Winter Park Institute

Dr. Sylvia Earle

Environmental advocate, oceanographer


Dr. Sylvia Earle: Sustainable Seas; The Vision and the Reality

Speaker Video

Event Details

Dr. Earle shared with a packed audience the status of the world's oceans and answered questions about the role humans have played or can play in that history.

  • Dr. Sylvia Earle: Sustainable Seas; The Vision and the Reality

  • The Role Humans Have in Our Oceans: Past, Present, and Future

Speaker Bio

Called "Her Deepness" by The New Yorker and The New York Times, and the "Carl Sagan of our Oceans" by USA Today, Dr. Sylvia Earle is a marine biologist, author, lecturer, scientific consultant, the co-founder and director of Deep Ocean Engineering, Inc., and the president of Deep Ocean Exploration and Research, Inc. Earle's impressive list of accomplishments is enhanced by her genuine love for the ocean, exploration, and science in general. She is the most important and active advocate for the research and protection of one of our most precious and largely unexplored frontiers--our seas. Formerly the chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Earle is an explorer-in-residence at National Geographic. She also serves as the first female honorary president of The Explorer's Club.

Earle's presence and impact at National Geographic has been remarkable. In less than 12 months, she created and gathered funding for the Sustainable Seas Expedition. The SSE explores and researches 12 National Marine Sanctuaries that surround the North American continent, working to increase US and international recognition and caring for the oceans by the public, policy-makers, and institutions. The project also seeks to increase the nation's ability to conserve the natural and cultural resources of the oceans and establish the utility of new submersibles, which will allow for advanced exploration and research. In keeping with the commitment to further involve the public in caring for our oceans, schoolchildren and teachers will be able to follow these missions on the Internet and interact, while those who are near the sanctuaries during the expeditions will find hands-on ways to participate.

Earle made her first dive in 1952 at the age of 16, in the Weekiwatchee River in Florida. She wore a borrowed copper diving helmet and breathed air pumped through a hose by a compressor. Twelve years later, when Earle was preparing for her doctorate in marine botany at Duke University, she was invited to join a six-week expedition aboard Harry Truman's old presidential yacht. She was the only woman among 70 men and quickly learned the necessity and power of self-sufficiency and a good sense of humor. Six years later, she found herself part of a group of five women unexpectedly allowed to participate in the NASA aquanaut program called Tektite II. The two weeks Earle spent in the 50-foot deep underwater habitat changed her view of the ocean forever, and further inspired her to "go deeper." In 1985, she made a daring solo descent to 3,000 feet in the Pacific Ocean just off the coast of San Diego. Earle still holds the record for the deepest untethered solo dive, and has led more than 50 expeditions worldwide involving an excess of 6000 hours underwater.

Recognized by the Library of Congress as a "Living Legend" and inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame, she is the author of more than 100 publications concerning marine science and technology, including the books, Sea Change (1995) and Wild Ocean (1999). She has participated in numerous television productions and given scientific, technical, and general interest lectures in more than 60 countries. Her books for children include Hello Fish; Sea Critters; and Dive!, a winner of five awards for excellence.

Most recently, Earle became the face of Google Oceans, Google’s downloadable, interactive guide to the deepest depths of the sea. With vivid imagery and the ability to go back in time to see the evolution of 75% of the Earth’s surface, Google Oceans is visually astonishing and an incredible guide to the history of our planet.

She is also the winner of the prestigious 2009 TED Award (Technology, Entertainment, Design), which is an “annual conference bringing together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers who are challenged to give the talk of their lives” in the mission of spreading innovative ideas to the global community.

Her company, Deep Ocean Exploration and Research, continues to design advanced systems for submersibles, ultimately making the diving machines more accessible to the public. "With knowing comes caring," says Earle, "and with caring there is the hope that we will find a place for ourselves within the natural systems that sustain us."