‘Her Deepness’ shares hope for planet’s waters at annual lecture
Sylvia Earle, the legendary oceanographer known as “Her Deepness,” was the featured speaker for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation’s 2nd Annual Paul McCarthy Memorial Lecture, held on Feb. 7 at The Community House on Sanibel. In introducing Earle, SCCF Chief Executive Officer Ryan Orgera aptly referred to her as “the soundtrack to our planet’s blue heart.”
“Sylvia isn’t the first explorer-scientist to show us the wonders of the ocean, but I would argue she is the first to truly show us the ocean through her unique blend of science and empathy,” he said. “Whether or not you fully realize it, you are about to witness one of those figures history records as an extraordinary force for good. For me, she belongs in the conservation ranks of Rachel Carson, John Muir or Theodore Roosevelt – her gift to us all is a better, more hopeful world, one in which we all learn to fight for the greatest wilderness on our planet.”
Earle fell in love with the Gulf of Mexico in the 1950s as a young girl, growing up on the coast in Dunedin. She captivated the lecture’s audience with her honest and heartfelt appraisal of what needs to happen to reverse the degradation of earth’s oceans.
“No ocean. No us. We need the ocean and the ocean is in trouble. We have to figure out what the problems are. We have to figure out what the solutions are,” she said.
Earle has committed her life to doing just that. She has led over 100 expeditions, including the first team of women aquanauts to inhabit an underwater lab. Earle has logged more than 7,000 hours underwater, including a 1979 descent to an ocean floor depth never before reached by humans. She also served as the chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is a National Geographic Explorer, and is the founder of the non-profit Mission Blue.
During her visit, Earle was impressed by the islands’ culture of conservation. She took a morning cruise on the RV Norma Campbell out of the SCCF’s Marine Lab in Tarpon Bay. Earle was thrilled to see efforts in action to restore water quality, including oyster and mangrove restoration.
“I’m encouraged. I come here to Sanibel and I see the choices you are making,” she said.
For Earle, choosing to protect the oceans and provide safe havens – instead of simply viewing marine life as something that “swims in lemon slices and butter” – is key to the future.
“It’s a new day. A new time. If you had to choose to be born and want to make a difference in the world, you know, this would be the best time ever,” she said.
As president and chairman of Mission Blue, Earle received applause when she shared that the Florida Gulf Coast was recently designated as a Hope Spot – from the Panhandle to the Ten Thousand Islands. Building on the concept of protected marine reserves and the power of committed people and communities, Hope Spots are places where the tide is turning.
“Obviously in this community – more than in most that I get to see – you are already on the case, you are already turning things,” she said.
Earle’s visit and perspective energized staff at the SCCF. Kelly Sloan, SCCF’s sea turtle program coordinator, went on the boat trip and got to see Earle’s reaction to the local waters.
“Meeting Dr. Earle was one of the highlights of my career,” she said. “She is such an accomplished scientist, and witnessing her genuine love of the ocean reignited my passion for protecting our waters. Her sense of hope is absolutely infectious.”
Invested in supporting fellow women in science, Earle had lunch with 11 staffers from the SCCF and the Sanibel Sea School. She made a point to give each individual a chance to share her role.
“Being able to meet the woman who paved the way for all of us in marine science today was an opportunity that I know we will all remember forever,” Nicole Finnicum, who manages operations and communications at the Sanibel Sea School, said.
“Hearing stories of her adventures into the deep and doing things that no woman had done before left us feeling absolutely empowered and inspired,” she added. “And, her stories reminded me of the importance of what we are doing today for future generations.”
In sharing her vision of the future, Earle emphasized the need for more people, especially children, to have the chance to spend time underwater to better understand and protect the oceans.
“I hope that within 10 years, we’ll be able to say, ‘You wanna go for a ride? Let’s go,'” she said. “The number of options we currently have to go deep? Way, way too limited. But it’s going to happen – it’s irresistible.”
To watch Earle’s lecture, visit youtube.com/SCCFSanibelCaptiva.
The lecture was made possible through the Boler Family Foundation.