Sylvia Earle

Sylvia Alice Earle (née Reade) was born on August 30, 1935 in Gibbstown, New Jersey, U.S. as the second of three children. Her father was electrical engineer Lewis Reade and her mother was Alice Freas Richie. Dr. Sylvia Earle is a “living legend”, according to the Library of Congress. She is a woman of many firsts, including the first female chief scientist of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the first Time Magazine Hero for the Planet in 1998, and the first, and still only, human being to dive solo to a depth of over half a mile. She is a marine biologist, explorer, author, researcher and lecturer and she has been a National Geographic explorer-in-residence since 1998. She has led more than a hundred expeditions, including the first team of women aquanauts during the Tektite Project in 1970, and she has logged more than 7,000 hours underwater.

But that's not all. Sylvia is the founder of Deep Ocean Exploration and Research, Inc., founder of Mission Blue and SEAlliance, and chair of the Advisory Councils of the Harte Research Institute and the Ocean in Google Earth (and as rumors have it, she is the reason Google Earth remembered to include the oceans). In addition, Sylvia is the recipient of more than a hundred national and international honors. Dr. Earle has focused much of her work on unique and significant places across the world’s oceans that need attention and protection, “hope spots,” as she has called them.

"Life depends on the ocean, and to save it we must love it."

Sylvia, nicknamed "Her Deepness", spent her early life on a small farm near Camden, New Jersey, where she at a young age already learned to respect and appreciate  the wonders of nature through her own explorations of nearby woods and the empathy her parents showed to living things. When Sylvia was 12 they moved to Dunedin, Florida, where she started investigating nearby salt marshes and sea grass beds. 

Earle first learned to scuba dive while at Florida State University, where she majored in botany and graduated in 1955. Later that year she enrolled in the master’s program in botany at Duke University, graduating in 1956. She completed her thesis work on algae in the Gulf of Mexico. In 1957 she married American zoologist John Taylor, but they later divorced. She completed a Ph.D. in 1966, publishing her dissertation Phaeophyta of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico in 1969. For this project she collected over 20,000 samples of algae.

After graduating, Sylvia led numerous marine expeditions all over the world and was one of the first so observe the effects of pollution on coral reefs. Being a woman in the field was quite exceptional in the 1970's, but she went even further and set the diving record of going to a depth of 381 meters in 1979 in the Pacific Ocean wearing a special suit (a JIM suit that keeps an interior pressure of 1 standard atmosphere).

During the early 1980s Earle founded Deep Ocean Engineering and Deep Ocean Technology with British engineer Graham Hawkes, her third husband. Together they designed the submersible Deep Rover, a vehicle capable of reaching depths of 914 metres (3,000 feet) beneath the surface of the ocean.

Dr. Sylvia Earle, now 82 years old but nowhere near stopping any time soon, is on a mission to save the oceans. "As terrestrial, air-breathing creatures, we have focused on the land throughout most of our existence. Now we're beginning to appreciate just how important the ocean is to every breath we take, every drop of water we drink, and to maintaining the chemistry of the planet", as she explains in an interview with Elle in 2017.

She regularly gives speeches on the wonder and beauty of marine life. emphasizing as well the importance of further research on the oceans and their myriad life-forms so we can learin how we can better manage them (and draw on them as resources) in the future. The oceans also provide us with an immense source of information on the development of species, since most forms of life never made the evolutionary transition from the ocean to dry land. The seas till preserve that abundance of diversity. ignite support to safeguard them as marine protected areas.

Through her Mission Blue Alliance, Earle tries to get public support for the protection of Hope Spots, those special places that are vital to the health of the ocean: the blue heart of our planet. The organization draws inspiration from her vision to unite a global coalition of partners to inspire an emergence of public awareness and to get more support to safeguard them as marine protected areas. As Dr. Earle puts it: "We are at a crossroads. What we do right now or fail to do will determine the future, not just for us, but for all life on Earth."


Mission Blue

Restorative leadership


Quanta Magazine

National Geographic