People have been inspired by the wonder of nature throughout recorded history.
Almost all species of life (including plants, people, animals, bacteria and viruses) are driven by genetic instructions in DNA. The first life began as simple cells formed in the sea 4 billion years ago.
Marine species have a special wonder. Some animals use sound to communicate through hundreds of kilometres of sea (sound travels four times faster in water than in air). Some see a colour spectrum beyond our human range; have polarised vision; multiple eyes; electro-sensory perception and communication; inbuilt sonar; the ability to perceive and navigate by the earth’s magnetic fields; the ability to change their sex; amazing athleticism derived from super-efficient haemoglobin; the ability to clone themselves; ability to strike with the speed of a rifle bullet; the intelligence to arrange cooperative hunting strategies; an exceptional sense of smell to locate food, avoid predators, navigate and find a mate; the capacity to derive energy from sunlight; sequestrate carbon for millennia; produce and use a huge range of chemical compounds…and so much more.
In water, gravity is much less of a constraint on form and movement than it is on air. Marine animals and plants exhibit an extraordinary variety of shapes and physiologies – many very beautiful.
The Great Barrier Reef provides a habitat for countless thousands of marine species, many not yet scientifically described or studied. They include galaxies of microscopic species – viruses, bacteria, archaea, protozoa, algae and fungi. There is wonder in every one of them. Some have it on spectacular display, but for many it is only found through scientific study.
There is also wonder in the time-scale. Earth is the only known planet with an oxygen-rich atmosphere, generated by photosynthetic cyanobacteria in the ocean over 2.5 billion years ago. Marine organisms have been secreting carbonates that create reefs for around 2.7 billion years.
Corals evolved during the Triassic period, approximately 250 million years ago. They have a exhibited low extinction rates and a remarkable capacity for survival, However, geologic core samples of paleo reefs also show long periods (thousands or millions of years) during which no living corals were present. See more.
Humans evolved around 2 million years ago, and our own species, homo sapiens first appeared only 10,000 or so years ago. If current population and pollution trends continue, homo sapiens could become extinct within the next 10,000 years. We are unlikely to be the last species of life on planet Earth.
The great German naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) described nature as a wonderful web of organic life, connected in a great chain of cause and effect. He thought emotions and feelings should guide our response to the natural world, and turned scientific observation into poetic narrative. He spoke and wrote of cosmos – the order and beauty of the universe, the opposite of chaos.
Humboldt has inspired countless other scientists and conservationists, including Charles Darwin (1809-1892), Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), George Perkins Marsh (1801-1882), Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) and John Muir (1938-1914). See The Invention of Nature, Andrea Wulf, 2015.
Rachel Carson (1907-1964) wrote about the importance of wonder and curiosity in marine biology. The US Fish and Wildlife Service provides this page of quotes, which includes the following:
The winds, the sea, and the moving tides are what they are. If there is wonder and beauty and majesty in them, science will discover these qualities. If they are not there, science cannot create them. If there is poetry in my book about the sea, it is not because I deliberately put it there, but because no one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out the poetry…. From Carson’s remarks on her acceptance of the National Book Award for Nonfiction.
Mankind has gone very far into an artificial world of his own creation. He has sought to insulate himself, in his cities of steel and concrete, from the realities of earth and water and the growing seed. Intoxicated with a sense of his own power, he seems to be going farther and farther into more experiments for the destruction of himself and his world. There is certainly no single remedy for this condition and I am offering no panacea. But it seems reasonable to believe — and I do believe — that the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us the less taste we shall have for the destruction of our race. Wonder and humility are wholesome emotions, and they do not exist side by side with a lust for destruction. From Carson’s speech in acceptance of the National Book Award, 1963
I sincerely believe that for the child…. it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil. Once the emotions have been aroused — a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and the unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration or love — then we wish for knowledge about the subject of our emotional response. Once found, it has lasting meaning. From The Sense of Wonder 1965 (Posthumously)
Our sense of wonder about life beyond our own is a large part of why we want to understand it and care about its conservation. In relation to life on coral reefs, it is a powerful reason to donate to LIRRF.
Return to Why Donate page