Sylvia Earle - Oceanographer and Undersea Explorer

Sylvia Earle - Oceanographer and Undersea Explorer
Dr. Sylvia Earle, called "Her Deepness" by the New Yorker and the New York Times, designated a "Living Legend" by the Library of Congress, and Time magazine's first "Hero for the Planet," is a well-known oceanographer, undersea explorer, author and lecturer.

Sylvia Alice Earle was borne in Gibbstown, New Jersey, USA on August 30, 1935. Her love of the sea began when whe was 13 after her family moved to Clearwater, Florida (USA), on the Gulf of Mexico. It was here that she first became enamored of the ocean and the life within it. An exceptional student, Earle graduated from High School at the age of 16 and went on to obtain her Bachelor's Degree at Florida State University. As her family had limited financial means, she paid for her education through scholarships and working in college laboratories.

After graduating from Florida State, Earle went on to earn her Master's Degree at Duke University, again with the assistance of financial aid and laboratory jobs. Upon completing her Master's, she took a break from schooling to marry and start a family. During this time, though, she continued her activities in marine exploration. In 1964, she joined a six-week National Science Foundation expedition in the Indian Ocean.

Returning to school, Sylvia Earle received her Ph.D. in 1966 from Duke University. Her dissertation, entitled "Phaeophyta of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico" was very well-received by the oceanographic community. This was the first time that a marine field researcher like Earle had made such a long and detailed study of aquatic plant life.

Additionally, Dr. Earle has been awarded 15 honorary degrees to date.

Dr. Earle has led more than 60 expeditions and logged more than 6,000 hours underwater, her research concerns marine ecosystems with special reference to exploration and the development and use of new technologies for access and effective operations in the deep sea and other remote environments. Following is a brief summary of some of her achievements.

In 1968, Dr. Earle traveled to a depth of one hundred feet below the waters of the Bahamas in the submersible Deep Diver. She was four months pregnant at the time.

In 1969 she applied to participate in the Tektite project, which was sponsored jointly by the U.S. Navy, the Department of the Interior, and NASA. This project allowed teams of scientist to live for weeks at a time in an enclosed habitat on the ocean floor fifty feet below the surface, off the Virgin Islands. She was selected as a project participant, and in 1970, Sylvia Earle and four other women dove 50 feet below the surface to the small submersed structure where they spent the next two weeks.

In the 1970s, Dr. Earle participated in various scientific missions that took her to the Galapagos, to the water off Panama, to China and the Bahamas and to the Indian Ocean. During this period she began a productive collaboration with undersea photographer Al Giddings. Together, they investigated the battleship graveyard in the Caroline Islands of the South Pacific.

In 1977 Earle and Giddings made their first voyage following the great sperm whales. In a series of expeditions they followed the whales from Hawaii to New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Bermuda and Alaska. Their journeys were recorded in the 1980 documentary film Gentle Giants of the Pacific.

Two years later, in 1979, Dr. Earle walked untethered on the sea floor at a lower depth than any living human being before or since. Wearing a pressurized one-atmosphere garment called a "JIM suit", she was carried by a submersible down to the depth of 1,250 feet below the ocean's surface off of the island of Oahu. At the bottom, she detached from the vessel and explored the depths for two and a half hours with only a communication line connecting her to the submersible, and nothing at all connecting her to the world above. She memorialized this event in her 1980 book "Exploring the Deep Frontier.

In the 1980s, she partnered with engineer Graham Hawkes, and started two companies - Deep Ocean Engineering and Deep Ocean Technologies.

In the early 1990s, Dr. Earle took a leave of absence from her companies to serve as Chief Scientist of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration where she was responsible for monitoring the health of the nation's waters.

Presently, Sylvia Earle is "explorer-in-residence" at the National Geographic Society. She has also been executive director for many corporate and nonprofit organizations, including the Aspen Institute, the Conservation Fund, American Rivers, Duke University Marine Laboratory, Rutgers Institute for Marine Science, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, and Ocean Conservancy. Additionally, she is a member of the Board of Trustees of Mote Marine Laboratory.

In 2009, Earle won the TED (Technology, Entertainment), Design) Prize. The TED Prize began in 1984 as a conference bringing people together from the worlds of technology, entertainment and design. It is awarded annually to an exceptional individual who receives $100,000 and - perhaps even more importantly - "One Wish to Change the World." After several months of preparation, the TED Prize winner unveils his/her wish at an award ceremony held during the TED Conference held each Spring.

Winning the TED Prize granted Ms. Earle the resources to start Mission Blue.At the award ceremony, she unveiled her wish - "I wish you would use all means at your disposal - films! expeditions! the web! more! - to ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas, hope spots large enough to save and restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet."

The Mission Blue program has established Hope Spots - a network of marine protected areas established to heal and safeguard specified areas of the ocean. These areas will not only provide a platform for research and observation, but also a resource for educating the public about marine issues and their effects on humans.

In April 2010, TED and Sylvia Earle together held the Mission Blue Voyage on the National Geographic Endeavor on the Galapagos Islands. More than 100 speakers, guests, and celebrities gathered to direct public attention to the needs of our oceans and the work MIssion Blue is doing.


- Los Angles Times Woman of the Year, 1970
- U.S. Department of Interior Conservation Service Award, 1970
- Explorers Club Lowell Thomas Award, 1980
- Order of the Golden Ark by the Prince of the Netherlands, 1981
- New England Aquarium's David B. Stone Medal, 1989
- Radcliff College Alumnae Association Medal, 1990
- Society of Women Geographers Gold Medal, 1990
- DEMA Hall of Fame Award, 1991
- Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement, 1991
- Directors Award of the Natural Resources Defense Council, 1992
- Boston Museum of Science Washburn Medal, 1995
- Massachusetts Audubon Society's Allen Morgan Prize, 1995
- Explorers Club Medal, 1996
- Lindberg Award, 1996
- John M. Olguin Marine Environment Award, 1997
- Bal de la Mer Foundation Sea Keeper Award, 1997
- Julius B. Stratton Leadership Award, 1997
- Marine Technology Society Compass Award, 1997
- Kilby Award, 1997
- Ding Darling Conservation Medal, 1999
- Barbie Ambassador of Dreams, 1999
- Inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame, October 2000
- Wings Trust Award, 2003

Additionally, Earle was named Time magazine's first "hero for the planet" in 1998. She was also instrumental in adding a new feature of displaying oceans in version 5.0 of Google Earth.

Sylvia Earle is the author of more than 125 publications concerning marine science and technology. She has participated in numerous television productions and given scientific, technical, and general interest lectures in more than 60 countries. She has written the following books:

(1980). Exploring the Deep Frontier: The Adventure of Man in the Sea
(1996). Sea Change: A Message of the Oceans
(1999). Dive: My Adventures In the Deep Frontier
(2000). Sea Critters
(2001). Hello, Fish!: Visiting The Coral Reef
(2008). Ocean: An Illustrated Atlas (National Geographic Atlas)
(2009). Jump into Science: Coral Reefs
(2010). The World Is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean's Are One


"No water, no life. No blue, no green." - Sylvia Earle

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