecks are located, so what governments do affects not only
treasure hunters but also other, more legitimate, enterprises.
Within the last couple of years the Paris-based United Nations Education,
Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has promoted a draft treaty, "International
Convention for the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage," that
basically would ban all salvage activities for seafloor artifacts that
are over 50 years old. This would have the effect of shutting the door
on all deepsea treasure hunting--and on most if not all deepwater archaeology
as well. The protected seafloor sites would be designated as "cultural
heritage sites" and the only persons permitted access would be legitimate
scientists and "nonintrusive" visitors (i.e., tourists)--who
could "look but not touch." The recovery of the archaeological
artifact would be permitted under special conditions if (a very big if)
the scientists could afford to get to the site.
At first glance the proposed UNESCO treaty sounds like a practical way
to protect historical and cultural seafloor sites from the alleged "ravages
of treasure hunters." But is it really a good idea? One major problem
is that marine archaeology is not a well-funded discipline in any nation.
It does not attract major sources of funding, but the actual "doing" of
it requires lots of money. For example, an organization that wants to
use Woods Hole's manned submersible Alvin (13,500 feet) can charter it
for about $35,000 a day. France's Nautile (20,000 feet) costs $45,000
a day, and the rate for the two Russian Mir submersibles is somewhere
in between. And those costs are not only on-site, but for the entire
time the mother ship and submersible(s) are at sea. This is big science
and very expensive science. Few if any pure archaeologists will be able
to afford it.
The UNESCO treaty protecting the sites would have the unintentional
(and unintended) economic effect of banning these scientists. The answer,
perhaps, could be to work out a modus vivendi with the shipwreck diving
companies (the term they prefer to "treasure hunters"). The
companies have the money needed to put salvage expeditions into the field,
because their investors receive a share of whatever is recovered. It
would pose no major problems for marine archaeologists to carry on their
work alongside or in close proximity to a shipwreck recovery operation.
There are time limits, though. For example, if a wreck is found with
several thousand amphorae lying on the seafloor, the site would be carefully
mapped and studied before any recovery is started. But only a limited
number of amphorae are needed by the world's museums, governments, and
archaeologists. After their requirements have been fulfilled, it seems
reasonable to suggest that the commercial salvage company should be permitted
to recover the remainder of the objects for sale to collectors. The revenues
generated would pay back the investors and provide startup funding for
future expeditions. In this way marine archaeology would prosper, rather
than remaining dependent on government funds, and could assure that all
wreck-site operations are carried out in accord with "best practice" principles.
In short, both sides would gain, and taxpayers also would benefit.
Lost Israeli Submarine Found: A Triumph of Technology And Technique
A real maritime mystery--the location of the lost Israeli submarine
INS Dakar--was solved in 1999. She had disappeared in January 1968 with
69 persons on board while en route from England to her new homeport of
Haifa, Israel. It was known that she was in the Mediterranean, because
she had been sending periodic position reports to Israel's Navy headquarters.
The position reports stopped abruptly, however, and no final distress
message had been received at the time she was presumed lost, so the area
where she might have sunk (accidentally or through hostile action) was
inevitably very large.
Only a decade ago a search for such a long-lost ship would have been
a waste of money and an exercise in unwarranted optimism. But times have
changed. Israeli officials thought, correctly, that today's much more
advanced technology could produce success. Israel requested help from
the U.S. Navy and a search program was organized. The U.S. Navy provided
overall project coordination, navigation support, and environmental data;
U.S. contractors Nauticos Corporation and Williamson Corporation were
brought onboard to provide deep-search-and-recovery know-how, as well
as the specialized ships and equipment needed.
Nauticos had achieved fame when it was able to pinpoint the Japanese
submarine I-52 more than three miles deep in the Atlantic. I-52 was en
route to Germany when she was caught and sunk by U.S. carrier aircraft.
Position information on the submarine was sketchy, at best, but Nauticos
was able to carry out an exacting analysis of the submarine's track and
the oceanographic conditions in the area--helping the company determine
the most probable area for of the sinking. The Nauticos analysis proved
to be surprisingly accurate, and the I-52 was located. Nauticos would
use much the same approach to find the Dakar.
A towed vehicle provided by Williamson was flown about 600 feet above
the seafloor while its sonar mapped the topography of the search area
targeted. After three weeks of searching, a hard target resembling a
submarine was detected. A remotely operated vehicle (ROV), the Remora,
was then launched. Using television and still cameras the ROV confirmed
that the target was indeed the Dakar. The submarine's conning tower was
located about 600 feet from the main wreckage and there was a huge gash
across the stern area of the hull. In fact, the aftermost part of the
hull was twisted around 180° from its normal position. The initial
conclusion was that the Dakar was running near the surface, perhaps at
periscope depth in stormy weather, and had simply been run over by a
large surface ship. It may never even have felt the collision.
Sustainable Seas Project: A Productive First Year
Phase I of this forward-looking new program used two DeepWorker manned
submersibles, which are capable of diving to 2,000 feet, to carry out
exploratory and research dives in nine of the 12 designated U.S. marine
sanctuaries. They started in mid-1999, made 65 dives in sanctuaries,
and trained a total of 90 people [including the author] to be pilots.
In addition to undertaking several important marine research tasks,
the DeepWorkers used were VIP dives provided to people who might become
converts to this new way of carrying out underwater research. In the
early stages of a new program marketing is sometimes as important as
Phase II of the project is scheduled to begin in early 2000 with dives
at the Hawaii Marine Sanctuary site. This phase of the program is intended
to have a much more comprehensive science focus than Phase I did. Phase
III of Sustainable Seas will be primarily concerned with processing and
analyzing the data gathered and conclusions developed during Phases I
The Cutting Edge Of Submarine Technology
The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) was founded in
1987 by the late David Packard, former deputy secretary of defense, who
invested over $200 million in the Institute through his David and Lucille
Packard Foundation. Thanks to his generosity, an entirely new oceanographic
institution was created in 1995 at Moss Landing, Calif. MBARI's major
assets include the research vessels Point Lobos (110 feet) and Western
Flyer (117 feet) and the large remotely operated vehicles Ventana and
Tiburon; the Institute also is working on adding an autonomous untethered
vehicle (AUV), the Dorado, to its inventory. Tiburon and Dorado, both
of which were designed and built at MBARI, will operate at depths as
great as 13,000 feet. Ventana's maximum depth is about 3,300 feet. Tiburon
made 65 dives last year; Ventana made 170. The lower number for Tiburon
was due to the fact that its mother ship, Western Flyer, was in the shipyard
for extensive modifications.
The Institute also is designing, for installation on the floor of Monterey
Bay, the MBARI Ocean Observation System (MOOS), that will consist primarily
of a submerged docking station for AUVs and a series of instrument packages
linked together by fiber-optic cables. MBARI's ROVs will be able to install,
move, and retrieve instrument packages positioned in the vicinity of
the seafloor array. Essentially, MOOS will provide a very flexible seafloor-mounted
research system that can record continuous measurements over long periods
of time. Data from the system's sensor packages will be sent via fiber-optic
cables to a buoy floating at the surface, and from there transmitted
ashore by radio link. Larger, deeper-positioned, and more advanced versions
of the original MOOS already being planned will have the ability to transmit
data ashore via satellite links.
ABE the Robot is a Huge Success
ABE stands for "Autonomous Benthic Explorer," an autonomous
untethered vehicle designed and built by the Woods Hole Oceanographic
Institution that went on its first operational mission in 1995. This
so-called "innerspace satellite" is now a rugged and reliable
oceanographic research tool.
In February 1999 ABE joined Woods Hole's research ship Atlantis in the
Pacific Ocean on a mission at the East Pacific Rise. Also on board was
the manned submersible Alvin. The East Pacific Rise is a "spreading
center" where new seafloor crust is constantly being created by
lava flows from the earth's interior. The Rise terrain is extremely rugged
and dotted with fields of hot water (hydrothermal) vents where temperatures
reach nearly 600 degrees Fahrenheit. ABE and Alvin shared diving duties
during the 1999 expedition. Alvin, with pilot and scientists on board,
made dives during the day. At night, while Alvin was on board the Atlantis
and being serviced for the next day's operations, ABE would submerge
for seafloor missions lasting as long as 11 hours. The water depth in
the operating area was about 8,000 feet; the outside pressure is close
to four tons per square inch at that depth. But ABE is designed to operate
at a maximum depth of 16,000 feet, so no depth problems were experienced
on the 1999 expedition.
ABE successfully completed 19 dive missions during the cruise. The little
AUV did precision sonar mapping of the seafloor topography, took thousands
of video and still camera images, and made a variety of other oceanographic
measurements during each of its dives. ABE was assisted in the most important
measurements--precise navigation, track spacing, and height above the
seafloor--by up to four acoustic navigational beacons planted on the
seafloor by Atlantis. Alvin used the same beacons for its submerged navigation.
In fact, ABE proved to be so successful and reliable that the Atlantis
scientists could safely ignore it after it was submerged. While the AUV
was working away on the seafloor, Atlantis was free to move off-site
for other research missions.
The use of AUVs as standard oceanographic tools is now accepted internationally.
Ten years ago AUVs were still in the proof-of-concept stage, and the
only operational users were military organizations. Now they are a standard
submersible asset. In the future, moreover, they will become even "smarter" and
it will be possible for several AUVs to work together synergistically
on the same mission. Woods Hole's ABE has helped pioneer this new way
of carrying out oceanographic research. Together with the traditional
research ship on the surface and the manned submersible, the autonomous
untethered vehicle provides oceanographers with a flexible and highly
productive inventory of research tools for future expeditions.
Public and Private Expeditions: The Pros and Cons of Funding
In the 19th century and the first half of the 20th it was more the rule
than the exception for wealthy patrons to sponsor marine research. Indeed,
many of these patrons actually did the scientific work themselves, often
using their private yachts as research ships. Among the more prominent
examples of such patrons are Prince Albert I of Monaco, King Don Carlos
I of Portugal, and Emperor Hirohito of Japan as well as Americans Alexander
Agassiz and Capt. Alan Hancock. It also should be remembered that the
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) was founded as a private
institution and initially funded by a private foundation. However, starting
in the late 1930s, governments increasingly took over the funding, and
usually the control, of oceanographic research and expeditions. The still
new and increasingly complex interdisciplinary science known as oceanography
had become "big science" and was generally too costly for any
individual to fund.
In the past two decades, however, some private sponsorship has begun
to return. In Florida, for example, the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution
(HBOI) was founded by Edwin Link and Seward Johnson, using their own
funds. More recently, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute was
established and is being supported by private funding at a level of about
$26 million a year.
A more unusual example of private support of marine research occurred
in October 1999 in a series of manned-submersible dives at the Rainbow
Vents mid-Atlantic spreading center near the Azores; the two Russian
Mir submersibles made 19 dives during the expedition. The Russian research
vessel Academician Keldysh, which served as mother ship for the expedition,
carried 12 Russian oceanographers as well as 14 foreign tourists. The
tourists paid $18,000 each to make a nine-hour dive (to 8,000 feet) to
see the "black smokers" and the exotic marine life in the
hydrothermal vent field. [The author served as an expedition staff member
and made one of the dives.]
Three dives made by the Russian scientists were strictly for research
purposes; all of the tourist dives were dual-purpose, however, with the
submersible pilots collecting geological and biological specimens for
the scientists. At the end of the 12-day expedition tourists and scientists
agreed that the hybrid expedition was productive as well as cost-effective.
It may not have been as productive as it was, though, if the ship had
been used exclusively for scientific purposes. But the cruise never would
have gotten underway if it had depended upon Russian government funding.
(One of the Russian scientists said that the 1999 mission was the first
deepwater expedition his laboratory had made in nearly 10 years.)
Two more Azores expeditions are already scheduled for next year, and
might well serve as models for similar expeditions to other marine sites
in the world ocean.