MIAMI – She’s been called the Joan of Arc of the ocean, a marine biologist, explorer, author and conservationist who uses her voice to save our seas before it’s too late.
Before leaving for Glasgow to address world leaders at the UN climate summit, Sylvia Earle spent some time with Local 10 News to talk about this critical turning point in our history — and how all of us play a part in restoring balance to our planet.
Earle, 85, doesn’t mince words.
“If you like to breathe, you’ll listen up,” she says.
Every second breath we take comes from the ocean. And right now, our planet is in trouble. So are we.
“You say — and you hold no punches — that we’re now facing paradise lost. Is that hyperbole?” we ask her.
“No, it is not. It’s heartbreaking not just for me, but that others cannot know or see what in my lifetime was there for everyone to see,” she says. “And now it’s gone for everyone.”
Earle was one of the first humans on the planet to ever strap on a scuba tank and explore the undersea world while attending Florida State University in the early 1950s. She has since logged thousands of hours underwater and held the world record for the deepest untethered dive: 1,250 feet below the surface of the Pacific, earning her the monicker “Her Deepness.”
“It’s like magic. It really is,” Earle says. “I’m in the deep sea looking around in a place where human beings should not be. But I’m there.”
In the past 70+ years of exploring our vast ocean, Earle has seen things not many people have, and has experienced close encounters with some of nature’s most awesome creatures.
“It’s humbling,” she says. “It’s humbling to be alive at all, when you think what a miracle it is, that earth exists and we exist. And we’re about to blow it — unless we hurry.”
Earle says the time to act is now. Global temperatures continue to break record highs, wildfires rage across the planet, the arctic ice is rapidly melting, our sea level is rising and our oceans are acidifying as we continue to dump billions of pounds of plastic into it while depleting its bounty by overfishing it. We’re mindlessly killing millions of sea creatures in the process.
“I don’t know why it’s a stretch for people to understand that when we take the elements of a healthy ecosystem out, that causes the system to crash,” Earle says.
Species are disappearing and we are fast losing our diversity.
“We’re losing sharks,” Earle says. “90% of the sharks: gone. We need to restore them. Every shark should be protected.”
We’re killing over a hundred million sharks a year, mostly for shark fin soup.
“It’s insane that we’re doing this,” Earle says. “It’s a blindness. If people really understood, they’d be out there saying thank you sharks, thank you, thank you, are you well? Can I take care of you? What can I do to keep you alive? Because you keep me alive.”
Sharks — like tuna and whales and even shrimp — are carbon sinks, sucking up carbon dioxide and keeping it out of our atmosphere.
“You’re doing your part to foster global warming when you take stuff out of the ocean and keep it from doing its thing,” Earle says.
And so she travels the globe, giving talks and lectures to anyone who will listen.
On this day she was addressing students and guests at Florida International University before flying to Glasgow to speak at the UN climate change conference. Her urgent plea was the same.
“We shape the world we live in,” she says. “We’re changing the nature of nature.”
In her lifetime, Earle says she’s witnessed a terrible decline, but she believes we also have the power to ignite a wonderful recovery.
“I think we’re in the sweet spot,” she says. “You have the best chance to be a part of 21st-century human beings who could see the world in decline. And did what you can do, everybody can do what they can do, to go in the other direction, to recover and find that magic place where we have stability.”
Even at age 85, Earle is not slowing down. Through her Mission Blue foundation, she’s fostered a worldwide network of marine protected areas, where human activity is restricted and wildlife is free to thrive.
“I call these places hope spots,” she says, “because they can serve as models this is what it should be. And it also serves as a recovery.”
The ocean covers 70% of the world’s surface but right now less than 3% of it is fully protected. The goal is to dramatically raise that number to 30% by the year 2030. That’s less than nine years away, but Earle has faith.
“What is your hope? What is your wish?” we ask her.
“That we would embrace the natural world and that we would treat it like our lives depend on it — because actually, they do.”