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Sylvia Earle

Mariana Brandman, NWHM Predoctoral Fellow in Women’s History | 2020-2022

Referred to as “Her Deepness,” National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence Dr. Sylvia Earle holds the record for deepest walk on the sea floor and is a world-renowned expert on marine biology. The first woman khổng lồ lead the National Oceanographic và Atmospheric Administration, Earle advocates for ocean conservation and education.

Sylvia Earle was born on August 30, 1935 in Gibbstown, New Jersey and lived on a small farm near Camden with her parents & two brothers. Neither of Earle’s parents attended college, but they instilled a love of nature in their daughter at an early age. She recalled spending hours by the pond in her backyard, filling jars with fish & tadpoles, recording her observations in notebooks. Her family moved to Dunedin, Florida (located near Clearwater on the Gulf of Mexico) when Earle was 13 and her interest turned to lớn Gulf Coast wildlife. An excellent student, Earle graduated high school at 16. She earned a scholarship to Florida State University, where she studied botany and graduated at 19. She also became certified as a SCUBA diver at this time, in order to study ocean plant life firsthand. By 20, Earle earned a master’s degree in botany from Duke University.

Earle then began her doctoral work at Duke, focusing on algae, which produce most of the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere through photosynthesis. There, Earle met John Taylor, a graduate student in zoology. Earle suspended her studies when the two married. She gave birth lớn a daughter và son and soon resumed her doctoral studies.

In 1964, Earle was invited on a six-week voyage to the Indian Ocean on a National Science Foundation research vessel. It was a demanding job that was not often offered to women at the time, but Earle was used to being the only woman in a scientific setting & made the most of the opportunity. From 1964 lớn 1966, Earle joined voyages to the Galápagos Islands, the Chilean cost, & the Panama Canal Zone. In 1965, she was named resident director of the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida. This was all on vị trí cao nhất of completing her coursework and writing her dissertation.

Earle received her Ph.D. In botany in 1966. For her dissertation, Earle collected more than 20,000 samples of algae to catalog aquatic plants in the Gulf of Mexico. Her project was a marvel in the discipline, as she was one of the first scientists to use SCUBA to document marine life firsthand, and it remained a landmark study for decades.

Earle continued khổng lồ go on expeditions around the world. Earle and Taylor divorced & soon Earle met Dr. Giles W. Mead, the curator of fishes at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology. Earle và Mead married in 1966 and Earle was appointed as a research scholar at Harvard. In February 1968, Earle joined a group of scientists in the Bahamas as part of the Smithsonian Institution’s Man-in-Sea project, an experimental underwater habitat. Earle descended 100 feet below the surface in a submersible vehicle & entered the habitat, the first woman scientist to do so in that manner. She was four months pregnant at the time – her third child, a daughter, was born that July.

In 1969, Earle applied to lớn the Tektite II Project, an initiative sponsored by the U.S. Navy, the Department of the Interior, và NASA near the U.S. Virgin Islands. Like the Man-in-Sea project, it enabled scientists to lớn live and work in a habitat 50 feet underwater. Earle and several other female scientists were eminently qualified (no one had as much diving experience as Earle), but government officials did not want men and women living together in the habitat. So, in 1970, Earle led an all-female team lớn the habitat where, for two weeks, they observed & photographed the marine life in the surrounding waters. When she and her team returned lớn the surface, they were celebrities. They were honored at the white house nhà trắng and received a parade in Chicago. Now in the spotlight, Earle became determined to share her passion for marine life with broad audiences and help the public understand the beauty & value of the oceans. 

Earle, Mead, and their combined six children moved lớn Los Angeles in 1970 and Earle began teaching at UCLA. She gave talks around the country describing her underwater explorations and wrote for publications like National Geographic. She also continued to go on marine expeditions around the world, often serving as their chief scientist.

Earle began collaborating with undersea photographer Al Giddings. They explored a battleship graveyard in the South Pacific & followed great sperm whales in a series of expeditions featured in the documentary film Gentle Giants of the Pacific (1980). She worked with Giddings on her 1980 book, Exploring the Deep Frontier, which told of her experience walking untethered on the sea floor at a lower depth than any person before or since. She wore a pressurized suit và was carried to lớn a depth of 1,250 feet, where she detached from the submersible và explored the sea floor for two and a half hours. 

In the 1980s, Earle teamed up with engineer Graham Hawkes (her third husband, after her divorce from Mead) and started two companies to design and build underwater vehicles that helped scientists work at unprecedented depths.

In 1990, Earle was appointed the Chief Scientist of the National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the first woman khổng lồ hold the position. As head NOAA scientist, Earle was responsible for safeguarding the health of the nation’s waters. In 1992, she returned lớn her work in deep ocean engineering, exploration, & education. In 1995, she published Sea Change: A Message of the Oceans, a call to kích hoạt to preserve the Earth’s oceans.

Throughout her career, Earle has authored more than 200 publications, lectured in more than 80 countries, and led more than 100 marine expeditions (totaling over 7,000 hours under water). She has received 27 honorary degrees and more than 100 honors from around the world. Some of the most notable awards include Time magazine’s first anh hùng for the Planet (1998), the United Nations Champion of the Earth (2014), and the 2009 TED Prize.

Earle is the president and Chairman of the Mission Blue/Sylvia Earle Alliance, an ocean advocacy group. Their most recent effort is to develop a global network of “Hope Spots,” dedicated lớn protecting the biodiversity on which Earth’s interconnected ecosystems depend, particularly in light of the accelerating threat of climate change.

1935 - Present

American oceanographer, explorer, aquanaut, và author, former chief scientist of NOAA.

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Set a record for the deepest dive without a tether during her famous underwater walk in the JIM suit.

National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence, affectionately referred lớn as "Her Deepness" and "The Sturgeon General".

Sylvia A. Earle is an American oceanographer, explorer, aquanaut, & author. She was born on August 30, 1935 in Gibbstown, New Jersey. She was raised on a small farm near Camden. She loved exploring the woods near her trang chủ and was fascinated by the animals & plants she found there. Her parents taught her to respect wild animals & to not be afraid of the unknown. During family trips khổng lồ the Jersey shore, she discovered a magical world of wildlife at the water"s edge. When she was 13 years old, her family moved to Clearwater, Florida. Sylvia became interested in the wildlife of the Florida Gulf coast. She described the experience as "living on the edge of the great unknown every day." She attempted her first dive at age 16 using a diving helmet, since scuba was not yet available. She excelled in school & earned a scholarship to Florida State University. As she attended college, she supported herself by working in college laboratories. While working at the college, she learned how lớn scuba dive và was eager to lớn study marine life. She decided to study botany and believed that understanding plants is the first step to lớn understanding any ecosystem. She earned her Master"s degree at Duke University. Her dissertation Phaeophyta of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico earned her a reputation in the scientific community. She has since made it a lifelong project to lớn catalog every species of plant in the Gulf of Mexico.


After graduating from Duke, Sylvia took some time off to lớn marry and start a family. In 1964 she left home for six weeks lớn join an expedition in the Indian Ocean funded by the National Science Foundation. During the remainder of the sixties, she joined a number of scientific expeditions that took her all over the world. Her career took her lớn Harvard as a research fellow & then lớn the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory as resident director. In 1968, while four months pregnant, she became the first woman scientist lớn look out through the porthole of a submarine as she dived 100 feet (30 meters) in the submersible Deep Diver. In 1969 she applied for the Tektite project, sponsored by the U.S. Navy, the Department of the Interior, and NASA. The Tektite project allowed teams of scientists to lớn spend weeks at a time in an underwater habitat on the ocean floor off the coast of the Virgin Islands. Unfortunately she was rejected in spite of the fact that she had over 1,000 research hours underwater. It seems the project did not want men và women living underwater together. But Sylvia was persistent & in 1970 the Tektite 2 project was launched with an all female crew led by Dr. Earle herself. Sylvia & four other women spent two weeks 50 feet (15 meters) underwater in the habitat studying ocean life và examining the effects of living underwater on the human body. After the women returned lớn the surface, they were surprised khổng lồ find that they had become celebrities. They were even given a ticker tape parade and nhà trắng reception. Afterwards, Sylvia was in demand as a public speaker. She began to lớn write for National Geographic và to produce books & films. She had discovered the secret to lớn reaching the public through media, just as Jacques Cousteau had.


In the 1970s, Sylvia traveled the world with scientific expeditions to Panama, China, The Indian Ocean, the Galapagos, & the Bahamas. She met underwater photographer Al Giddings & they began to collaborate on a number of projects. In 1977 they made their first voyage lớn follow the sperm whales. The expedition was recorded in the documentary film Gentle Giants of the Pacific. In 1979 Sylvia made her famous untethered walk on the sea floor with the JIM suit. Using a pressurized metal suit resembling a space suit, she walked for two and a half hours at a depth of 1,250 feet (381 meters). Only a communication line connected here to a submersible. She recorded the adventure in her book, Exploring the Deep Frontier. In 1982 Sylvia & her husband founded the companies Deep Ocean Engineering & Deep Ocean Technologies to lớn design và build deep-sea submersibles. In the early 1990s Sylvia took a leave of absence from her companies to serve as Chief Scientist of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). She is currently an Explorer in Residence at the National Geographic Society. Lớn date she has led over 70 expeditions, logging more than 6,500 hours underwater. She has received more than 100 national và international honors & has written more than 180 publications about marine science và technology. She recently led expeditions khổng lồ Cuba in 2009 and Belize và the Galapagos Islands in 2010. She continues lớn be an advocate for ocean conservation and has written proposals to establish a network of marine protected areas she calls "hope spots".

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