Thursday, October 13, 2011
Sometimes it starts to feel like it’s all been done before – especially when you meet someone like Clive Cussler, who served in the Korean War, founded the National Underwater and Marine Agency and has written 18 New York Times bestsellers among his 46 wildly popular novels.
But for the adventure writer behind Inca Gold and Raise the Titanic, it’s about what we haven’t done – namely, explore the depths of the ocean.
“Less than 2 percent of the deep sea ocean floor has been explored,” says Cussler, who founded the nonprofit foundation NUMA to preserve maritime heritage through the discovery, archaeological survey and conservation of shipwreck artifacts.
Cussler and company have uncovered dozens of vessels dating from the American Revolutionary War to World War II, including Confederate blockade runners from the Civil War and the CSS Hunley, the first submarine to sink a ship in battle and what some insiders have called “the American maritime historical discovery of the century.”
His interest in maritime history and the ocean have sent him all over the planet. It has also brought him to speak at the Annual Dinner for Camp SEA Lab at the Lodge at Pebble Beach to raise funds so SEA Lab can help discover and foster marine scientists and advocates.
As both Clive’s philosophy and SEA Lab’s curriculum reiterate, the ocean is more than fundamental to our climate and diet. It promises new species and medicines and less-easy-to-categorize discoveries, but the limitations on expanding deep sea exploration are not insubstantial.
“Visibility and pressure at these depths limit exploration,” Cussler says.
This, in conjunction with cost considerations, have choked exploration, one of the reasons Cussler feels it’s critical to expose the next generation to the wonders of the sea.
Camp SEA Lab students whale watch, surf, kayak, chart tides, study sand crabs, scour intertidal habitats, and examine plankton under microscopes. Writing, appropriately enough, is an integral part of Camp SEA Lab: The youngsters enrolled in the program record extensive observations, log lessons and even compose poetry and other prose inspired by their seaside adventures and experiments.
For his part, Cussler began his love affair with the written word reading Civil War histories as a boy. After serving in the Korean War and writing at an advertising agency, he turned to writing novels in the evenings at home after the kids were asleep and his wife hadn’t yet come home from her late shift at the police department.
The similarities between Cussler and Camp SEA Lab don’t end with water and words. Participants get a dose of technology and robotics education when they build and operate undersea robotic devices; Cussler has utilized undersea robotic devices in his shipwreck expeditions, operating at depths impossible to dive. Most powerfully, though, both Cussler and the kids are awestruck by the sea.
Sowing that appreciation during the formative stages of a child’s education is crucial, according to Amity Wood, program director at Camp SEA Lab, and wildly more possible next to a tidepool than buried in a textbook. She believes the difference between a casual admirer of the sea and someone with a sense of stewardship is that oceanside opportunity, which wasn’t available before a group of local teachers, scientists and resource managers met in 1997 to better pair the area’s marine science resources with teachers desperate for hands-on activities. Today Sea Lab operates through CSU-Monterey Bay in the Division of Science and Environmental Policy, helped by a financial boost from the Packard Foundation, California Coastal Commission and Friends of Camp SEA Lab.
Cussler’s path to the ocean came from his writing career. He relied upon it as the context for so many of his adventures to stand out in his genre.
“I read everyone from Edgar Allen Poe to Sherlock Holmes and every other adventure mystery writer out there, studying the character and plot development,” he says, “and knew I needed a different backdrop for my stories.”
And he feels the same way about our students’ education.
CAMP SEA LAB ANNUAL DINNER featuring Clive Cussler commences with a private reception at 5:30pm on Saturday, Oct. 15. Dinner and Auction at The Lodge at Pebble Beach begin at 7pm; $350 dinner and reception; $250 dinner. 582-3681, www.campsealab.org.