The word “legend” is one that should be applied with judicious care, but few deserve the tag more than Dr. Sylvia Earle—a renowned pioneer of deep sea exploration and conservation so synonymous with the topics that she now has a Lego figurine modelled after her, complete with little yellow flippers.
Consider the titles, official and unofficial, handed to her by some of the world’s most prestigious organizations: she was referred to as her “Her Deepness” by the New Yorker and the New York Times; “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress; and, in 1998, the very first “Hero for the Planet” by Time magazine.
The internationally renowned marine biologist, ocean explorer, author and lecturer has logged more than 7,000 hours underwater across over 100 expeditions—including leading the first team of women aquanauts and setting a record for solo diving to a depth of 1,000-metres. She was the first woman to serve as the Chief Scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and, since 1998, has been Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society.
The long hours beneath the waves, only a few months short of a full year, demonstrate the astonishing passion Dr. Earle has displayed in her chosen field. Her special focus is on developing a network of areas on the land and in the ocean—global “hope spots”—to safeguard the living systems underpinning the global processes that maintain biodiversity, yield life-support services and provide stability and resiliency to ecosystems.
Dr. Earle’s achievements appear as boundless as the oceans she works so hard to protect. She is the founder of Deep Ocean Exploration and Research Inc., of Mission Blue and of the Sylvia Earle Alliance. She is also chair of the Harte Research Institute’s Advisory Board, Chair of the Advisory Council for the Ocean in Google Earth, and leader of the National Geographic Society Sustainable Seas Expeditions.
Her more than 100 national and international honours include the 2011 Royal Geographical Society Gold Medal, the 2011 Medal of Honour from the Dominican Republic, the 2009 TED Prize, and the Netherlands Order of the Golden Ark.
Dr. Earle embodies the spirit and values of UNEP’s Champions of the Earth, and her work will undoubtedly live long in memory and motivate others to follow in the wake of her ever-flapping flippers.