The Exponential Importance of Oceans

The Exponential Importance of Oceans

by Urso Chappell

     Since world’s fair were first introduced to our world with London’s 1851 Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, the phenomenon has evolved with the times, not unlike other media. Naturally, industry, trade, and the arts were the focus of the earliest world’s fairs. As the medium and culture progressed, the mid-Twentieth Century saw a focus on technology and futurism. Since the 1970’s, we’ve seen several expos with environmental themes. Naturally, since the oceans are a significant part of environmental study and an unseen world that fascinates us humans, we’ve seen the specific topic of oceans explored at expos, as well.

Expo ’74: The First Environmental Expo

     Spokane’s Expo ’74, in the U.S. state of Washington, was the first with a specifically environmental focus. With the optimistic theme “Celebrating our fresh, new environment,” the small exposition was held on the banks of a newly cleaned-up Spokane River adjacent to downtown. It’s importance in promoting the burgeoning field of ecology can be shown in that it was designated the focus of the United Nations’ World Environment Day that year. It was also the location of environmental symposia. Little did they know at the time that Expo ’74 would herald other environmentally themed expositions focusing on land, water, and the relationship between the environment and human technology.

Expo ’75: The First Ocean-Themed Expo

     A year later, Okinawa, Japan would host the first expo with a theme specifically tied to the world’s oceans: “The sea we would like to see.” Officially known as the International Ocean Exposition, Expo ’75’s theme was further divided into four sub-themes: “Fish,” “Peoples and History,” “Ships,” and continuing the trend set by previous world’s fairs, “Science and Technology.”

     The centerpiece of Expo ’75 was the Aquapolis, a large square floating structure that was 100 meters on each side. Basically a semisubmersible oil drilling rig, it was intended as a prototype for a future marine city and was certainly a product of its time. It can be argued that it represented a since outdated approach to solving an environmental problem, however. The artificial “island” remained as an attraction until 1993 when it was closed. In 2000, it was sold and shipped to Shanghai to be dismantled for scrap. What that scrap was used for, I don’t know. I have to wonder if somewhere in our homes, we might have little souvenirs of Expo ’75 in some of our household items.

     The mainland part of the site has fared better. Now known as Ocean Expo Park, it is a popular attraction on the island and is the site of Churaumi Aquarium, a legacy of Expo ’75 and arguably Japan’s best aquarium.

     Seven years later, the United States would host its last world’s fair to date: the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition. Held on the banks of the Mississippi River in New Orleans, it looked at the world of rivers rather than oceans. Focused on fresh water, it wasn’t specifically focused on environmental protection, but it certainly presaged an interest in water in later international expositions.

     It was in 1993 that Korea saw it’s first world’s fair, Expo ’93, held in Daejeon (then Romanized as “Taejon”). Although the theme was focused on development, sub-themes explored the relationship between the environment and human progress.

Expo ’98: The Second Ocean-Themed Expo

     Lisbon Portugal would hold the second expo with a specifically ocean theme: “The oceans: A heritage for our future.” Celebrating the 500th anniversary of Vasco de Gama’s voyage to India, 1998 was also the United Nations International Year of the Oceans.

     Like Osaka in 1970, Lisbon created a new aquarium, the Lisbon Oceanarium. It’s gone on to become the most visited attraction in Portugal.

     Since then, environmental themes have been central to all world’s fairs. Hanover, Germany’s Expo 2000’s theme “Man, Nature, Technology” explored the relationship between humans and nature while Aichi, Japan’s Expo 2005 took on the topic of “Nature’s Wisdom.”

Expo 2008: Water!

     In 1998, the Iberian Peninsula would once again host an expo, but this time centered around the topic of water in general. Zaragoza, Spain hosted Expo 2008 with the theme “Water and sustainable development.” Naturally, oceans were addressed, but the focus was on fresh water. This was certainly the case with Zaragaoza’s new aquarium which focuses on life in rivers.

Expo 2012: The Third Ocean-Themed Expo

     On May 12th, Yeosu will pick up the baton once again and host Korea’s second world’s fair and the third centered around oceans specifically. Much will be said in this blog about next year’s plans, but it’s worth noting that Yeosu, like Osaka, Lisbon, and Zaragoza, will be building a new aquarium, Yeosu Sea World. When completed in February, it will be the largest aquarium in Korea.

     Given that 75 percent of our planet’s service is ocean and the world’s oceans account for 97 percent of Earth’s total water, it’s not surprising that it’s the focus of so much attention as we become more aware of our environment. With over 95 percent of the oceans still unexplored, you can also see why they’re the source of such curiosity and fascination. Fortunately, there’s a wealth of new discoveries and new intellectual approaches to be shared about our oceans. Expo 2012 will be a great conduit for that communication: from person to person as well as nation to nation.