Sylvia Earle

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Sylvia Earle
Born (1935-08-30) August 30, 1935 (age 81)
Gibbstown, New Jersey, U.S.
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 (Reade) Earle (born August 30, 1935) is an American marine biologist, explorer, author, and lecturer. She has been a National Geographic explorer-in-residence since 1998.[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]

Early life and education[edit]

Earle was born in 1935 in the Gibbstown section of Greenwich Township, Gloucester County, New Jersey, to Lewis Reade and Alice Freas (Richie) Earle. Both of Earle's parents were enthusiastic about the outdoors and supportive of their daughter's early interests in the natural world.[3] The family moved to the western coast of Florida in Earle's childhood.[4] Earle received an associate degree from St. Petersburg Jr. College (1952), a bachelor of science degree from Florida State University (1954), and a master of science (1955) and doctorate of phycology (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 at Harvard University (1967–1981).

TEKTITE-II all-female team, led by Earle, in rebreather training

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.[5] 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 1,000 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.[6]

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][7] In 1979 she also began her tenure as the Curator of Phycology at the California Academy of Sciences, where she served until 1986.[5]

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

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

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.[8] 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).[9][10] By 1986, Deep Rover had been tested and Earle joined the team conducting training off Lee Stocking Island in the Bahamas.[9]

Earle left the company in 1990 to accept an appointment as 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, Earle founded Deep Ocean Exploration and Research (DOER Marine) to further advance marine engineering. The company, now run by Earle's daughter, Elizabeth, designs, builds, and operates equipment for deep-ocean environments.[11][12]

Since 1998, Earle has been a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. She is sometimes called "Her Deepness"[1][13] or "The Sturgeon General."[2]

From 1998 to 2002 she led the Sustainable Seas Expeditions, a five-year program sponsored by the National Geographic Society and funded by the Goldman Foundation to study the United States National Marine Sanctuary. Earle 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.[14]

Earle founded Mission Blue (also known as the Sylvia Earle Alliance, Deep Search Foundation, and Deep Search), a non-profit foundation for protecting and exploring the Earth's ocean.[15] In addition, she serves on several boards, including Marine Conservation Institute.[16]

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.[3] Given her past experience with the Exxon Valdez and Mega Borg oil spills, Earle was called to consult during the Deepwater Horizon Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

In 2010, 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.[17][18]

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.[19]

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.[20]

Mission Blue[edit]

In 2009, Earle won a TED Prize.[21] With TED's support, she launched Mission Blue, which aims to establish marine protected areas (dubbed "Hope Spots") around the globe.[22]

“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[22]

With Mission Blue and its partners, Earle leads expeditions to Hope Spots around the globe.[23] Past expeditions include Cuba in 2009,[24] Belize in January 2010,[25] the Galápagos Islands in April 2010,[26] Costa Rica and the Central American Dome in early 2014[27] and the South African Coast in late 2014.[28]

In August 2014, a Netflix exclusive documentary titled 'Mission Blue' was released.[29] It focuses on Earle's life and career as well as her Mission Blue campaign to create a global network of marine protected areas.[30]

As of January 2015, there were 50 official Hope Spots around the world.[31]

Accomplishments and honors[edit]

1970: U.S. Department of Interior Conservation Service Award and Los Angeles Times Woman of the Year[32]

1976: NOGI Award for Science[33]

1980: Explorers Club Lowell Thomas Award[32]

1981: Ordained as a Knight of the Order of the Golden Ark by the Prince of the Netherlands[34]

1986: Set the women's record for a world solo dive depth and tie the overall record with Graham Hawkes[8][35]

1990: Society of Woman Geographers gold medal[36]

1991: American Academy of Achievement Golden Plate Award[37]

1996: Lindbergh Foundation award,[38] the Explorers Club Medal[32] and Zonta International Honorary Member[39]

1997: SeaKeeper Award at The International SeaKeepers Society's Bal de la Mer[40]

1998: UN Global 500 Laureate[41] and National Wildlife Federation Conservationist of the Year[42]

2000: National Women's Hall of Fame[43]

2004: International Banksia Award,[44] the Richard Hopper Day Memorial Medal from the Philadelphia Academy of Sciences, and the Barnard College medal[45]

2005: John P. McGovern Science and Society Award from Sigma Xi[46]

2009: Artiglio Award (Premio Artiglio 2009)[47] and TED Prize[21]

2009: Earle was awarded The National Audubon Society's prestigious Rachel Carson Award, a premier award honoring distinguished American women environmentalists.

2011: Honorary doctorate from Smith College[48] and commencement address at Warren Wilson College

2013: Honorary doctorate by the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University[49] and the Hubbard Medal, the National Geographic Society's highest honor, "for distinction in exploration, discovery and research"[50]

2014: Walter Cronkite Award,[51] UN Champions of the Earth Award,[52] Glamour Woman of the Year,[53] and the first woman to be celebrated at an Explorers Club Tribute Ceremony[54]


Earle has authored over 150 publications; a selection is listed here.[5]

  • Earle, Sylvia & 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 & 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 & 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 Holloway, Marguerite (April 1992). "Fire in Water". Scientific American. 266 (4): 37–40. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0492-37. 
  4. ^ "Sylvia A. Earle." Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1998. Biography in Context. Web. 14 Jan. 2016.
  5. ^ a b c "Sylvia A. Earle, Ph.D.". Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences. Retrieved March 18, 2014.  External link in |publisher= (help)
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ 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)
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ "About DOER Marine". DOER Marine. Retrieved December 16, 2011. 
  12. ^ Earle (2009)
  13. ^ White, Wallace. "Her Deepness". The New Yorker. Retrieved January 18, 2015.  External link in |website= (help)
  14. ^ 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. 
  15. ^ "About Mission Blue". Retrieved January 21, 2015. 
  16. ^ Marine Conservation Institute
  17. ^ "Celebrating 50 Years of Living Beneath The Sea". University of North Carolina Wilmington. 2012. Retrieved July 18, 2012. 
  18. ^ Rosser, Saul (July 2012). "A Personal Perspective on 50 Years of Living Beneath the Sea". National Undersea Research Center. Retrieved July 18, 2012. 
  19. ^ This Week in Comics: What To Read Daily Ink Retrieved September 18, 2012
  20. ^ Marlow, Jeffrey (May 9, 2013). "The Science Laureate of the United States". Wired Magazine. Retrieved September 12, 2013. 
  21. ^ a b "2009 Winners". Retrieved December 16, 2011. 
  22. ^ a b "Sylvia Earle". TED Prize. Retrieved February 12, 2011. 
  23. ^ "Mission Blue Expeditions". Sylvia Earle Alliance. Retrieved January 21, 2015. 
  24. ^ "Mission Blue Expeditions > Cuba". Retrieved January 21, 2015. 
  25. ^ "Mission Blue Expeditions > Belize". Retrieved January 21, 2015. 
  26. ^ "The Mission Blue Voyage". TED. Retrieved December 16, 2011. 
  27. ^ "Mission Blue Expeditions > Costa Rica". Retrieved January 21, 2015. 
  28. ^ Garling, Brett. "South Africans Unite Around Hope Spots". National Geographic. Retrieved January 21, 2015. 
  29. ^ "Mission Blue film". Retrieved January 21, 2015. 
  30. ^ "Mission Blue". IMDb. Retrieved January 21, 2015. 
  31. ^ "Mission Blue Hope Spots". Retrieved October 3, 2016. 
  32. ^ a b c "Sylvia Earle". Retrieved January 21, 2015. 
  33. ^ "Sylvia A. Earle, Ph.D. - Science - 1976". Academy of Underwater Arts & Sciences. Retrieved April 1, 2016. 
  34. ^ "Sylvia Earle, Oceanographer". National Geographic Society. Retrieved December 16, 2011. 
  35. ^ Burnaby Mail, "Her Deepness drops in and warns of growing threat to the oceans", Deborah Smith, 2011 November 23 (accessed March 25, 2012)
  36. ^ "Past Gold Medal Recipients". Retrieved January 21, 2015. 
  37. ^ "Sylvia Earle Biography". Academy of Achievement. Retrieved January 21, 2015. 
  38. ^ "Sylvia Earle". Lindbergh Foundation. Retrieved January 21, 2015. 
  39. ^ "Sylvia Alice Earle". 
  40. ^ "Bal de la Mer". Retrieved January 21, 2015. 
  41. ^ "1998". Global 500. Retrieved January 21, 2015. 
  42. ^ "Sylvia Earle's Excellent Adventure". National Wildlife Federation. Retrieved January 21, 2015. 
  43. ^ "Sylvia A. Earle – National Women's Hall of Fame". Retrieved August 30, 2013. 
  44. ^ "2004 Award Winners & Finalists". Banksia Foundation. Retrieved January 21, 2015. 
  45. ^ "Past Speakers and Medalists". Barnard College. Retrieved January 21, 2015. 
  46. ^ "Sylvia A. Earle". Sigma Xi. Retrieved January 21, 2015. 
  47. ^ "Edizioni Premio Artiglio". Artiglio. Retrieved January 21, 2015. 
  48. ^ "Sylvia Earle to be 2011 commencement speaker". Retrieved May 15, 2011. 
  49. ^ "Ocean record-breaker to visit NMMU". Port Elizabeth Herald. April 12, 2013. Retrieved 2013-04-17. 
  50. ^ "In Her Words". National Geographic. Retrieved January 21, 2015. 
  51. ^ Shaw, Martha. "Sylvia Earle and Sam Low Win Cronkite Award as Mission Blue Debuts on Martha's Vineyard". Retrieved January 21, 2015. 
  52. ^ "2014 Laureates". UNEP. Retrieved January 21, 2015. 
  53. ^ "Sylvia Earle". Glamour. Retrieved January 21, 2015. 
  54. ^ "The Tribute Ceremony in Honor of Sylvia Earle". Retrieved January 21, 2015. 

External links[edit]