Sylvia Earle: There’s Still Time to Save the Oceans

The legendary oceanographer talks about why she crisscrosses the globe to protect marine life.
Apr 20, 2015·
Todd Woody is TakePart's editorial director, environment.

Pioneering oceanographer Sylvia Earle’s lifelong affinity for the ocean began early. “When I was three years old I got knocked over by a wave, and the ocean got my attention,” she told me at DOER Marine, the ocean technology company in Alameda, California, that she founded.

It’s held her attention ever since. A former chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and current National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence, Earle has led dozens of deep-sea missions and spent more than 7,000 hours underwater. Her nonprofit Mission Blue organization leads an alliance seeking to vastly expand the number of ocean preserves to protect marine life from overfishing, pollution, and development.

When I met her at DOER (or Deep Ocean Exploration and Technology)—now run by her daughter, Liz Taylor—Earle, 79, had just flown in from a speaking engagement in Australia and was due to head to Vancouver, British Columbia, to attend a TED conference. From there, she was off to Costa Rica to do a dive at the Isla del Coco World Heritage Site to draw attention to the slaughter of hammerhead sharks by poachers in what is supposed to be a national park.

Earle spoke about why she keeps up such a frenetic travel schedule.

“The ocean is in trouble, and therefore we’re in trouble,” she said. “The two biggest discoveries about the ocean in the 20th century: First, how important the ocean is to everybody. With every breath you take, with every drop of water you drink, you’re connected. It doesn’t matter where on the planet you live—you’re connected. The other thing we’ve learned is that humans have the capacity to alter the nature of the ocean,” she added. “Ninety percent of many of the big fish are already gone. The smaller ones too are in serious trouble. Half the coral reefs already gone.”

Her message: Don’t become complacent.

“Together we can make a difference,” Earle said. “We really don’t have a lot of time to turn things around. But there is time, and this is that time.”

Read more about the fight to save the world’s oceans in our Blue Planet series.