Environment

Oceanographer Sylvia Earle is on a mission to save our seas

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Sylvia Earle

Sylvia Earle

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Kip Evans/Mission Blue

Ever since Sylvia Earle was knocked over by a wave years ago on the Jersey shore, she has felt a deep connection to the ocean and dedicated her life to saving it.

Now, a renowned oceanographer and National Geographic explorer-in-residence, Earle is on a mission to create “blue parks,” designated safe areas in the ocean similar to national parks on land. 

“It doesn’t take a serious trained scientist to look at the evidence,” she says. “As attitudes change, there’s hope that we will understand that protecting nature is the best investment that we can make because it secures our place in the universe on the planet that keeps us alive. Knowing that is the key to taking action.”

And the evidence is clear: Since the 1960s, humans have removed more than 20 million tons of wildlife from the world's oceans by dragging nets across the ocean floor. About 90 percent of fish and sharks are snatched from the ocean and placed on dinner plates faster than they can reproduce. Scientists believe climate change and pollution have also put our oceans in jeopardy, putting one of our most valuable natural resources at risk.

Earle says we have been able to strip the ocean to such an extreme because of recent technological innovations, like new and inexpensive materials to make enormous nets and fishing lines.

“We’re talking thousands of miles of lines with baited hooks every few feet,” she says. “Fish really don’t have a place to hide anymore.”

Earle says fish are gaining new levels of respect from the general public.  “They are taking on a new level of respect as we understand that they behave differently, they have personality, they have faces,” she says.

Her hope is that she can help people understand how dire the situation in the seas is.

“I am trying to save the species I value the most and that would be humankind,” she says. “The decisions we make right now, the next 10 years, will really determine the future for the next 10,000 years.”

“It’s a big job,” she says. “Let’s get at it.”

This story was first published as an interview on PRI's The Takeaway, a public radio program that invites you to be part of the American conversation.

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