Every once in a while the Universe gives birth to visionaries. Someone who can shine light on a space that until then the human species knew little about. A space that needed celebration, that needed to be discovered, explored and understood, and a space that needed some desperate attention.
So, as I was busy discovering the greens and the browns, and went around sharing my experiences of my jungle explorations, my love for rainforests and how I am the earth, and how my wish is to see it all (and blah, blah), in 2010 I heard Dr. Sylvia Earle’s Ted talk and quite simply put – I had goose bumps. I listened to it again and again, until just about all her words echoed in my years. As I dug into the internet to read more about her, she said something in one of her interviews that rang deep in my ears – you cannot claim to have seen the Earth, if you have not seen 70% of what it is made up of.
This indeed was a small awakening in my life’s journey of exploring nature.
Who is Dr. Sylvia Earle?
New Yorker and the New York Times have called her, `Her Deepness’, Library of Congress called her the `Living Legend’ and the Time magazine, `Hero for the Planet.’
An American marine biologist, explorer, author and lecturer, her experience and her achievements can fill up more than two pages. As she stands as one of the pioneers of the `Big Blue Jobs’ (it’s no where a Little Brown Job), she has led more than a hundred expeditions and logged more than 7000 hours underwater, even setting a record for solo diving in 1000 –meter depth. She has authored more than 190 scientific papers, lectured in over 80 countries, and appeared in hundreds of radio and television productions. In her 2009 Ted Talk she expressed her wish to protect the oceans and put out an invite to the audience to join her in protecting the vital blue heart of the planet. With the Ted Prize, she established Mission Blue, a global network of marine protected areas, calling them the `Hope Spots’. Her relentless effort to monitor the health of the oceans and bring attention to the urgency with which we need to protect and conserve the `blue and its species’ is mighty infectious. Travelling 300,000 miles a year, heading for distant ocean research sites, and working on ongoing projects with the National Geographic Society, `Her Deepness’ is only 80 years old.
When I watched her talk, my need to see, experience and understand what’s in the deep there, that we do not see everyday except for the surface blue (or the grey, in Mumbai) took a strong birth in me. Having nurtured a slight fear of swimming in in the deep, though I love the ocean(waist deep), I decided that if I truly loved the earth, I needed to know what the 70% was all about. So I went back to the pool, started swimming and getting as comfortable as I could in the waters. And finally enrolled into a diving course. On my very first dive in the Andamans, we spotted a baby manta – which in my heart I dedicated to Dr. Sylvia Earle. There was more to come, more that I discovered, more that I explored and more that I experienced. It was not about wanting to `dive’. It was not the sport that interested me. It was to understand the blue habitat, witness the flora and fauna in this habitat, become aware of its beauty and fragility all at once. It was to be able to feel that experience within me, as I read about the diversity of species in the oceans, the conservation work happening, and be able to directly relate to it.
I am not a fish in water, and have done just about 17 dives with the help of some amazing instructors. But I know and understand today what animals in water truly looks like. I know how sharks can go around us with grace and elegance. I know how the coral reefs is a biodiversity hot spot. I know how small I am in the world of blue. I know how vulnerable I feel in that wide blue sea. And how much more vulnerable they must be feeling with our interference. I was visiting their home, and the creatures welcomed me. I was exploring their habitat, and they swum around me. I was experiencing their space, and they entertained and engaged me with their bright colours, with their curiosity, with their calmness, with their brilliant dazzling show. How much more blessed can I be? And will I do whatever I can to safeguard them to the best of my ability? Of course I will.
Her wonderful quote: “Sharks are beautiful animals, and if you’re lucky enough to see lots of them, that means that you’re in a healthy ocean. You should be afraid if you are in the ocean and don’t see sharks” – this echoed in me as I explored the different waters during my dives.
Dr.Sylvia Earle grew up in Florida, on the Gulf of Mexico. An exceptional student, she earned her Masters at the Duke University, went to Harvard as a research fellow, and as a scientist believed that in order to research and understand a habitat, you should have a first hand experience of it. The marine explorations was always a part of her research. In 1969, she signed up for the Tektite and Tektite 2 (the second one was led by her) expeditions where they spent several weeks underwater researching for the US Navy and NASA, and apparently the publicity surrounding this adventure made her a recognizable face beyond the scientific community. In demand as a public speaker, she advocated ocean conservancy, wrote several books, visited Universities and inspired students with her speeches, travelled to Galapagos, Panama, China, Bahamas, Indian Ocean and even started the company Deep Ocean Engineering with Graham Hawkes to build under-sea vehicles to facilitate better research among fellow scientists.
In 2008, she founded Sylvia Earle Alliance (S.E.A) a non-profit organisation whose mission was the creation and expansion of marine protected areas, and Mission Blue was setup as a part of this alliance with the Ted Prize to restore the health and productivity of the oceans.
By looking at the ocean as one big resource, calling it the World Bank, she believes that we as humans carry the capacity to make changes if necessary, and restore and protect if inspired, and the next 10 years are crucial in the actions we take, not just for us but for the children who are, and who are yet to come.
An interesting incident occurred when she encountered John Hanke, the first leader of the Google Earth team, at a geographer’s conference in Spain. Dr.Sylvia Earle says, “On old Google Earth diagrams and maps, the ocean was just a blue blob. I said to him, publicly, that perhaps some day he would finish his mapping. Now at my insistence, Google Earth clearly depicts the topography of the ocean, with underwater canyons and mountains and significant trenches and noteworthy locations. It’s so beautiful.”
She led the Google Ocean Advisory Council, a team of 30 scientists providing content for `Ocean in Google Earth’ determined that they complete the mapping they started.
An arresting personality who discusses oceans as a philosophy, as a design of nature, as the breath we take every moment no matter where on earth we live, and that our past, present and whatever remains of our future, absolutely depend on what we do now, I can only think of her as the Universe’s messenger for the Blues.
Her talks, her passion and her action added the missing blue to my `little brown job’. After 2010, I have never been able to visualize the earth without feeling the deep blue surrounding me, along with the green and brown. I deeply love and serve this Earth, from the bottom of the Earth.
This is one invitation, that I request you not to miss and therefore experience how much blue she can add to your life:
- Take 18 minutes off, to watch this inspiring talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/sylvia_earle_s_ted_prize_wish_to_protect_our_oceans
- Visit this website to pick your favourite `Hope Spot’ and see if you would like to get involved in any of the work happening in your region: http://mission-blue.org/
- She is an amazing writer. So purchase any of the books she has written, if you are interested to learn more about her: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=sylvia+earle%27s+books
- The documentary `Mission Blue’ has won the 2015 Emmy Award and is a film about Dr.Sylvia Earle’s life and work. It is available on Netflix, while some of us have to wait for the DVD release.
- The next time you walk or sit by the ocean, remember the millions of creatures inhabiting its deep. We might not see it, doesn’t mean they do not exist. Share the story of Dr.Sylvia Earle with the people you are spending time with by the ocean.
- If you carry the adventure gene in you, book a diving trip. Explore the blues, and this is not just humbling but is highly rewarding. You will see more life just a few metres deep, than you would anywhere.
- Source credits for this post that ensured I get the facts about her work right: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/explorers/bios/sylvia-earle/ + http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/ear0bio-1#
Thank you for reading. Enjoy the Blues.