Captain Scott Cassell is on a mission to save the planet through underwater exploration.
Cassell drew schools of locals to Newport's ExplorOcean on Tuesday and detailed the Undersea Voyager Project, a nonprofit mission to explore the earth’s oceans -- a total of 27,000 miles underwater -- using manned submersibles.
Human exploration of the earth, Cassell said, inspires and informs the entire planet in a way that nothing else can.
“To my knowledge, no one else is doing anything like this,” Cassell, 51, told Patch. “But I don’t want to be the only one.”
The project aims to discover new species, communicate findings, and protect the earth's precious and unknown resources. Upon its completion, the Undersea Voyager Project will become the longest scientific path in the world, Cassell said.
Cassell, who says he has watched the health of oceans deteriorate because of human influence and unawareness, fears that interest in exploring oceans and environments is dwindling during a time when new knowledge is crucial to preserving the planet.
“Our level of intelligence is steadily dropping, our level of discipline is steadily dropping, and our level of courage is steadily dropping,” Cassell said. “And that scares me.”
Cassell, along with a fleet of submersibles and a dedicated team of UVP volunteers, is proving that notion wrong.
During a trip to Catalina Island, Cassell's UVP exploration team became the first people to witness an underwater landslide. They also relocated an underwater CIA lockout chamber from the Cold War Era. Dives at Lake Tahoe and Fallen Leaf Lake helped the team of scientists discover 2,000-3,000 year-old geological and climate patterns. The team also discovered a new species of protist, a primeval form of life that cannot definitively be classified as plant, animal, or fungi.
But all of Cassell's excursions didn't come without danger.
A thirty-mile dive nearly killed him, a poacher once stabbed him with a boat hook, and Humboldt squid—over 1,000 of them, to date—have attacked him during research. But nothing has stopped him.
Cassell's upcoming projects with the UVP team include a manned, free-floating underwater habitat to be built off the coast of California and an educational journey to the waters of Southeast Asia. Cassell says its important for people to know exploration isn't only for the modern-day Jacques Cousteau’s and ex-military personnel.
“This is something everyone can get involved in," he said. "Anyone that’s interested is welcome to come out and dive with us, and it’s completely free.”
So far, Cassell has performed dives with participants ranging from politicians to high school students to scientists to engineers. In fact, the team member that discovered the new species of protist at Lake Tahoe, and went on to co-author the scientific paper, was a 15-year old girl. Take that, Cousteau.
For more information about Cassell and the Undersea Voyager Project, visit explorocean.org.