Sylvia Earle

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Sylvia Earle
Earle with a Lego figure in her likeness, 2012
Born (1935-08-30) August 30, 1935 (age 79)
Gibbstown, New Jersey, United States
Nationality American
Fields Oceanography
Institutions NOAA, National Geographic
Alma mater Florida State University
Duke University
Notable awards TED Prize, National Women's Hall of Fame

Sylvia Alice Earle (born August 30, 1935 in Gibbstown, New Jersey) is an American marine biologist, explorer, author, and lecturer. Since 1998 she has been a National Geographic explorer-in-residence.[1][2] Earle was the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,[2] and was named by Time Magazine as its first Hero for the Planet in 1998.[1]


Earle received a bachelor of science degree from Florida State University (1955) and a master of science (1956) and doctorate of philosophy (1966) from Duke University.


Earle was the Curator of Phycology at the California Academy of Sciences (1979–1986) and a research associate at the University of California, Berkeley (1969–1981), Radcliffe Institute Scholar (1967–1969) and research fellow or associate at Harvard University (1967–1981).

After receiving her Ph.D. 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.[3] In 1969, she applied to join the Tektite Project, an installation fifty feet below the surface of the sea off the coast of the Virgin Islands that allowed scientists to live submersed in their area of study for up to several weeks. Although she had logged more than one-thousand research hours underwater, Earle was rejected from the program. The next year, she was selected to lead the first all-female team of aquanauts in Tektite II.[4]

In 1979, she made an open-ocean JIM suit dive to the sea floor near Oahu, setting a women's depth record of 381 metres (1,250 ft).[1][5] In 1979 she also began her tenure as the Curator of Phycology at the California Academy of Sciences, where she served until 1986.[3]

From 1980 to 1984 she served on the National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere.

In 1982 she and her husband, Graham Hawkes, an engineer and submersible designer, founded Deep Ocean Engineering to design, operate, support and consult on piloted and robotic subsea systems.[6] In 1985, the Deep Ocean Engineering team designed and built the Deep Rover research submarine, which operates down to 1,000 metres (3,300 ft).[7][8] By 1986, Deep Rover had been tested, and Earle joined the team conducting training off Lee Stocking Island in the Bahamas.[7]

She left the company in 1990 to accept an appointment as a chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where she stayed until 1992. She was the first woman to hold that position. In 1992 she founded Deep Ocean Exploration and Research (DOER Marine) to further advance marine engineering. The company, now run by her daughter, Elizabeth, designs, builds and operates equipment for deep-ocean environments.[9]

Since 1998 she has been a National Geographic explorer-in-residence, sometimes called "Her Deepness"[1] or "The Sturgeon General".[2]

From 1998 to 2002 she led the Sustainable Seas Expeditions, a five-year program to study the United States National Marine Sanctuary sponsored by the National Geographic Society and funded by the Goldman Foundation. She was a leader of the Sustainable Seas Expeditions, council chair for the Harte Research Institute for the Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, and chair of the Advisory Council for the Ocean in Google Earth. She also provided the DeepWorker 2000 submersible used to quantify the species of fish as well as the space resources utilized within the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.[10]

Earle has written children's books, including Coral Reefs, Hello Fish, Sea Critters and Dive!

Earle has founded three companies, among them DOER Marine (Deep Ocean Exploration and Research) in Alameda, California.[11] In 2009, Earle won a TED Prize.[12] With TED's support, she launched Mission Blue, which aims to establish marine protected areas (dubbed "hope spots") around the globe.[13]

Earle displays samples to an aquanaut inside the Tektite habitat, 1970

Accomplishments and honors[edit]

An expert on the impact of oil spills, Earle was called upon to lead several research trips during the Persian Gulf War in 1991 to determine environmental damage caused by Iraq's destruction of Kuwaiti oil wells. She was also called to consult during the Deepwater Horizon Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 as well as following the oil spills from the Exxon Valdez and Mega Borg.

In 1986, she tied the world solo dive depth record in a sub (and setting the record for a woman), going 1000m in Deep Ocean Engineering's Deep Rover, tying the record set by her then husband Graham Hawkes.[6][14]

She is a Knight in the Netherlands' Order of the Golden Ark.[15]

In 2000, Earle was honored as a new member of the National Women's Hall of Fame.[16]

Earle founded Deep Search (also known as the Sylvia Earle Alliance, Deep Search Foundation, and Mission Blue), a non-profit foundation for protecting and exploring the Earth's oceans.[17] In addition, she serves on several boards, including Marine Conservation Institute.[18]

At The Hague International Model United Nations Conference, Earle gave a 14-minute speech in front of 3,500 delegates and United Nations ambassadors. In July 2012, Earle led an expedition to NOAA's Aquarius underwater laboratory, located off Key Largo, Florida. The expedition, entitled "Celebrating 50 Years of Living Beneath The Sea," commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of Jacques Cousteau's Conshelf I project and investigated coral reefs and ocean health. Mark Patterson co-led the expedition with Earle. Their aquanaut team also included underwater filmmaker D.J. Roller and oceanographer M. Dale Stokes.[19][20]

In 2011, she received an honorary doctorate from Smith College,[21] and delivered the commencement address at Warren Wilson College.

Earle made a cameo appearance in the daily cartoon strip Sherman's Lagoon in the week starting September 17, 2012, to discuss the closing of the Aquarius Underwater Laboratory.[22]

She was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in 2013.[23]

In May 2013, the Science Laureates of the United States Act of 2013 (H.R. 1891; 113th Congress) was introduced into Congress. Sylvia Earle was listed by one commentator as a possible nominee for the position of Science Laureate, if the act were to pass.[24]

Mission Blue[edit]

In 2009, Earle won a TED Prize.[12] With TED's support, she launched Mission Blue, which aims to establish marine protected areas (dubbed "hope spots") around the globe.[13]

“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.” – Sylvia Earle[13]

With Mission Blue and its partners, Earle led expeditions to prospective hope spots: Cuba in 2009,[25] Belize in January 2010, the Galápagos Islands in April 2010,[26] and the Mesoamerican Reef in July 2011. It currently runs the Google Ocean's Layer that can be submitted to via the Deepness.

As of 2013, there were 51 Hope Spots around the world.

In 2014, a Netflix documentary entitled 'Mission Blue' was released which focused on Earle's life and career as well as the Mission Blue project.


I want to get out in the water. I wanted to see fish, real fish, not fish in a laboratory.

—Sylvia Earle[27]

People ask: Why should I care about the ocean? Because the ocean is the cornerstone of earth's life support system, it shapes climate and weather. It holds most of life on earth. 97% of earth's water is there. It's the blue heart of the planet — we should take care of our heart. It's what makes life possible for us. We still have a really good chance to make things better than they are. They won't get better unless we take the action and inspire others to do the same thing. No one is without power. Everybody has the capacity to do something.

—Sylvia Earle[28]

I hope Jill Tarter's wish to engage Earthlings includes dolphins and whales and other sea creatures in this quest to find intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. And I hope, Jill, that someday we will find evidence that there is intelligent life among humans on this planet. (Chuckles) Did I say that? I guess I did.

—Sylvia Earle[29]

The next time you dine on sushi -- or sashimi, or swordfish steak, or shrimp cocktail, whatever wildlife you happen to enjoy from the ocean -- think of the real cost. For every pound that goes to market, more than 10 pounds, even 100 pounds, may be thrown away as bycatch. This is the consequence of not knowing that there are limits to what we can take out of the sea.

—Sylvia Earle[30]


Earle has authored over 150 publications; a selection is listed here.[3]

  • Earle, Sylvia and Al Giddings (1980). Exploring the Deep Frontier: The Adventure of Man in the Sea. National Geographic Society. ISBN 0-87044-343-7. 
  • Earle, Sylvia (1996). Sea Change: A Message of the Oceans. Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-449-91065-2. 
  • Earle, Sylvia (1999). Dive: My Adventure in the Deep Frontier. National Geographic Children's Books. ISBN 0-7922-7144-0. 
  • Earle, Sylvia (1999). Wild Ocean: America's Parks Under the Sea. National Geographic Society. ISBN 0-7922-7471-7. 
  • Earle, Sylvia (2000). Sea Critters. National Geographic Children's Books. ISBN 0-439-28575-5. 
  • Ellen, Prager and Earle, Sylvia (2000). The Oceans. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-138177-5. 
  • Earle, Sylvia (2001). Hello, Fish!: Visiting the Coral Reef. National Geographic Children's Books. ISBN 0-7922-6697-8. 
  • Earle, Sylvia (2001). National Geographic Atlas of the Ocean: The Deep Frontier. National Geographic. ISBN 0-7922-6426-6. 
  • Earle, Sylvia (2003). Jump into Science: Coral Reefs. National Geographic Children's Books. ISBN 0-7922-6953-5. 
  • Earle, Sylvia and Linda K. Glover (2008). Ocean: An Illustrated Atlas (National Geographic Atlas). National Geographic. ISBN 1-4262-0319-5. 
  • Earle, Sylvia (2009). The World Is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean's Are One. National Geographic Books. ISBN 1-4262-0541-4. 
  • Co-author (2011). The Protection and Management of the Sargasso Sea: The golden floating rainforest of the Atlantic Ocean. Summary Science and Supporting Evidence Case. Sargasso Sea Alliance.
  • Earle, Sylvia (2012). The Sweet Spot in Time. Why the Ocean Matters to Everyone, Everywhere. Virginia Quarterly Review, Fall.


  1. ^ a b c d Rosenblatt, Roger (October 5, 1998). "Sylvia Earle: Call Of The Sea". Time. Retrieved December 16, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c "Sylvia Earle, Oceanographer Information, Facts, News, Photos". National Geographic. Retrieved February 12, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c "Sylvia A. Earle, Ph.D.". Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences. Retrieved March 18, 2014. 
  4. ^ Collette, BB (1996). "Results of the Tektite Program: Ecology of coral-reef fishes.". In: MA Lang, CC Baldwin (Eds.) The Diving for Science…1996, "Methods and Techniques of Underwater Research" Proceedings of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences Sixteenth Annual Scientific Diving Symposium, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. Retrieved 2013-04-14. 
  5. ^ Kesling, Douglas E (2011). "Atmospheric Diving Suits – New Technology May Provide ADS Systems that are Practical and Cost-Effective Tools for Conducting Safe Scientific Diving, Exploration, and Undersea Research". In: Pollock NW, ed. Diving for Science 2011. Proceedings of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences 30th Symposium. Dauphin Island, AL: AAUS. Retrieved 2013-04-14. 
  6. ^ a b New York Times, "SCIENTIST AT WORK: Graham Hawkes; Racing to the Bottom Of the Deep, Black Sea", William J. Broad, 1993 August 3 (accessed 30 Juli 2012)
  7. ^ a b English, JG (1987). "DEEP ROVER submersible operations for science". In: Lang, MA (ed). Coldwater Diving for Science…1987. Proceedings of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences annual scientific diving symposium 31 October – 1 November 1987 Seattle, Washington, USA. Retrieved 2013-04-14. 
  8. ^ Griffin, James J; Sharkey, Phillip I (1987). "Design of the next generation of research vessels". In: Lang, MA (ed). Coldwater Diving for Science…1987. Proceedings of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences annual scientific diving symposium 31 October – 1 November 1987 Seattle, Washington, USA. Retrieved 2013-04-14. 
  9. ^ "About DOER Marine". DOER Marine. Retrieved December 16, 2011. 
  10. ^ Auster, Peter J; Lindholm, James (2005). "The Ecology of Fishes on Deep Boulder Reefs in the Western Gulf of Maine (NW Atlantic).". In: Godfrey, JM; Shumway, SE. Diving For Science 2005. Proceedings of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences Symposium on March 10–12, 2005 at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point, Groton, Connecticut. (American Academy of Underwater Sciences). Retrieved 2013-04-14. 
  11. ^ Earle (2009)
  12. ^ a b "2009 Winners". Retrieved December 16, 2011. 
  13. ^ a b c "Sylvia Earle". TED Prize. Retrieved February 12, 2011. 
  14. ^ Burnaby Mail, "Her Deepness drops in and warns of growing threat to the oceans", Deborah Smith, 2011 November 23 (accessed March 25, 2012)
  15. ^ "Sylvia Earle, Oceanographer". National Geographic Society. Retrieved December 16, 2011. 
  16. ^ "Sylvia A. Earle - National Women's Hall of Fame". Retrieved 30 August 2013. 
  17. ^ "Deep Search GuideStar report". GuideStar. Retrieved December 15, 2011. 
  18. ^ Marine Conservation Institute
  19. ^ "Celebrating 50 Years of Living Beneath The Sea". University of North Carolina Wilmington. 2012. Retrieved July 18, 2012. 
  20. ^ Rosser, Saul (July 2012). "A Personal Perspective on 50 Years of Living Beneath the Sea". National Undersea Research Center. Retrieved July 18, 2012. 
  21. ^ "Sylvia Earle to be 2011 commencement speaker". Retrieved May 15, 2011. 
  22. ^ This Week in Comics: What To Read Daily Ink Retrieved September 18, 2012
  23. ^ "Ocean record-breaker to visit NMMU". Port Elizabeth Herald. April 12, 2013. Retrieved 2013-04-17. 
  24. ^ Marlow, Jeffrey (9 May 2013). "The Science Laureate of the United States". Wired Magazine. Retrieved 12 September 2013. 
  25. ^ "Cuba". SEA. Retrieved December 16, 2011. 
  26. ^ "The Mission Blue Voyage". TED. Retrieved December 16, 2011. 
  27. ^ "Interview: Sylvia Earle Undersea Explorer". Academy of Achievement. January 27, 1991. Retrieved April 18, 2012. 
  28. ^ Quote from the film Bag It.
  29. ^ Quote from the 2009 TED talk.
  30. ^ Quote from the 2009 TED talk.

External links[edit]