Heather Goring-Harford: What do the oceans mean to me?

I was born and raised in London. I didn’t live near the coast and I certainly never knew anybody – sailor, scientist or otherwise – who had much to do with the oceans. So I have often reflected that it is strange that I’ve been so strongly drawn to the seas from a young age. Nowadays I live and breathe them, seven days a week! Why am I so intrigued by the oceans and what do they mean to me?

Getting up close and personal with the sea...
Getting up close and personal with the sea… Image credit: Anthony Goring-Harford

One answer is complexity. The oceans contain a myriad of living organisms, and witnessing so many unique creatures interacting with each other provides endless fascination. As a chemist, I will never cease to marvel at the multitude of different atomic combinations which allows this incredible system to exist and live. The most complex molecules that man can create pale in comparison to what nature can do!

Aspirin (left) is a typical example of a man made chemical. Catalase (right) is a typical example of a molecule made by nature! Each blue, orange and pink ribbon represents a long string of smaller molecules called amino acids.
Aspirin (left) is a typical example of a man made chemical. Catalase (right) is a typical example of a molecule made by nature! Each blue, orange and pink ribbon represents a long string of smaller molecules called amino acids. Image credits: aspirin – Ben Mills, catalase – http://www.ebi.ac.uk/

I am also interested in the unique challenges and opportunities that the oceans represent. Looking at the bigger picture, the oceans provide millions of people with food, contain vast reserves of metals and minerals, and are even inspiring new medicines. To me, this means a responsibility for us all – figuring out how to make use of the oceans whilst still preserving and protecting them is a huge challenge for humanity. From a personal perspective, I believe the oceans are worth caring for and I want to contribute to that in whatever small way I can. Luckily this is a very enjoyable challenge, and I have been able to learn many interesting skills in pursuit of this goal both at work and in my spare time.

This month I gained a qualification in underwater search and recovery. My buddy and I brought up part of an old missile launcher from the bottom of a lake as part of this. I hope that learning to do more complex tasks underwater will allow me to help protect the seas more effectively first hand! Image credit: Aaron Froom, Andark Lake
This month I gained a qualification in underwater search and recovery. My buddy and I brought up part of an old missile launcher from the bottom of a lake as part of this. I hope that learning to do more complex tasks underwater will allow me to help protect the seas more effectively first hand! Image credit: Aaron Froom, Andark Lake

 

The frame I am leaning on here is part of a multicorer, which is used to collect many ocean sediment cores simultaneously as the name suggests. Just one of the many pieces of I have learned to use as part of my ocean adventures.
The frame I am leaning on here is part of a multicorer, which is used to collect many ocean sediment cores simultaneously as the name suggests. Just one of the many pieces of I have learned to use as part of my ocean adventures. Image credit: Jessica Klar

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