Flying Fish

Oceans: The Last Frontier
by Nicole Carlozo -- January 27th, 2011

Until just last week, I thought the profession of “explorer” or “adventurer” was foreign and extinct. Then, I met Sylvia Earle.

Last week I attended the NCSE 2011 Our Changing Oceans Conference. I entered the conference with a few goals in mind:

  1. Make some contacts;
  2. Learn something (anything) about marine spatial planning (MSP); and
  3. Brainstorm MP ideas.

While I did meet some interesting people and sit in on a MSP panel, I was most struck by the conference’s scope. The panels and talks truly broadened my perception of ocean issues to a degree I didn’t expect. I’ve always proclaimed an interest in “fisheries,” but so many other issues dominated the general dialogue and grabbed my attention. On the science spectrum, I attended talks on acidification and climate change. On the policy side, speakers discussed sea level rise, coastal development, and the new National Ocean Policy. And then there was Dr. Sylvia Earle, a unique mix of the science, policy, and the passion and energy that is so intrinsic in both fields.

I must be honest and admit that before last week, I had no knowledge of Dr. Earle or her accomplishments. In all of two hours, however, she completely won me over.

A few fun facts about Sylvia Earle:

  1. She was the first female chief scientist at NOAA.
  2. Currently, she is a National Geographic Explorer in Residence.
  3. Having managed over 100 deep sea expeditions and logged almost 7,000 hours, she most certainly deserves the title of “explorer.”
  4. And, most importantly, she is a Duke alum.

While Dr. Earle’s background and experience is impressive, I was mostly struck by her interactions with the NCSE audience and her passion for conservation. In 2009, she received the TED Prize, which provides funding and “One Wish to Change the World.”  Her wish?

“I wish you would use all means at your disposal — films! expeditions! the web! more! — to ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas, hope spots large enough to save and restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet.”

See her speech here.

Her wish culminated in Mission Blue, a project to create marine protected areas, or “hope spots.” Most recently, Dr. Earle and the Mission Blue team set out to the Galapagos. Marine scientists, deep sea explorers, policy makers, environmentalists and artists, among others, participated in the four-day journey of education, experience, and dialogue. Dr. Earle attended the NCSE conference to accept a NCSE Lifetime Achievement Award. After her speech, she showed a clip from the documentary footage of the Galapagos voyage.

The room fell silent and, as we watched, we were of one mind. Let me pause here and simply say that I felt inspired.


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