Affectionally nicknamed Her Deepness,
86-year-old Sylvia Earle is something of a living legend in ocean conservation.
Born in 1935 in New Jersey, Sylvia Earle got her PhD in phycology (the study of algae) in 1966, at a time when career options for women were limited.In 1970 was recruited to lead the first all-female team of aquanauts on Tektite II, a project that allowed scientists to live underwater for two months off the U.S. Virgin Islands.
After that, there followed record-breaking deep sea dives, a stint as the first female chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), numerous deep sea expeditions, and dozens of books, including her latest, National Geographic Ocean: A Global Odyssey by Sylvia Earle, published last month.
The moments of joy underwater now come tainted with the knowledge that the oceans are in a perilous state. Climate change poses a mortal threat, but for Sylvia Earle there is a “big blue elephant in the room” that also needs addressing: fishing.
Sylvia Earle’s concern has been building for decades. She recalls sitting in a NOAA fisheries meeting in the early 1990s, listening to reports that 90 per cent of Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks had been taken from the oceans since 1970.
‘What are we trying to do? Exterminate them?” she recalls. “Because if so we only have 10 per cent left to go!” Her reaction earned her a not so affectionate nickname among colleagues: “That’s when they started calling me the Sturgeon General,” she remembers. “I was just horrified to think we had been so efficient at eliminating so much, so fast, that if we continued on track it wouldn’t take long to exterminate this iconic, majestic species.”