Only 4% of the world's oceans are protected — and a lot of that's in a country you haven't heard of.
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The Wilderness Society

For something that makes up 71% of the surface of the planet, it's kind of crazy to think that we only protect 4% of our ocean water.

It goes without saying that water is important. It comprises 55% to 78% percent of our bodies and about 19% of the electricity in the world. tl;dr — it's pretty crucial to our survival.

But while water can do some amazing things, it can't stand up and protect itself from things like massive oil spills or other man-made damages to its regulatory systems. Mostly it just lays there, passively sloshing back and forth, and oh yeah, cultivating an incredible ecosystem for millions of amazing creatures.


And yet, for all the time that we've spent fighting over land, there's still 140 million square miles of the Earth's surface that no one's looking out for. Does that seem odd to you?


Water, water everywhere... Photo by NASA/Wikimedia Commons.

But now an island nation that's smaller than New York City has created a new ocean reserve the size of California.

Located in the western Pacific Ocean just north of New Guinea and east of the Philippines, Palau is a tiny presidential republic of 21,000 people spread across 250 separate islands.

But the country's legal property extends an additional twelve nautical miles around each island, bringing Palau's overall size up to nearly 193,000 square miles. These waters are home to some of the most diverse and remarkable aquatic ecosystems on the planet, with more than 700 different kinds of coral and 1,300 unique species of fish.

And as of Oct. 22, 2015, 80% of Palau's aquatic area has been designated as protected ocean territory. The remaining 20% will remain open to local fisherman and a limited number of other small-scale commercial activities.


An Indo-Pacific coral reef, like what might be found in the waters around Palau. Photo via Fascinating Universe/Wikimedia Commons.

Despite its limited landmass, Palau's new ocean reserve is one of the largest on the planet — and makes up the largest percentage of protected waters.

New Zealand's own, recently-announced ocean reserve will be 620,000 square miles but only 15% of their total exclusive economic zone (the UN-recognized open water borders).

The United States currently protects less than 4% of its waters, compared to 18% of its total landmass; of course, that's still 490,000 square miles of ocean.

Chile has also committed to protecting a total of 350,000 square miles of ocean between their coasts and the waters around Easter Island.

While the U.K.'s Pitcairn Islands reserve only measures 322,000 square miles, it does have the distinction of being the largest single and uninterrupted marine protected area on the planet so far.


Rock Island, Palau. Photo by Matt Kieffer/Flickr.

This kind of action is particularly important in places like Palau that face the brunt of our ecological problems.

While some of us can more easily go about our lives oblivious to the environmental damage being done to the planet by the human race, people in places like Palau are not so lucky. They still rely on local fishing and other natural resources to survive, and even as we speak, the rising sea levels threaten to swallow up the shores beneath their feet.

"Island communities have been among the hardest hit by the threats facing the ocean," said Palau president Tommy E. Remengesau Jr. in the press release announcing this new ocean protection initiative. "Creating this sanctuary is a bold move that the people of Palau recognize as essential to our survival. We want to lead the way in restoring the health of the ocean for future generations."


A lake with jellyfish in Palau. Photo by Onyo/Wikimedia Commons.

So let's stand together and tell our world leaders to protect the rest of our precious waters.

We can start just south of Palau with Australia's Great Bight, the longest east-west ice-free coastline in the southern hemisphere. The Bight is currently being threatened by oil drillers like BP, risking the lives and livelihood of countless animals and people alike.

After you're done with that, come back here and have a look for yourself at just how amazing these underwater habitats can be:

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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