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Sea Change

Expand Your Blue Mind

It's summertime. Most of us hope to spend time on the beach, or by a river, or a pool, and we thought we'd try to understand why? Why do we want to be by water, and why does it make us feel so good? And it’s not just us. Understanding how the power of water makes us healthier and happier is actually a growing field of research.

Today, we're diving into our human connection to oceans and how we can harness that love of water to help us protect the largest gulf in the world -- our own Gulf of Mexico.

We talk with Wallace J. Nichols, author of the book “Blue Mind,” about how being around water changed us, and then we talk with deep sea explorer Mandy Joye about the wonders hidden in the Gulf of Mexico and what we can do to save them.

For more information about Blue Mind, check out Wallace J Nichols’ website: https://www.wallacejnichols.org/122/bluemind.html

Below you will find the full interview with Mandy Joye.

Full interview with Mandy Joye.

Hosted by Carlyle Calhoun and Halle Parker. Our managing producer is Carlyle Calhoun. Our sound designer is Maddie Zampanti. Sea Change is a production of WWNO and WRKF. We are part of the NPR Podcast Network and distributed by PRX.

*Note: Transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors (including name spellings). Please be aware that the official record for our episodes is the audio version.

Ambient: Ocean waves

Carlyle: Did you notice anything change when you heard that sound? Even just hearing the sound of the waves, the sound of the ocean, has the power to create a sense of calm.

Halle: Can we play that again?

Ambient: ocean waves

Halle: Ah, so relaxing.

Carlyle: It’s summertime. Most of us are hoping to spend time on the beach or by a river or by a pool and we thought we'd try to understand why. Why do we want to be by water and why does it make us feel so good?

Halle: And it's not just us, understanding how the power of water makes us healthier and happier is actually a growing field of research.

Carlyle: We’re finding that being around water actually lowers stress and anxiety. It boosts our creativity. Even just staring at the ocean actually changes our brainwave's frequency. Being around water changes us.

Carlyle: I’m Carlyle Calhoun.

Halle: I’m Hallie Parker. And this is Sea Change.

Carlyle: Today, we're diving into our human connection to oceans and how we can harness that love of water to help us protect the largest gulf in the world, our own Gulf of Mexico.

Halle: I’m so pumped for this. Carlyle spoke with two incredibly inspiring people for today's episode. We'll hear from a marine biologist about why water soothes our brain like nothing else. A

Carlyle: And then we'll hear from a deep ocean explorer about the wonders hidden in the Gulf of Mexico. and what we can do to save them.

Wallace J Nichols: The ocean gives us peace, a sense of freedom, helps us calm ourselves in an anxious world, connects us to the people we love, boosts romance. And cover 71% of the planet

Carlyle: Wallace j Nichols is a marine biologist who wrote the book all about the science behind the transformative power of water. He coined the term Blue Mind.

Halle: Ooh, a Blue Mind. What's that?

Carlyle: Well, blue Mind is this theory backed up by a whole lot of science about how we respond to water, how it puts us in this meditative state. I think Dr. Nichols, who goes by Jay, explains it best.

Wallace J Nichols: When we get near, in, on, or underwater, it moves us into this blue mind state, which turns out is a place that's very good for creativity and connection and collaboration.Being calm, being curious, and even being courageous, it's a place of contentment. We need that.

Halle: Mmm. I feel calmer just hearing him talk about it. So you spoke with him about how we can use this so called blue mindset to help us heal ourselves?

Carlyle: Yep, that's right. And also about how it can help heal the planet.

Halle: Let’s get into it.

Carlyle: Today, we're joined by Wallace J. Nichols. He's a marine biologist and author of the book Blue Mind, the surprising science that shows how being near, in, on, or underwater can make you happier, healthier, more connected, and better at what you do. So J, you've spent your life around water. Was this love of water something you've always had?

J: I, you know, I can't remember a time that I didn't enjoy being in water, and I, as a kid, like a lot of kids... You couldn't get me out of the pool or out of the ocean or out of the lake. And, um, that love of water kind of grew into a career as a marine biologist.

Carlyle: How do you describe that feeling you knew you loved as a kid?

J: The best way to understand blue mind, that feeling, is to start with red mind, which is our on land, anxious, maybe stressed, distracted, busy lives. And, and as a kid, I'm going to say my life wasn't that busy, but I stuttered and I was an introvert. And so any, anybody asking me a question was a little bit stressful because I knew my answer would be difficult for them to understand, which would create a more stress and more stuttering and this kind of not great negative feedback loop. And, um, when I was underwater, people didn't ask questions, there were no, no words spoken. There were just thoughts and you could be underwater with somebody and do sign language or do backflips and swim around and that just felt better, you know, the, it took away a piece of my, my anxiety. And so I pursued it and tried to align my life with that feeling.

And now I know everybody's walking around dealing with their version of red mind and trying to avoid what I refer to as gray mind, which is burnout, which is caused by too much red mind. All of us are, I mean, by all of us, I mean, eight, 8 billion of us have some of that or a lot of that. So my goal is to take this idea of blue mind and, you know, and share it.

Carlyle: So recognizing this feeling and that love of water has led you into your career, but because you're a scientist, it also led you on a quest to understand the science behind it. And then you decided to write a book about it called Blue Mind, which is a term you coined. Why'd you write this book?

J: So I've studied for many, many years to be as useful in the conservation world as possible. I got a degree in economics and policy and. Uh, doctorate in ecology and evolutionary biology and set out to be a problem solver to try to fix some of the things that are broken on our water ocean planet and work with sea turtles and fisheries and plastic pollution, climate change. And I realized that the story we're telling about why we need to protect biodiversity and wild places was just not working.

And part of the reason was. It was based in fear and guilt and a lot of factoids, which is effective, but in the short run just kind of moves people a little bit, but we left out the emotional wellness benefits such as peace, freedom, calmness, creativity, romance. We just completely left it out of our story, um, of our textbooks, of our documentaries, of our reports.

But of our conferences because it was considered soft. And I thought, well, wouldn't it be good if we added it in? So I went looking for a book about our brain on water and I couldn't find one and tried to get some smart people I knew to write it so that I could read it. Finally pitched it to a guy named Dr. Oliver Sacks. And when I pitched the idea to him, he said, that's a fine idea. You do it in his British accent. And my, my thought internally was, oh, and it was like, not a suggestion. It was a command. And then I ended up getting, getting a lot deeper into it than, than I had initially set out to.

Carlyle: I'm so glad you did write the book. You write about, you know, all of these emotional, psychological, social, spiritual, all of these benefits we get from being around, you know, and you make the point it's, it's healthy rivers and lakes and oceans, especially, um, these benefits. Can you talk about specifically what some of those are?

J: What happens when we begin to move towards water, even before we get there, we start to think about it.So you start to imagine going to the water and, and you start to shift into Blue Mind. Of course, when we see the water, uh, it, it simplifies our lives. Visually. Your, your brain gets a little break from all the visual input. Uh, water is, is interesting, but not overpowering cognitively. When we hear the water, the sound of the water, it precludes a lot of, uh, noise that we need to process, like voices, language.

Once you slip into the water, you get the somatic benefits, you're, you're not negotiating gravity. So I'm sitting here right now, uh, there's a lot of things I can see if I look around, uh, I'm listening to your voice, I'm kind of... Tracking my voice and processing all that, and my body is coordinating 200 muscles so that I don't fall over.

That's all going on right now, and my brain is processing that. But when we get near, in, on, or underwater, we get some of that bandwidth back. And we don't just go to sleep on it. It moves us into this blue mind state, which turns out is, is a place that's very good for creativity. And connection and collaboration, um, being, being calm, being curious and even being courageous.

It's a place of contentment. We need that, especially right now. We need creative collaboration from a place of calm contentment, uh, more than ever, maybe in human history. We've got some big hairy problems to solve. We're not going to solve them through fear and guilt. Lakes, rivers, oceans, streams, creeks, tubs, waterfalls, showers, pools, solid liquid and gas form, so fog and clouds and rain, ice and snow, all of the water that surrounds us, you know, on this water planet.And if we tell a better water story, teach it well to everyone, to 8 billion people, make it common knowledge, it will transform public health. and environmental health. I'm convinced of that from what I've seen so far. And so the science is clear. It's good for us. Healthy, yeah, healthy water is good for us. Big, big newsflash, but not just for hydration and hygiene and not just for our physical bodies. It's for. emotional, social health. Uh, so we've got work to do there. And that's, yeah, that's, that's what we're up to.

Carlyle: I want to ask you about something you've talked a lot about. And that is that even though we know how important water is and that all life is dependent on it, We've still undervalued water, and you've said, when we undervalue something, bad stuff happens. So, can you talk about both why you think we've undervalued water, except maybe it's economic value, and what that has led to?

J: When we undervalue each other, history has shown that bad things happen. People mistreat each other and bad things happen. Same thing is true for nature. When we get the value equation right for each other and for nature, good things can happen.And they do. We see that over and over again. Collaboration and connection and understanding, beauty, art, scientific breakthroughs. And with water, when we fix the value equation, when we bring in the third E, the emotional benefits and add it to the ecological and economic benefits, it's powerful. It makes everything work better. Um, it changes the value equation. So for example, if you live in a town and it's near a lake and that lake is being used The town's first responders, the medics, the nurses, the teachers, um, the journalists, when they're stressed so that they can come back and do their service careers, they can do that better.

If that lake is used by veterans. To heal themselves of their post traumatic stress and perhaps depression and anxiety that story along with the ecological benefits and the economic benefits of the lake near your town will build a stronger movement to protect and restore that lake. And we talk about that all of a sudden, wow, that lake is a superhero for that town and everybody will defend it and defend it with their lives.

Carlyle: The idea that water can help us heal and kind of through that we can help heal, you know, the planet.

J: Yeah. I would say those things and I could see the eyeballs rolling back, you know, in people's heads. They're like, Oh, come on. Are you from California? What are you talking about? Well, it turns out there is a big pile of science and clinical research that backs up this idea. I can remember when the connection between exercise and physical emotional health was not well made. And the research started coming out and people were like, Oh, wow, if you exercise your body and your mind get healthier now, now that's not eyeball roll stuff anymore. Now it's you don't graduate from medical school unless you understand that exercise and eating well are good for your body and your mind. And that's good for society. Now we're adding a kind of a component to that, which is nature, uh, in particular water, which is the basis of all life. And that's so important.

Carlyle: And it's really never been a more important time for that paradigm shift. And you've mentioned you're, you're not only a marine biologist, but you're also a conservationist and you've spent a lot of, a lot of time working on ocean and water conservation. Can you talk about why we haven't been totally successful in our efforts yet and how if we view conservation with a blue mindset, what does that change?

J: I've been fortunate to be involved in a whole bunch of conservation projects that have been successful and. Also involved with some that, you know, sort of are along the roadside, you know, and not, not working. And I think the thing that distinguishes them isn't funding, isn't celebrity spokespeople. It's way more fundamental and it's, it's dignity. It's community involvement. I call it full immersion conservation, and we're not taught to do it that way. We're taught to sort of create an academic distance and not be unbiased. And to not bias the subject, you know, our fellow humans to pretend that we don't love turtles. I love turtles. And you're not supposed to say that into a microphone on a serious podcast. So

Carlyle: I love turtles too.

J: Good. Oh, good. That's why we're talking. And it turns out, neuropsychologists will tell us that you cannot make a decision without emotion. Like it's just physiologically not possible. You can give people a load of facts and they can continue to acquire them and you're just never going to have all the information. So neuroconservation, as I refer to it, means that we use neuropsychology to inform our conservation approach. So we want to be informed by human behavior, by the way, our, our, our nervous systems work and respond to information, to ideas, to emotions, to nature, and use that to the benefit of, of life on earth. A sustainable regenerative economy rests on a foundation of emotional and social well being.

Carlyle: Yeah. And this is so interesting because I feel like Blue Mind and what you're saying is coming at conservation from a whole... different angle where I think a lot of us are just kind of getting hit with a lot of data and science that is scary about climate change and rising sea levels and all the plastic pollution. And, you know, you can go on what you're saying is that. That fear and that shame of kind of what we've done as, as humans is not going to motivate us to change or motivate, you know, the conservation success stories, what you're seeing is successful is connecting to that, that feeling, that blue mind feeling, and also that, that love. All the squishy, squishy stuff is actually what, where we could see real conservation success.

J: You know, and, and there's the idea that we, we call it the squishy stuff. If you open up a neuropsychology journal and dive in to some, anything that looks interesting, you'll immediately realize that it's, it's math and it's technology.

And it's neurochemistry and neurophysiology. My PhD is in evolutionary biology and neuropsychology is, is, you know, quote unquote, harder science by far. So the notion that somehow this is touchy feely, squishy, okay, crack that journal and get back to me and then we'll just get on with the work. So part of it is that ecologists are generally not educated in neuropsychology.

They are conservation organizations. We'll all agree that we're in the behavior change business, human behavior change business. We're not trying to change the behavior of turtles or whales or kelp. That's not happening. You meet people where they live, the things they care about. Unfortunately, not that many people really care about biodiversity enough to change their lives.

Carlyle: Yeah. And it's interesting what you said about biodiversity because I feel like maybe people don't think in those terms necessarily, like I love biodiversity, but I think when people see the lack of it or all of a sudden they're not seeing the same kind of fish or as many fish where, where they go fishing or the lightning bugs aren't there anymore, or the birds aren't chirping as loudly. People do miss it. And you talk about that with blue mind, that there's kind of levels of blue mind, right? Like you get benefits from being in the bathtub or taking a shower, but also the benefits from being in a biodiverse blue space is kind of other level.

J: Yeah. When you're experiencing blue mind with your plant and animal friends, it's better if you're surfing or swimming and. A dolphin or an otter or a bird goes by, if you're just watching the river and you see a salmon or out on a lake and you see a balloon or hear one, I mean, it's just all of that adds depth to use a nautical term, it adds fetch. So you, you're going to stay in that blue mine place longer when there's biodiversity. We did a little experiment in an aquarium where the tank was being emptied. cleaned and then filled and repopulated and turns out an empty tank with water will calm people. They get bored pretty fast. Then you add in one species of fish and they stay a little longer and their heart rate drops a little more and they report personal wellness goes up.

You add another species, another species, and you keep seeing the emotional physiological benefits increase. So there's a great argument for biodiversity without ever using the word biodiversity. I'm an evolutionary biologist, but I, in some groups, if I say the word evolution, I'd lose people. So I don’t. Sometimes I'll quote the 23rd Psalm, which is the Blue Mine Psalm, written 3000 years ago by a guy named King David. He knew that water soothes our soul. Every ancient text, every spiritual tradition. Says that and we dropped the ball now. We're picking it up. Not a new idea. This blue mine stuff It's one of the oldest ideas actually.

Carlyle: I love thinking about it like that. Tell me a success story about how, instead of moving with guilt and fear to inspire conservation, how you've seen or used a blue mindset to have a different outcome.

J: Yeah, I got involved with a sea turtle called the black sea turtle a number of years ago in Northwestern Mexico, and they were on the brink of extinction.An agency said, too late, it's not worth the effort. The turtles that remained were being eaten, sold in the black market for lots of money to powerful people. And there's a cultural component, poaching as they say, black market. But I decided I'd do my PhD on the black sea turtle ecology and conservation.

And what I found was the fishermen who were once or currently turtle hunters, adored these turtles. I mean, they had a reverence for these turtles. They also like to eat them. And so we found the common theme, which was nobody really wants them to go extinct because they revere them and like to eat them. And I, as a biologist, just thought they were cool animals and I don't like extinction and I do like biodiversity. So we found the common ground, had meetings, we were told you're not supposed to involve lowly fishermen in the conversation. That's not cool. We ignored those bits of advice and had meetings with turtle hunters and said, you know, I think we agree extinction of the black turtles, not great. What would you do if you were in charge of saving them? First of all, they said, nobody's ever asked us what we think. Thank you. So the dignity piece comes in. The tacos were good. They had beer, helped each other in other ways outside of the turtle realm, just in life. It was interesting and fun. We started studying the turtles together and coming up with communications plans together, making videos. Um, then the media started to pay attention and say, Oh, this is interesting. Turtle hunters saving turtles, let's put them on TV and just started to snowball. The black sea turtle has been downlisted, which is a good thing, meaning they're recovering. And now there's turtle watching, whereas before there weren't enough turtles to do turtle watching.

And there's this feedback loop and, and it's a love fest, I have to say, you go to these turtle meetings and it's like. Part scientific conference, part family reunion. It's great. It's really great.

Carlyle: You are finding common ground with a diverse set of people, which was not really the way to conduct science then. It does seem like that's gaining traction.

J: Absolutely. Thankfully, it is quickly gaining traction and it is becoming the norm, um, thankfully. And then going back and sharing everything you learn rather than just publishing it. In our journals that are read by small groups of people.

So as we understand that we are aquatic mammals, seeing, identifying, distinguishing, and moving towards water is something that mammals do.We are physiologically connected to water. We need it to live and we respond accordingly. And so when you touch the water, when you see the water, when you feel the water, when you think about the water or it's, it's scarcity, it moves us. And that's good to know, you know, as far as changing behavior to, you know, pro nature, pro water activities.

Carlyle: Well, Jay, this has been such a great conversation. And now I want to go get near some water. Thank you so much for talking with us today.

J: My pleasure.

Halle: Up next, we hear from a bubbly oceanographer about her years spent exploring the deepest parts of the Gulf of Mexico.

Carlyle: Oceans cover more than 70% of the earth. They feed us. keep our climate stable, and they give us most of the air we need to stay alive. Without healthy oceans, we don't have a healthy planet.

Halle:And no one knows that better than a certain oceanographer you spoke with, right?

Carlyle: Oh yeah, Mandy Joy. She's this internationally renowned scientist and professor at the University of Georgia. She's explored the deep sea all over the world.

Mandy Joye: When you're in that submarine, you're surrounded on all sides by the, by the ocean, you're in it, you're feeling just what the fish feels when they're moving around, so it's magical.

Carlyle: But for her, the Gulf of Mexico is her home.

Halle: She studied the chemistry of our oceans and nerds out over all the microbes, which came in handy for all her research after the BP oil spill in 2010.

Carlyle: I’ve literally never met anyone so excited about the itty bitty creatures living deep in the sea.

Mandy Joye: And I know that I drive the students crazy because like, I'm like, oh, and the electrons can go this way and that way and this process can happen and this organism does that. And I mean, I talk a million miles an hour. And I get so excited because it just, it's fascinating to me.

Halle: Now I'm excited about tiny organisms. I can't wait to hear more.

Carlyle: I’m joined now by Mandy Joy. She's a marine scientist and a deep ocean explorer. She's also a lover of the Gulf of Mexico.

So Mandy, it's great to talk with you.

Mandy Joye: It’s great to be here. I'm happy to talk to you today. Thanks for joining us. So I'd like to start by asking you how you got interested in studying our deep oceans. What is it about these mostly unknown, really dark and extreme places that calls to you?

Mandy Joye: So I didn't know I wanted to be a marine scientist, but I fell in love with the ocean. I mean, as long as I can remember, I, I, I was one of those kids who gave her mom gray hair, you know, when we were at the beach, I would just swim offshore until I was a little speck. I wanted to get off. My goal was to be so far offshore that I couldn't see the land and I didn't realize how dumb that was. I remember being in schools of fish and being just like, wow, look at those fish jumping. Little did I know they were jumping because there was a shark feeding on the school of fish.

I was out there and I never felt afraid. I never felt in danger. I never thought I was going to drown. I loved being in the water. I was a water kid and you know, I never knew I wanted to be a marine scientist. My dad wanted me to be a heart surgeon because he, I grew up on a farm. He wanted me to have a career that would, you know, make me financially secure.

And in his view, the only thing to do is be a doctor. And so when I went off to college, I was pre med and I took an oceanography class when I was in first semester of my junior year. And the professor was like, you, you're pretty good at this. You should take another class. So I took another class, then took another one, then took another one. And the day that I was supposed to, you know, go off to med school, I went off to grad school instead.

Carlyle:And here you are.

Mandy Joye: Yeah.

Carlyle: And so you fell in love with the ocean, but your work through the years has not been focused on whales or dolphins or the sea life that, that gets, usually gets all the love, but on deep-sea bacteria and sea worms. And you've said you're like a kid in a candy store when you're headed to these bacteria-rich deep sea spots. What is it about bacteria and worms that gets you so excited?

Mandy Joye: So, there's a relatively simple answer to that. All the complexity. Of the natural world, if you just put your hand and scoop up a handful of seawater, all the metabolic complexity that you could imagine anywhere in the natural world is in your hand, in that scoop of seawater and organisms that have been around for literal eons are in your hand. I mean, it's earth history, it's geobiology, it's life on other planets, it's antibiotics and antifungals. To me, I don't know what could be cooler to study than that. What do people not understand about the deep sea and about the tiny organisms you study? I mean, the deep sea is hard to put into words.

It's colorful. You know, people think about the deep sea and they're like, Oh, you know, I asked, I asked students before I show video, you know, what do you think the deep sea is going to look like? And they're like, and the descriptions are almost. Ex. Exclusively black and white, you know, it's going to be, it's, it's boring. It has this or it has that, but it's not, there's color there. And you know why there's color there because there's enzymes in these organisms and these enzymes are mediated. They contain reactive metals and these metals are colorful. It's redox chemistry. You're seeing the redox chemistry in the color of the pigments of these organisms and like cytochromes or orange, for example, um, Some of them are yellow. Some of them are pink. Some are purple, some are blue. Copper, you know, but it's just like life is color and the deep sea is full of life. Hence, it is colorful.

People think about the deep sea in ways that are a little inaccurate. There's lots of just incredibly mesmerizing seascapes. There's mud volcanoes, there's hydrocarbon seeps, there's methane seeps, you know, gas hydrate systems where these solid matrices of. Ice that concentrate methane are just peppering, you know, the seafloor and they're all around you like moguls on a ski slope and all of these environments are habitats for microbes and what fascinates me is trying to figure out, you know, which microbes are aware and what are they doing and how are the processes that they mediate, you know, relevant for biogeochemical functioning of the earth because microbes really you. Make the planet habitable. They process waste. They produce oxygen. Many microbes do the similar things in our bodies. We have a microbiome in our gut that helps us digest food and process waste and the microbes in, in the deep sea and in the ocean. They, they do many of the same. They, they have a kidney function, they have a productivity function, so they're really sort of the little microbial engines that make the earth work and make the earth habitable for the rest of us.

Carlyle: Not only have you focused your work on kind of lesser known, lesser attention grabbing life, but you've also focused a lot of your work in a location that maybe gets less of the scientific research love and less kind of public attention, at least for its beauty. And that's the Gulf of Mexico. Can you tell us about what you love about the Gulf of Mexico? What makes the Gulf so special?

Mandy Joye: For me, the Gulf of Mexico is my teacher. That's the way I see it and there's another sort of visceral connection. That's hard to explain when, you know, that first dive that I did in that submarine to the brine pool in the, in the Green Canyon region of the Gulf of Mexico. It was like. Boom, that was it. And the connection to that system, it was like, that's where I was supposed to be. I mean, I've, I've worked in the Gulf for, for 25 years now. And every single time we go out, we see, and we, we discover something that, you know, we, it's totally unexpected. And when you're out there on a boat, Fishing or just cruising around you see this plainer view, you know, it's water. There might be some seagulls if you're offshore far enough, there's some flying fish, you know, just good fishing. But when you get down to the depths of, of the system where the lights are out, you know, it was dark. There's this incredibly diverse array of systems that we know exist there. But in terms of exploration, only a handful have been visited. I have a map with all these targets and we've hit like 5% of the places that I want to go and we've been doing it for 25 years. I mean, it would take a long time to hit them all. And every place that hasn't been explored holds. immense opportunity for discovery. The system is, you know, I could talk about the Gulf of Mexico for 10 years without getting bored, but the system is very dynamic, is very diverse. It's. Incredibly complex, and it's being pressed in so many different directions by overfishing, by oil and gas production, by climate change, by extreme weather, heat waves lately. Right? They're all these stressors. And how's the system respond to that? You can't. Look at that. You can't just be like, okay, how are the phytoplankton going to respond to that?

Well, the phytoplankton are going to respond in a way that really depends on how other organisms respond because everything in the ocean is connected and everything interacts and nothing happens in isolation. But I love the system because of this complexity.

Carlyle: Well, you're talking about a couple different things there about how amazing the Gulf of Mexico is on one hand and all the stressors that are impacting the Gulf on the other hand. From your perspective as a marine scientist, what needs to be done to protect this place that you love?

Mandy Joye: The number one thing that we as a scientific community have to do is our work to collect the data to protect and and help sustain the gulf system. But the 2nd thing we have to do is communicate those findings to the public in a way that gives them literacy about the system, but more important, just a sense of wonder and empathy for the system so that they will feel compelled to get involved to promote sustainability in the Gulf and other systems. I mean, there were temperatures in Florida, 101 Fahrenheit. I mean, that's a hot tub. I mean, that's crazy. Coral reef bleaching is widespread and out of control in Florida and the Keys right now. And these, I mean, the temperatures are so high in the Gulf of Mexico that they had to add colors to the temperature map used to max out at 30 degrees. Now they've got it up to 32 this year and it's purple used to go to red. Now it goes to purple. And I mean, if that doesn't shake people up, everything is going bananas. And this is a flashing red light. We got to pay attention. We got to get activated because 2030 is sort of a point where if we haven't really started to, you know, we're not going to be at 0 emissions by 2030. I wish we were, but we're not. But we got to at least have made a big dent.

Carlyle: So let's get back to, to some of your work. As you were just talking about, it's a scary time for, for our oceans and, and for our planet on a larger scale. What is it in your work where you find hope? So I think that it's easy to be hopeless. With all of these disasters happening across the globe. But what I saw after the deep water horizon oil spill, Mexico is resilient. You know, all ecological systems are resilient to some degree, some more than others. But 1 of the. Amazing things about microbial populations. Another reason why I love study microbes. They have what I sort of call, um, a firefighter network of microbes and these are low abundance. Like, there aren't many firefighters in your community, right? There's like. You know, 30 or 40 in a community. I mean, there's just not a lot of firefighters, but boy, is their job important, right? They got to be able to like ramp it up really fast and do an amazing job. And then they go back and they, you know, eat pizza, play pool, whatever. And these, these organisms became super important after the, the Deepwater Horizon disaster started. And they were responsible for cleaning up a lot of that oil. And they do that job every day in the Gulf of Mexico, because there's natural oil seepage in the system. And you don't see, you know, giant tar balls on the beaches normally because it's ultragraded by these, these, you know, little firefighters. So they are super tiny superheroes.

Carlyle: ese long deep dives, deep into the ocean, and you use this specialized submarine, right? Called Alvin. Can you describe what it's like to dive in the deep ocean? What does it feel like? What does it look like?

Mandy Joye: So, the sphere of the Alvin, the titanium sphere, hosts three people, a pilot and two scientists. It's about the size of an old style Volkswagen, you know, the little punch buggy, you know, punch buggy that the kids see on the highway. It's cramped, it's cold because the temperature, there's no heating, you know, but that, that, that hatch is sealed and you get in the water and you see Trichodesmium, which are nitrogen fixing cyanobacteria on the surface, and you see the little fish flittering around and zooplankton. And when you get below the mesophotic zone, it's, you know, the twilight, and you start seeing bioluminescence, just like fireworks in, in, in the, in the water column. So the actual descent into the ocean is quite magical because it's very, you know, it's, it's, it's, it's not black. It's, it's just light and fireworks. That's biology. Um, but it feels like for me, it feels like I'm in You know, the womb of mother earth. And, and I say that sincerely because you're moving with the water.

Carlyle: How deep are you going?

Mandy Joye: Um, thousands of meters below the surface. You know, you can go down to 6, 500 meters with Alvin. Typically we're from two to 5, 000. But I really want to go to 6, 500. I've never done that before, but the deeper you go, you know, the weirder the animals are and the weirder the critters are, so it's kind of cool to go deeper. Every dive is sort of regimented and that there's a priority list of things to accomplish on that dive. And we have. All kinds of sampling containers for water, for sediment, for animals. You get in the submarine at 7 30, you get out of the submarine at 5 30. So you're in there for 10 hours and it passes like that. You're just like, wait a minute. What? The battery's gone. Jesus. How did that happen? Um, because you're, you're just going all the time and you know, you've got, because you're, you're just going all the time and you know, you've got cameras that you're operating. It's just, it is a buzz. And you're just looking around and, and, and, you know, getting your mind blown and warped and bent all the time with things that you're seeing. Um, so we, we load the submarine down with samples and then, you know, at the end of the dive, we drop the weights and we rise to the surface and we're, you know, we're recovered by the Atlantis. Um, then the samples go to the different teams of people. Each of their teams of five that process sediments, water, rock by age. And, and then those people are just. You know, they're up all night. If you're the chief scientist on an Alvin cruise, you don't get to sleep a lot. Because you don't, who wants to sleep? I don't want to miss, I mean, I'm always just like, well, I'm going to go to bed. Oh, but I don't want to miss anything. So then I just don't go to bed.

Carlyle: And at this point, you've spent, I don't know, months of your life in the deep parts of the ocean.

Mandy Joye: Months, many months.

Carlyle: Do you think that that's changed you?

Mandy Joye: Oh, goodness, yes. I mean, I think about things in different ways than I used to, and I have an appreciation for the capacity of life to exist in crazy extreme places. And that gives me hope for the future, right? Because we're doing some crazy extreme things to the surface of the earth, and I think that microbes will adapt. Humans? I don't know. Microbes? They'll be fine. But yeah, I mean, it's just, it opens your eyes to the possibilities.

Carlyle: And so through your work, you're hoping that people know about this rich life in the Gulf, that we wake up to it and want to protect it. What is your biggest hope of how your work and other marine scientists’ work in the Gulf can move things in a more positive direction?

Mandy Joye: I hope that by discovering and communicating our discoveries with the public, that we, we sort of make people appreciate. The habitats that are out there, that they understand the value of the little invisible engines that make the whole system function and, and, and every system function. I hope they get interested and activated to conserve, sustain and preserve the Gulf system. The Gulf is just full of deep water coral habitats. I would love to see a marine sanctuary. established out there to preserve these deep water coral environments. And that's something that the public could really play a key role in, in terms of motivating Congress to establish a marine sanctuary out there, other than the flower gardens, because, you know, that's just not enough for the Gulf system. And really, you know, maybe there's some little boy or girl. Listening who says, well, goodness, I want to be a marine microbiologist or a biogeochemist or study whales, you know, just to get young people engaged and thinking about this as a career opportunity, because there's so much we don't know about this system and, you know, the cure for cancer could be sitting in a microbe. At a mud volcano in the Gulf of Mexico. I would like to find that organism. That would be pretty cool. So just making people appreciate the value of the Gulf system as a whole and its complexity. So yeah, I mean, and it just, it's an endless fountain of ideas and inspiration, and I just want to share it with everybody because I think it is incredibly empowering to hear these stories about these habitats that most people don't even know exist. And in the Gulf Coast region, I mean, they're literally right in your backyard. They're right there. And most people don't even know they exist.

Carlyle: Well, Mandy, this has been such an amazing, amazingly fascinating conversation. Thank you so much for spending the time with us.

Mandy Joye: Thanks, Carlyle. I'm really thankful that you gave me the opportunity to talk to you today.

Thanks for listening to See Change. This episode was hosted, edited, and produced by Carlisle Calhoun, our managing producer, and me, Hallie Parker. Our sound designer is Maddy Zampanti. And a huge thank you to our guests, Dr. Wallace J. Nichols and Dr. Mandy Joy, for spending time with us. You can find the full interview with Dr.

Mandy Joy on our website, wwno.org/podcast/sea-change.

Sea Change is a WWNO and WRKF production. We're part of the NPR Podcast Network and distributed by PRX. Sea Change is made possible with major support from the Gulf Research Program of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. WWNO's Coastal Desk is supported by the Walton Family Foundation, the Merieux Foundation, and the Greater New Orleans Foundation.

Thanks for joining us, and we'll be back in another two weeks.

Carlyle Calhoun is the managing producer of <i>Sea Change.</i> You can reach her at: carlyle@wwno.org
Halle Parker reports on the environment for WWNO's Coastal Desk. You can reach her at hparker@wwno.org.