The earth’s oceans cover over 70% of the planet’s surface and yet huge portions of this incredible underwater world have yet to be explored. Oceans not only provide homes for the millions of different species of marine life on the planet, they also contain incredible natural architecture and hidden secrets still to be discovered. While the ocean can often seem a beautiful and tranquil place, it also has the potential to be both dangerous and deadly.
Humankind has been sailing the seas for thousands of years so it might come as little surprise that there are a large number of shipwrecks at the bottom of the ocean. What may surprise you though, is just how large that number is: The United Nations estimates there are over 3 million shipwrecks lying on the sea floor! The actual number is almost impossible to know though as many of these wrecks are too deep on the sea floor to actually be found.
The deepest known point in the ocean is called The Challenger Deep and is located in the Marianas Trench in the Western Pacific. It may seem obvious to state that the ocean is deep but the Marianas Trench takes that term to a whole new level. The bottom of the Challenger Deep is 11,034m deep. It’s so far below the surface of the Pacific that if you placed Mount Everest at the bottom, not only would the peak not stick out of the water, there would actually still be over 1 mile to the surface. That’s seriously deep!
Our oceans are absolutely full of marine life and it is estimated that as much as 80% of all life on earth can be found under the surface of the ocean. To date, scientists have managed to identify around 225,000 species in the sea. That sounds quite impressive at first, until you realise that there are still an estimated 750,000 to 25 million marine species still to be found.
Sharks are often depicted as brutal killing machines that are constantly on the hunt for food and attack anything with a pulse, including humans. The reality is actually very different. Despite what Hollywood films would have made us believe, on average there are only around 70 shark attacks on humans per year, with an average of 6-10 of these attacks resulting in death. There are actually more human fatalities due to elephants, bees and even lightning! Perhaps more alarming is the fact that humans kill around 20-100 million sharks each year through fishing activities in our oceans. It seems that sharks should be far more afraid of us than we are of them.
The ocean contains around 99% of the living space on the planet and yet, incredibly, we have only actually explored around 10% of that area. If you consider some of the extraordinary creatures that have already been discovered in our oceans, imagine what other species are yet to be found! Around 85% of the ocean consists of an area known as the deep sea. Many parts of it drop to such depths that human controlled submarines are unable to take the pressure.
While we humans may be impressed by the speed of our Olympic swimmers, some fish would even put Michael Phelps to shame. Swordfish and marlin are the quickest fish in the sea and have been known to reach speeds of up to 75 mph (121 kph). That’s seriously fast, but they are only able to reach these speeds in short, sharp bursts. Bluefin tuna can’t quite match the top speed of a swordfish or marlin but they can sustain an impressive speed of 55 mph (90 kph) through the water.
If you’ve ever been lucky enough to visit the Andes, Rockies or Himalayas, you’ll understand what a breathtaking and expansive sight they are. What is even more impressive is the fact that, if you combined all three of those mountain ranges, they’d still be four times shorter than the planet’s longest mountain range, the Mid-Ocean Ridge. Starting from the Arctic Ocean, the Mid-Ocean Ridge runs an incredible 50,000 km through the Atlantic, past Africa, Asia and Australia and across the Pacific before finishing at the west coast of North America. If only you could ski underwater!
The Pacific Ocean is the largest on the planet and occupies over a third of the earth’s surface. In fact, if you put all of earth’s land area together, it still wouldn’t be as large as the Pacific. It’s also the place to visit if you like desert islands. The Pacific is home to over 25,000 islands, that’s more than all the islands in the rest of the world combined.
Although marine animals may be perfectly suited to live under the sea, the same can’t be said for humankind. Without breathing equipment, most people are unable to dive further than a few metres before the pressure gets too much. The deepest free dive ever recorded was by Jacques Mayol, who dived to an incredible 86m with no breathing apparatus. Even with the right equipment, Jaques would struggle to get to the bottom of the deepest part of the ocean though, as the pressure is more than 11,300 tons/sq. m. That’s the equivalent of a single person trying to support 50 jumbo jets.
The ocean is home to some incredible natural geographical features. Underwater volcanoes are capable of spewing out mud and methane so powerfully that it can often erupt to the surface. There are also underwater hot springs that shoot water out at temperatures of up to 650 degrees fahrenheit (343 Celsius).. That’s hot enough to melt lead!. Underwater earthquakes and landslides are also common and can sometimes be powerful enough to cause tsunamis. The largest tsunami ever recorded happened in 1899 in the gulf of Alaska and was the result of an 8.9 magnitude earthquake which produced a 60m high wave, travelling at hundreds of km/hr.