Heeding 'Her Deepness' to Save Our Seas

Guest Correspondence


“No ocean, no life. No ocean, no us.”

Dr. Sylvia Earle recites that simple but deep statement often. I can’t imagine the iconic oceanographer enjoys saying it. But repeat it she must: At 84, Earle has made it her personal mission to speak for the world’s oceans, striving to inspire a global network of support to save and restore them. Before it’s too late.

Earle knows of what she speaks. She points out that 97% of the earth’s water is ocean. The ocean generates most of the oxygen in our atmosphere. It also takes up much of the carbon dioxide. “An ocean in trouble means civilization in trouble,” she has said. Earle has science on her side.

She also has experience. Earle has been diving for nearly seven decades. She has logged more than 7,500 hours underwater. (That’s almost a whole year!) When she first started exploring the ocean, Earle has said, “no one imagined that we could do anything to harm it.” Now? “The ocean is dying.” She has seen it with her own eyes.

In March, Gulf Coast Community Foundation will welcome Dr. Sylvia Earle to Sarasota for a conversation about the state of our seas and how she believes we can save them. Earle has deep ties to our Gulf Coast region. She fell in love with the ocean when she began exploring the Gulf of Mexico—her “backyard”—as a teen near Clearwater. Years later, she served as interim leader of a young Mote Marine Laboratory.

Earle’s research and activism have since taken her around the world. Her fascinating personal story is full of pioneering firsts. Among the first scientists to use SCUBA gear for marine research. Leader of the first all-female group of aquanauts who lived underwater in a capsule on the seafloor. First human to solo dive to 1,250 feet. First woman to serve as chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (Earle left that gig after 18 months, feeling she could do more for the oceans as a private citizen than a bureaucrat.) Founder of companies that have advanced marine engineering and developed new equipment to explore the deep seas. First “Hero for the Planet” named by TIME Magazine.

What this trailblazer chooses to say when she returns to the Gulf Coast might not sit well with everyone. Earle doesn’t believe in eating seafood, for example. (She calls it marine wildlife.) But important conversations aren’t always comfortable. Big change isn’t easy. And Earle herself has said: “I think if others had the opportunity to witness what I have seen in my lifetime, from thousands of hours underwater, I would not seem like a radical at all.”

I am eager to hear more about what Sylvia Earle has seen and learned. Her Deepness, as she is fondly known, has been to places on our planet where no one else has. From all of her exploration, scientific study, and deep love of the ocean, she has come to understand it as the “blue heart of the planet.”

Addressing the UN a few years ago, Earle said: “The highest priority for humankind is to keep the world safe for our children. To do so means taking care of the natural ocean systems that make life possible.”

Dr. Sylvia Earle will be the featured speaker for Gulf Coast Community Foundation’s Better Together luncheon on March 13 at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota. Reservations will be available online at GulfCoastCF.org next week.

Mark Pritchett is president and CEO of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

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