Oceanographer David Gallo to outline watery wonders, woes at Berkshire Museum talk

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When imparting important environmental information, one must first charm before sounding the alarm.

Oceanographer David Gallo knows this well; he has communicated his curiosity, concern and call to action for oceans for more than 30 years, using expertise and enthusiasm to inspire audiences in person and through Ted Talks drawing 12 million views.

Gallo will present "Deep Ocean, Deep Secrets: What Do the Oceans Mean to Us?" at 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Berkshire Museum. Through words and images, he will explain how mankind depends on and must protect these planetary waterworks.

In 1976, while a shoe salesman in Albany, N.Y., his life was changed by a photograph in a National Geographic magazine article about ocean explorer Robert Ballard. It showed an underwater mountain with a tiny speck on it that was the three-man research submarine, Alvin, and "flipped a curiosity switch in me that I'd had all my life," Gallo recalled.

He went on to earn a Ph.D. and enjoy an award-winning 30-year career at Cape Cod's renowned Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where he served as Ballard's assistant director.

"The oceans are incredibly important, they provide half the air we breathe, 90 percent of the water we drink, and protein for about 2 billion people," he said, "yet we've only explored about 5 percent of what's out there."

Gallo has visited all the world's oceans and spearheaded the search for Air France Flight 447. He has mapped the Titanic and enjoyed a long collaboration with filmmaker and underwater explorer James Cameron.

A frequent broadcast analyst, following the talk he flies to London to film a segment on oceans for CNN — a welcome departure for an industry obsessed with disasters like plane crashes, oil spills and tsunamis that tends to embellish environmental stories to make them more exciting.

"We need to base decisions on facts not just on emotions," Gallo said.

Recently retired, he now studies climate change at Columbia University's Center for Climate and Life. "Exploration is in my DNA, so I really can't just stop that," he said.

Events like Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina and rain patterns devastating the southwest all are ocean related, he noted. "Everything's changing rapidly largely because of human behavior, and we need to understand the consequences."

Pollution, he noted, causes the worst harm.

"Stuff we throw up into the air and put on golf courses and city streets and farmlands, herbicides, pesticides, things we wash down the drain, pharmaceuticals, caffeine, we find all that stuff in the oceans."

When seeking solutions, all the stakeholders need to be included — environmentalists, fishermen, farmers, cattlemen, coal miners — as decisions affect their livelihoods and families. "We owe it to them to be sure what we're doing is in the best interest, and need to take care of them too."

Ill-advised actions wreak havoc, he observed. When detergent dispersants were used to break up oil spilled in the Gulf, it looked better cosmetically but was devastating to creatures that lived there.

The talk is co-sponsored by the Lenox Garden Club, which — founded in 1911 by Gilded Age grande dames — has evolved from flower arranging and drinking tea to a focus on education, conservation and the environment, according to its president, Ginger Schwartz. The club has actively supported local organizations from Berkshire Botanical Garden to Hancock Shaker Village, and its community outreach includes talks and popular garden tours.

Schwartz first heard Gallo speak at a garden club in Dedham.

"He has a tremendous depth of knowledge," she said. "You suddenly realize how much you've learned. He's self-deprecating and passionate about his subject. And very funny."

"I was particularly interested in the extraordinary sea creatures I had never even dreamt of," she said. "When he talks about pollution, the poisons blown into the ocean way out and way deep, I just hope people will realize how important our water supplies are."

"I don't know that there's any way to fully grasp the vastness of the planet," Gallo said. "I want to spark a little bit of the Jacques Cousteau that lives in everyone. I've had the privilege to go places and see things no one else has. It would be a shame not to share it."

If you go ...

What: Oceanographer David Gallo presents "Deep Ocean, Deep Secrets: What Do the Oceans Mean to Us?"

When: 3 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Berkshire Museum

Cost: The talk is included in museum admission of $13 adults, $6 children.

Info: berkshiremuseum.org or call 413-443-7171, ext. 360 to reserve a seat.


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