Exhibition Overview

Ocean Planet

A new traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution, opened in Washington, D.C. on April 22, 1995 and will be touring to other museums nationally 1996-1999

A World Worth Our Attention

After centuries of seafaring, we're only now beginning to plumb the workings of our watery planet. The deeper we go, the clearer it becomes that no matter who we are or where we live, we all have a hand--and a stake--in what happens in the seas.

The difficulties of diving into complete darkness, frigid water, and extremely high pressures hobbled exploration in the past. But new sophisticated submersibles and precise remote sensing have revolutionized oceanography. Researchers are discovering exciting fundamental facts about the oceans and the teeming life the seas support.

With this knowledge has come recognition that even landlubbers take much from the sea. Often unwittingly, we are imperiling the oceans. More than three-quarters of coastal ocean pollution originates on land. Unhealthy oceans hold hidden dangers for everyone.

This exhibition reminds us that in ways we may never have even considered, we're all seafarers, and it offers us ways to become more seaworthy--to think about what everyone can do to conserve the Ocean Planet.

A Totally Immersing Experience

Over 99 percent of living space on earth is ocean, all habitable by plants and animals. Marine life is astounding in its diversity. In 1986, biologists identified the thirty-third major group, or phylum, of animals--loriciferans, microscopic creatures that live between sand grains. The seascape is equally intriguing: the longest sea-floor mountain range is more than four times as long as the Andes, Rockies, and Himalayas combined. The exhibition opens by immersing visitors in the remote reaches of the ocean planet:

Seafarers' Stories

Listening to seafarers reveals common themes: maritime communities feel a strong sense of unity; they integrate their traditions with current technology and information; and their work is extremely risky, both financially and physically. Decisions about ocean conservation will need to address their social and economic concerns.

We're all sea people, in the sense that our lives or livelihoods take us to the beach or sea. The exhibition introduces visitors to other sea people:

Surprises in Store

Unless you eat seafood everyday, you might not necessarily think that you depend on sea "services" daily. Ocean plants, animals, minerals, and seawater itself provide a staggering list of essential products. To help recognize them, the exhibition invites visitors to browse in the sea store:

What Do We Have to Lose?

Beyond their obvious beauty, marine habitats such as coral reefs, mangrove forests, kelp forests, estuaries, the polar ecosystems, and the deep sea furnish far-reaching support for human endeavors. The exhibition sounds a wake-up call about world-wide threats with panoramic color photomurals of marine habitats. Signals Ahead

While oil spills and beach trash regularly make the evening news, other warning signs aren't as easy to name. It's clear that overfishing and dumping raw sewage cause problems; it's not as immediately apparent that automobile exhaust and pesticide-laden water from fields far away are equally troublesome. To help visitors navigate the shoals, life-sized models of buoys mark the course through oceans in peril:

For each hazard, a buoy explains the threat, illustrates its effects, and outlines current responses, using graphics, objects, and hands-on activities.

Messages in the Bottle

The dangers to the ocean planet are dire, but it's not too late! Taking small measures in our daily routines can vastly improve the oceans' outlook. The exhibition closes with opportunities for reflections:

For more information contact:

Ocean Planet
Environmental Awareness Program
Smithsonian Institution
IC3123, MRC 705
Washington, DC 20560

Ocean Planet Home Page

gene carl feldman (gene@seawifs.gsfc.nasa.gov) (301) 286-9428
Judith Gradwohl, Smithsonian Institution (Curator/Ocean Planet)