Sylvia Earle is an American oceanographer, marine biologist, and explorer who has studied the sea and its creatures for more than 50 years.
Growing up near the salt marshes and seagrass beds by her parent's house in Florida, got Earle hooked on investigating the underwater habitats at a young age. Since then she had focused her study in marine botany, particularly deep fascination in algae. Where ever plant exist there will be life, to many underwater creatures, these slimy algae providing shelter and food while at the same time playing a vital role in producing 75% of all the oxygen we breathe in with the second biggest source coming from the Amazon rainforest at 20%.
In 1970, Earle did what other American women did during that time, by entering the labor force traditionally held by men. Earle led the first all-female team of women aquanauts on a research expedition as part of the Tektite II, a project designed to explore the marine realm and test the viability of deepwater habitats and the health effects of prolonged living in underwater structures.
The habitat was located about 15 meters (about 50 feet) below the surface of Great Lameshur Bay off the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. During the two-week experiment, she observed the effects of pollution on coral reefs first hand.
'Everybody has the capacity to do something. Even if you never have the chance to see or touch the ocean, the ocean touches you with every breath you take, every drop of water you drink, every bite you consume. Everyone, everywhere is inextricably connected to and utterly dependent upon the existence of the sea.'
Over her career, Earle went on to led numerous underwater expedition, identifying many new species of marine life along the way. Among her many accomplishments, one of them was a record-setting that took place on a sunny day of September 19, 1979. After geared up in a JIM atmospheric diving suit, designed to maintain an interior pressure protecting physiological dangers associated with deep diving, she was dropped into the Pacific Ocean off the Hawaiian island of Oahu.
Light began fading as she dives deep into the ocean, by 200meters darkness set in. Nothing can stop her as she reached the seabed at 381meters (1,250 feet), setting the untethered women's depth diving record.
One could argue that a more fitting name to Planet Earth for Earle would be Planet Ocean, not only because the ocean covers 70% of the Earth’s surface but because the ocean is a place that she loves dearly, one where countless hours were spent exploring, researching. At 82, the fervent voice for ocean conservation is still diving deep into the underwater world, returning the favor and taking care of the ocean that takes.
Keep swimming Earle!
Words by Buranee Soh