Sylvia is an oceanographer, scuba diver, and research scientist. She founded Mission Blue, an organization dedicated to protecting the ocean from threats such as climate change, pollution, habitat destruction, invasive species, and the dramatic decrease in ocean fish stocks.

EARLY WORK

Sylvia’s interest in the ocean sprang from her love of animals. Growing up in New Jersey, she remembers “I was always interested in critters, and most of them were in the ocean!”

Sylvia studied oceanography and biology at Florida State University, before earning her PhD in phycology (the study of algae) from Duke University.

MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK

“You never know what you’re going to find! Ninety-five percent of the ocean is not explored.”

MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK

“Never having enough time. I can never imagine being bored; there’s just so much to explore and not enough time to do it.”

HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?

“The science of everything. Geography is the entire planet, and what it holds.”

GEO-CONNECTION

Sylvia has dived in all five of the world’s oceans, and plays a leading role in establishing marine protected areas (MPAs) as “hope spots” around the world. MPAs are intended to “protect and restore the blue heart of the planet,” Sylvia says.

The next place Sylvia will dive is the Sargasso Sea, near Bermuda in the Atlantic Ocean. She is working with the High Seas Alliance to establish an MPA there. Like many groups Sylvia works with, the High Seas Alliance is a diverse group of environmentalists, fishermen, and commercial businesses. Sylvia hopes the alliance “will encourage the Bermudan government to protect a small area, and for that to be a springboard for protection of a larger area of the Sargasso Sea.”

Protecting the ocean really protects ourselves, Sylvia says. “We are all sea creatures. We all depend on the ocean.”

Pointing out the oxygen and other atmospheric gases released by the ocean, Sylvia laughs, “If you like to breathe, you better like the ocean!”

SO, YOU WANT TO BE AN . . . OCEANOGRAPHER

Oceanography is a broad discipline with many sub-disciplines. “Whether you’re interested in air, the history of the planet, currents, microbes, or whales, there’s plenty to do!” Sylvia says.

GET INVOLVED

“Everyone should be literate about the ocean,” Sylvia says. “No child should be left dry!”

Oceanographer Sylvia Earle


Noun

layer of gases surrounding Earth.

biology
Noun

study of living things.

Noun

gradual changes in all the interconnected weather elements on our planet.

commercial
Adjective

having to do with the buying and selling of goods and services.

Noun

steady, predictable flow of fluid within a larger body of that fluid.

diverse
Adjective

varied or having many different types.

encourage
Verb

to inspire or support a person or idea.

environmentalist
Noun

person who studies or works to protect the Earth's ecosystems.

establish
Verb

to form or officially organize.

fish stock
Noun

amount of fish available to be harvested in a specific area at a specific time.

gas
Noun

state of matter with no fixed shape that will fill any container uniformly. Gas molecules are in constant, random motion.

Noun

study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.

government
Noun

system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

Noun

environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.

Noun

type of plant or animal that is not indigenous to a particular area and causes economic or environmental harm.

marine protected area (MPA)
Noun

area of the ocean where a government has placed limits on human activity.

microbe
Noun

tiny organism, usually a bacterium.

Mission Blue
Noun

nonprofit organization whose mission is to "raise public awareness and move people to help protect this vital natural resource."

Noun

large body of salt water that covers most of the Earth.

oceanographer
Noun

person who studies the ocean.

oxygen
Noun

chemical element with the symbol O, whose gas form is 21% of the Earth's atmosphere.

PhD
Noun

(doctor of philosophy) highest degree offered by most graduate schools.

Noun

large, spherical celestial body that regularly rotates around a star.

Noun

introduction of harmful materials into the environment.

research scientist
Noun

person who studies and tries to discover facts about a specific problem, question, or field of learning.

Sargasso Sea
Noun

area of the Atlantic Ocean, between the Caribbean Sea and the Azores.

scuba
noun, adjective

(self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) portable device for breathing underwater.