Gulf of Guinea

Let’s travel to the eastern side of the Atlantic Ocean, right off the coast of Africa. Between Cape López, near the Equator, and Cape Palmas lies a body of water known as the Gulf of Guinea.

The Volta River and the third largest river in Africa, the Niger River, are the major rivers that feed into the Gulf of Guinea. Because of the runoff from these two rivers, and the high amounts of rain along West Africa, the gulf’s water is lower in salinity than other parts of the ocean. This warm water is separated from deeper, colder, saltier water by a shallow thermocline.

A thermocline is a thin, distinct layer in a body of water that marks when the temperature of the water rapidly changes with depth. In the ocean, it separates the upper mixed layer near the surface and the deep, calm water below. Thermoclines exist in the atmosphere as well.

Off the coast of Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire, a seasonal coastal upwelling forms in the gulf. An upwelling occurs when cold, nutrient-rich water from the deep is brought up to the surface water. This nutrient-rich water creates a boom of activity that attracts organisms from every level of the food chain, including fish, birds, and mammals. When the nutrients are depleted, the organisms move on.

The Gulf of Guinea has been nominated as a Hope Spot. The beaches around the gulf contain prime nesting sites for leatherback sea turtles, which are a threatened species. Sea turtles grow for many years before they reach sexual maturity, and the process of reproduction can be fatal to females. Newly hatched sea turtles have a high mortality rate because of predation before they reach the ocean and from human activity. It’s extremely important to protect these nesting sites.

Within the Gulf of Guinea lies the island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe, which contains vital habitat for humpback whales, African manatees, dolphins, and soft corals. Humpback whales are considered endangered by the IUCN Red List their populations are threatened by whalers and by getting struck by cruise liners and cargo ships. African manatees are classified as vulnerable.

The Niger River is being explored for oil and gas mining, which could have a serious impact on the Gulf of Guinea. Luckily, non-government organizations (NGOs) have been working hard with both government and international partners to develop green practices to extract those natural resources. The NGOs have also been developing full-scale wildlife law enforcement programs to protect the gulf and its wildlife.

This is definitely a cool Hope Spot and I wish them the best of luck. If you travel to any of the beaches containing turtle nesting sites, see if there are any volunteer programs you can join. I know in the US there are volunteer programs that help get the baby sea turtles into the water. May not be the ideal vacation plan, but it’ll be something memorable to share with your friends and family!



Hope Spots

Twelve percent of the world’s land is under some form of governmental protection, such as reserves and national parks. The ocean makes up seventy percent of the earth’s surface. Of that seventy percent, less than five percent of the ocean is protected in any way.

That’s where Mission Blue comes in.

Mission Blue is an organization created by the oceanographer Sylvia Earle. Their mission is to create Hope Spots around the world, and their goal is to more than double the percentage of protected waters.

Hope Spots are areas of the ocean that are important to its health. These areas are special because they may harbor unique or delicate ecosystems and habitats, such as coral reefs or gulfs. Hope Spots can also be sanctuaries for endangered species or species that are only found in that area. They can also provide services to the ocean that are vital to marine life, such mating grounds and nurseries.

Hope Spots can also be historical to the community, or they may hold spiritual or cultural importance. They can be areas that could potentially help curb the effects of climate change. All in all, they are important areas not only to the ocean and its inhabitants, but to humans as well.

The best part about Hope Spots is that YOU can nominate them. On the Mission Blue website, you can nominate a local area as a Hope Spot.

Let’s say, for example, that I nominate the Chesapeake Bay as a Hope Spot. Using various forms of media, Mission Blue would increase the visibility of the bay and its importance. Mission Blue would help connect me with potential partners for the project and help set up expeditions to prove the bay’s importance to the community. Mission Blue would also help advocate for legal protection of the Chesapeake Bay, which in this case would be advocating to at least Maryland and Virginia state governments.

By allowing people to nominate their own Hope Spots, they essentially help to give people hope and to empower communities. People are more likely to fight to protect something if you give them the power to do so.

But why should we care?

“Health for the oceans means health for us.” –Sylvia Earle

Humans owe so much to the ocean, whether we live on the coast or high up in the mountains, hundreds of miles away. Many of us consume fish, mollusks, seaweed, and crustaceans that are harvested from the ocean. Not to mention what goes into some of the food products for our pets and livestock.

Not only does the ocean provide us with food, but it plays a part in our climates and the weather. The ocean currents of the world affect the climate as they redistribute heat from the equator to the poles.

Then there’s the air we breathe. The algae and phytoplankton in the ocean produce more than half of the world’s oxygen, more even than the Amazon Rainforest!

No matter where you live, the ocean impacts your life on a daily basis. Therefore, we need to care for the ocean like we care for ourselves and you can do that any way you feel comfortable doing.

If you can donate to special organizations like Mission Blue or World Wildlife Fund—fantastic! If you can volunteer at aquariums and other aquatic groups or participate in citizen science such as using the NeMO-net video game to help researchers identify and protect coral, that’s wonderful. If you can find ways to decrease your carbon footprint and/or plastic use, that would be amazing. If all you can do is talk about these things to your friends and family and take these topics to social media, that’s beautiful too!

It’s time to bring back hope one step at a time!

Sources and links: ⇐more info on Hope Spots ⇐things you can do to help the ocean. Remember, these are suggestions!

Sylvia Earle

“Everyone should be literate about the ocean. No child should be left dry!”
–Dr. Sylvia Earle

Today, I want to introduce you to “Her Deepness,” Dr. Sylvia Earle.

In 1935, Sylvia Earle was born in New Jersey, United States. At the age of 13, she and her family moved to Clearwater, Florida on the Gulf of Mexico. Being so close to the ocean, Sylvia heard her life’s calling and soon began learning all she could about the ocean and its creatures.

Sylvia worked her way through college, laboring in college labs to help pay for her schooling. At the University of Florida, she studied oceanography and biology. She went on to study at Duke University, earning her master’s degree and eventually her PhD in phycology (the study of algae) and she has made it one of her life’s projects to catalogue all plant-life in the Gulf of Mexico.

But she didn’t stop there.

She has worked aboard more than 50 oceanic expeditions and clocked more than 7,000 hours underwater—that’s more than 291 days. In 1970, she led an all-female expedition called Tektite II, Mission 6. Sylvia and four women dived 50 feet below the surface of the ocean and lived underwater in a small structure for two weeks. When they resurfaced, Sylvia Earle became a celebrity outside of the science community, and everyone wanted her as a speaker. Since then, she has used her fame and her voice to be a leading advocate for the ocean.

In 1979, Sylvia Earle set a new record off the island of Oahu for deep sea diving. In a submersible, she traveled down to a depth of 1,250 feet. While using a special pressurized suit, she walked along the ocean floor untethered for two and a half hours. As she explored these previously unknown depths, her only connection to the vessel was a communication line; nothing connected her to the world above. Her record still stands today.

Sylvia Earle started two engineering companies, Deep Sea Engineering and Deep Sea Technologies, which design undersea vehicles to help scientists explore the deep reaches of the ocean. She served as the first female Chief Scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). She is also the founder of Mission Blue, an organization that is dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans.

Mission Blue’s mission is to help establish “Hope Spots” around the world. Hope Spots are areas that are deemed vital to the health of the ocean by providing essential services, areas like coral reefs and seagrass beds. Mission Blue sends out researchers to explore new areas and to gather data that proves the locations’ importance to the ocean, and thereby to us. With the data, Mission Blue tries to convince governments to establish these Hope Spots, or marine protected areas.

Dr. Sylvia Earle is truly an inspiration, a woman I strive to become. I highly recommend looking into her life’s story, at least her career. She has published some books over the years that I would love to read, including her 1979 deep sea adventure! She’s also one of the speakers in the videos on NeMO-Net, the coral-identifying game created by NASA.
Sources: ⇐very in-depth article into her life and research ⇐if you want to see her TED speech ⇐if you want to check out Mission Blue and Hope Spots