Sylvia Earle, dubbed, “Her Deepness” by The New Yorker, has experience as a field research scientist, government official, and director for corporate and nonprofit organizations. But all of her work has led her to focus on preserving the world’s oceans.
Born August 30, 1935 in New Jersey, Earle’s parents enjoyed the outdoors and supported her interest in the natural world. When Earle was a child, the family moved to Florida, where Earle learned to love the sea–and learned how to SCUBA dive.
She earned a B.S. degree from Florida State University. After completing her doctorate in phycology–the study of algae–at Duke University in 1966, Earle spent a year as a research fellow at Harvard, then returned to Florida as the resident director of the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory. In 1969, she applied to the Tektite Project, a sub-surface research facility off the coast of the Virgin Islands. Although she had logged more than 1,000 research hours underwater–more than any other applicant–Earle was rejected. But in 1970 she was selected to lead the first all-female team of aquanauts in Tektite II. Over her career, Earle led more than a hundred expeditions, has spent over 7,000 hours–over 291 days–underwater, and has led dozens of research expeditions.
Earle has studied everything from algae to creatures of the deep, but much of her work has focused on what she calls “hope spots:” places across the oceans that need protection due to their biodiversity and unique underwater habitats. Earle’s belief is that by protecting them we can improve the health of the oceans and our planet. Along these lines, Earle helped to double the U.S. federal budget of marine sanctuaries in 1999, establish the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (in 2006), and highlight sanctuaries as project director in a joint venture of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Geographic Society.
Sylvia Earle has set world records for deep-sea diving, received over 20 honorary degrees, and dozens of awards, but perhaps her most lasting legacy will be the conservation of what she calls “the blue heart of the planet.”
Written by Nicole Hutchison