06/08/2011 09:01 am ET | Updated Aug 08, 2011

Ocean Oases : Protecting Canyons & Seamounts of the Atlantic Coast

Like my father and grandfather, Philippe and Jacques-Yves Cousteau, I've dedicated my life to exploring and protecting our seas, in large part through documentary film. For when it comes to understanding the planet's blue frontier, one of the largest challenges we face can be encapsulated by a simple phrase: Out of sight, out of mind. So I'm proud to provide the narration for a new video from the Natural Resources Defense Council, Ocean Oases, which brings to light one of Earth's richest habitats: our deep ocean canyons and extinct submarine volcanoes, known as seamounts.

This opportunity is all the more special because, not only is it World Oceans Day, but it's also National Oceans Month, as proclaimed by President Obama. Beyond jumping in for a dive or swim, there are few better ways to be reminded of -- or to celebrate! -- the true depth of oceans' importance than to explore their most productive recesses, not far from our biggest cities. Near New York City, for instance, lies the rugged Hudson Canyon, which is hundreds of miles long with walls and slopes plunging 4,000 feet. Hudson and other nearby canyons with names like Atlantis, Oceanographer and Hydrographer, along with the seamounts just to their east, contain their own cities of waving sea fans, sponges, anemones, and other vibrant or ghostly creatures. But except for the warm light of remote-controlled cameras, they live in cold darkness. "[It's] kind of like Darwin walking for the first time on the shores of the Galapagos Islands," says Dr. Peter Auster, an expert featured in the film.

These spectacular environments are critical to the oceans' food web, but they're not safe from harm. In the film, you'll see what happens when bottom-trawling nets are pulled over a delicate landscape of corals, and learn why whales, which use canyons like the Hudson, may soon be harassed by fossil fuel exploration. As for the risks of drilling, I will never forget diving in the Gulf of Mexico, in a hazmat suit, to investigate the soupy, toxic mixture of oil and dispersant; the water was so murky, it was clear that the Gulf had been drastically altered by us, for a very long time. That was an expedition I never hoped to take. It's places like the Hudson Canyon -- rich with life, but up to 10,000 feet deep -- that explorers long to see.

As our technology evolves, we will have the capacity to reach new, ever-increasing depths. The question is: What kind of technology, in the end, do we want to deploy in the far reaches of the ocean? Tools of science, ecology and documentation, or the destructive tools of heavy industry? Some parts of our oceans, like the rich and mysterious recesses of our Atlantic submarine canyons and seamounts, are so stunning and sensitive they deserve to be protected from destructive activities. Just last week President Obama further implemented his historic National Ocean Policy by kicking off a series of events to gather feedback from communities that, in more ways than one, live by our oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes. Please consider attending one of these public listening sessions; they will help shape the course of our country's ocean work for years to come.

Hopefully you're celebrating World Oceans Day with an event that will bring attention to our oceans, whether in a small or large way. But for inspiration, watch Ocean Oases to learn more about our ocean canyons, glimpse some of amazing species that call them home, and hear about the threats these hidden environments face. Enjoy, and explore -- and keep the seas in mind.