Episode 059: Meet Sylvia Earle – A National Geographic Society Resident Explorer, Oceanographer, Author, Lecturer, and “Oceandiver”

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Episode Summary

About 71% of the earth’s surface is covered with water. But what if all the oceans disappeared? What will become of the Earth? And what will happen to those living in it? Or worse, will there still be anything or anyone living in it? Of course, we have other sources of water other than ocean waters. However, things will not be the same without this salty body of mystery. Just imagine, the earth will be reduced to nothingness! That’s how important the ocean is. The Earth is the safest, most perfect place we can be in the universe. And it’s our job to make sure it stays like that for generations to come.

Episode Notes

Dr. Sylvia Earle is a National Geographic Society Resident Explorer, Oceanographer, Author, Lecturer, and “Oceandiver”. She was awarded “Her Deepness” by the New York Times magazine for her amazing underwater expeditions. In September 1979, Dr. Earle set the world record for untethered diving. In 1990-1992, she became the first woman to serve as the Chief Scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). And in 1998 she became the first female resident explorer at the National Geographic Society. Dr. Earle’s achievements are truly beyond counting, however one of her most notable contributions was helping others become aware of the importance of the ocean to earth and everything in it, including us. 

This week, Dr. Earle shares her interesting action-packed journey in the deepest, darkest, and coldests part of the world- the ocean. She also shares how we, humans, have assisted in changing the nature of nature, how this society is encouraging disruptive behaviours, and what obligations we have towards planetary health. Dr. Earle has founded Mission Blue with the aim to help the world move from decline to recovery. The goal is to protect 30% of the ocean waters by 2030, and expand this campaign until the ocean and everything in it is secure. Tune in and find out how this is being done through HOPE Spot projects and what you can do to actively support earth’s rehabilitation and transformation.  

The earth is not a supermarket. We used to get our needs from our environment for free, but not anymore. We are paying dearly for the years of exploitation done through the devastating effects of climate change. Discover what superpower is in your disposal right here and now to impact nature and make this world a better place! 

Episode Highlights

  • 04:32 Meet the Queen of Ocean Divers 
  • 11:29 Ocean Health Update
  • 16:05 Nature is Not a Supermarket  
  • 22:31 The Ocean’s Worst Enemy
  • 30:28 Mission Blue 
  • 40:09 Grab the Chance to Make a Difference
  • 47:54 Work with the Natural Systems 
  • 54:28 Protect the Earth
  • 58:29 Take Care of the Planetary Chemistry

Episode Highlights

Today’s guest is the Queen of Oceanriders. Her name is Dr. Sylvia Earle. And if you’ve been to National Geographic documentaries, you’re bound to have seen her exploring the deep seas in neoprene or some kind of futuristic submarine. In fact, for me, Sylvia is practically a member of my family. My kids used to watch her Nat Geo documentaries, so her soft voice has always been a soothing soundtrack to my early years of parenthood. You may recognize her voice from the documentary Seaspiracy where she played a major role in explaining why we need to protect our ocean creatures. Dr. Sylvia Earle has studied the deep sea and its creatures from the day she dipped her toes into the ocean as a child. She’s been the first woman to break world records in the deep with either special diving suits she designed, submarines she built, or by living in underwater vessels for weeks. For making submarines to charging the ocean floors of Google Earth, Sylvia has been involved in every possible way. But Sylvia’s life didn’t start exploring oceans, she’s actually held positions of US administrations, and she regularly meets with world leaders. So all I can say is, it’s a true honor to have Sylvia visit me on The Oceanriders Podcast. 

“Protect what remains of the natural world and do everything you can to give back to restore what's been damaged and lost. Do it as if your life depends on it, because it does!”

Sylvia still spends most of her time in or under the oceans, writing books, or running her nonprofits, Mission Blue, which is helping achieve the goal of protecting 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030. Sylvia joins me today in this episode to talk about her latest book, National Geographic Ocean, a sea Odyssey that came out this week. But I must admit, we do get a bit sidetracked and explore some fascinating details of Sylvia’s life. So if you love the ocean, you’ll adore Sylvia. 


I hope you enjoy this episode.

Take care, have fun, and enjoy the waves.




Connect with Dr. Sylvia


“Humans have had such a profound impact on the nature of nature.”

“We do have superpowers, but the greatest superpower is knowing. It's only right about now that we are beginning to understand the consequences of our actions and are motivated to do something about it.”

“We do know what to do, it's just having the will to take this seriously… The reality is, we cannot do it in 24 hours but we certainly can not wait any longer..”

“Nature is a library. It should not be regarded as a supermarket.”

“With a billion dollars, we cannot make even one tuna. We need to think differently about the value of the ocean to our existence and the value of life in the ocean.”

“Viruses don't care anything about our art, or music, or our desire to live. We're just a habitat.”

“We can be right now, that powerful generation. What we do or fail to do will determine the future of life on Earth, ours very much included. We can be that agent of change.”

“Nature keeps us alive. How much of your heart do you want to protect?”

“Look at the everyday decisions that you make. You've got a chance to make a difference!”

“We're paying dearly for our lack of understanding, but there's no excuse anymore. Now we know.”

“Ocean is where the action is.”

“Get out there and start protecting what we love the most- the oceans and life itself.”

“We are connected to not just life on earth as it currently exists, but life on earth as it has existed through all previous history. We're the beneficiaries of this long history that has shaped Earth into a habitable spacecraft.”

“The words respect and dignity are closely aligned. And they are absolutely vital to finding our way going forward.”

“A wave doesn't happen with a single drop of water. It takes a lot of troughs of water to make a wave. And here we are!”

“Protect what remains of the natural world and do everything you can to give back to restore what's been damaged and lost. Do it as if your life depends on it because it does!”

“Act as if you are able to make a difference because you're the only one who has control over you.”

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Episode Transcript

Imi Barneaud: That was Dr. Sylvia Earle, and this is The Oceanriders Podcast. The Oceanriders Podcast, conversations with creatives, entrepreneurs, thinkers and dreamers who also happen to be surfers. My name is Imi, and I am your host. Hello, Oceanriders. How are you? I am absolutely ecstatic. I still can’t believe I’m publishing this episode. 

Today’s guest is the queen of Oceanriders, her name is Dr. Sylvia Earle. And if you’ve been to National Geographic documentaries, you’re bound to have seen her exploring the deep seas in neoprene or some kind of futuristic sabrine. In fact for me, Sylvia is practically a member of my family. My kids used to watch her Nat Geo documentaries on mute, so her soft voice has always been a soothing soundtrack to my early years of parenthood. You may recognize her voice from the documentary Seaspiracy where she played a major role in explaining why we need to protect our ocean creatures. Dr. Sylvia Earle has studied the deep sea and its creatures from the day she dipped her toes into the ocean as a child. She’s been the first woman to break world records in the deep with either special diving suits she designed, submarines she built, or by living in underwater vessels for weeks. For making submarines to charging the ocean floors of Google Earth, Sylvia has been involved in every possible way. But Sylvia’s life didn’t start exploring oceans, she’s actually held positions of US administrations, and she regularly meets with world leaders. So all I can say is it’s a true honor to have Sylvia visit me on The Oceanriders Podcast. 

Sylvia still spends most of her time in or under the oceans writing books, or running her nonprofits, Mission Blue, which is helping achieve the goal of protecting 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030. Sylvia joins me today in this episode to talk about her latest book, National Geographic Ocean, a sea Odyssey that came out this week. But I must admit, we do get a bit sidetracked and explore some fascinating details of Sylvia’s life. So if you love the ocean, you’ll adore Sylvia. So without further ado, please welcome, Dr. Sylvia Earle. Hello, Sylvia, and welcome to The Oceanriders Podcast. How are you today?

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: Doing fine, and it’s great to be on board.

Imi Barneaud: Thank you. Thank you. So where are you based right now?

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: I am in not so sunny California. The fog has moved in.

Imi Barneaud: That sort of typical summer months in California.

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: Yes, thank you Pacific Ocean. Cold water hitting the warm air creates this lovely misty morning.

Imi Barneaud: Fantastic. So I guess before we sort of dive in, I was just wondering, how do you consider yourself an ocean rider?

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: Well, I am more of an ocean diver. What’s under the waves. I love the ocean surface. And of course, there’s magnificent ripples on the surface of the ocean are beautiful and appealing. But my attention since I was a little girl has been on the creatures who live in the ocean. And for the most part that means taking the plunge.

Imi Barneaud: Fantastic. So what kind of a family did you grew up in to have such an adventurous spirit?

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: I think children start out that way. Every child I’ve ever met wants to know everything about everything, and they ask questions. They’re natural explorers, so it was pretty easy. I think the problem often is that with their natural curiosity, kids often are told to sit down and be quiet. And my parents, they allowed me and my brothers to have free rein of the woods nearby. We could go out and explore on our own for hours. We knew the way home. And maybe it was a different time, a different world. But I’m not sure today’s world, there are more people, and they’re greater risks and letting your kids just go out on their own. But I was, I think, really fortunate. And then when my parents moved to Florida, I was 12. I think that sense of wonder and curiosity not only was still strong, it still is, but our backyard was the Gulf of Mexico. Instead of having a playground or a backyard, literally, the ocean was my backyard. So it was a very natural way for me to dive in, if you will, at an early age.

Imi Barneaud: And what did you feel when you dipped your toes for the first time into the ocean?

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: Actually was in New Jersey up on the northeastern part of the US where I got knocked over by a wave when I was about three years old. And I’ve had people tell me when they were young, they had some bad experience with waves. They couldn’t breathe. They felt it was something that frightened them, and they had a hard time overcoming their fear of the ocean. I don’t know. For me, it was exhilarating. At first, it was a little scary when I got knocked over and couldn’t catch my breath. But once I did, I realized that was exhilarating. That was great. And my mother, she’s about three years old, and my mother who could have snatched me out of the ocean seeing me go under that young age, she saw me emerge with a big smile on my face and let me go back in, and I’ve been going back in ever since.

Imi Barneaud: Oh, fantastic. And to date, you’ve spent over sort of 7000 or 8000 hours in the ocean. Is that correct? Or maybe that’s is more by now?

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: So who’s counting? It’s just go.

Imi Barneaud: Exactly, exactly. I was just wondering whether your siblings turned out to be explorers as well, or whether you were the one that sort of stood out and became the explorer of the family?

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: Well, they have taken different directions. But I knew from an early stage that I didn’t know what to call it, but I had to do something with plants and animals. Later I learned, oh, that’s called being a biologist, a scientist, and it has never changed. I still aspire to be the best scientist I can be.

Imi Barneaud: Fantastic. That’s amazing. I was also wondering if growing up with brothers actually helped you. Because you’ve had an amazing career leading teams, and being a sort of pioneer in terms of a woman in a very masculine environment. And I wondered with having brothers, she helped you lead people during your career, or whether that was something that was born in you from the beginning?

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: It’s society that determines that boys do this and girls do that. When I just had no problem quotes keeping up with my older brother. We climb trees. We splashed around in the little pond in our backyard. It always struck me as curious that the boys were allowed or encouraged to do things that were considered off limits for girls. And I said, well, why not? I mean, I can do this. Why shouldn’t I? My parents recognize that there are societal pressures. And I remember when I was a teenager, my mother admonished me that it might be hard to make a living as the scientist. But she said, what the doors that are open to you, you could be a secretary. You could be a teacher. You could be something really adventuresome. You could be an airline stewardess. She did not say, you could be a superintendent of schools. She does not say, you could be a doctor, being a nurse was more appropriate career for a young woman. Or you could be an airline pilot. No, I’d be the stewardess and flight attendant, but they never discouraged. Neither parent ever discouraged me from really following what I really wanted to do. They taught, they made it clear, this wasn’t normal. But they really backed me no matter what.

Imi Barneaud: That’s fantastic. That’s really quite ]inaudible] to have parents like that in that period of time, I guess. So. kudos to your parents for letting you explore and become who you are today. That’s incredible.

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: That was in the 1950’s. And that two geologists marked a point in time when the impact of our species on the planet became distinctly notable. Think about that era when nuclear explosion were taking place. But testing in the 40’s and 50’s. And there are other markers, if you will, have been building literally since the industrial revolution. So some geologists mark this distinctive impact that humans have had on the planet starting about 200 years ago. But I think there’s a growing consensus that the middle of the 20th century, 1950 iss that milestone, if you will, when the combination of factors the burning of fossil fuels with layers of soot, and other fallout from the sky, plus the fallout from nuclear testing. Our signature is literally written in stone. It’s detectable, geologically, and now we’ve added plastics and numerous other markers, if you will. Humans have had such a profound impact on the nature of nature.

Imi Barneaud: And it’s very sad to see where we’re going, because it seems to be sort of, especially this year, it’s just all gone completely crazy. And very real for a lot of people in the Western world where it was a bit of dispersed to other parts of the world. And I guess, yes, I’d love to talk about the climate change with you and the impact and the importance of the ocean.

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: It’s like nature’s fighting back.

Imi Barneaud: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And so yeah, maybe let’s dive into it. What’s the latest data on ocean pollution and ocean health?

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: Well, since the middle of the 20th century, this era that is being referred to as the anthropocene that our ability to alter the nature of nature, really, through our actions, we are changing planetary chemistry. Our impact on climate is clear. The warming of the air, of the warming of the ocean, and now through the excess carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere absorbed by the ocean. Ocean acidification changing the co2 into carbonic acid is having a global effect on life in the ocean. And the chemistry of the planet is shifted because of our actions. And of course, the accumulation of the various synthetic materials, synthetic chemicals that we have introduced that do not exist in nature. But now, they’re in our bodies, they’re in the water, they’re in the air, they’re in life as a whole. We’re just one species, but we’ve transformed the nature of life on Earth. I know you think, whoo, look at our power. Mighty us. And it’s true, we do have superpower. 

But I think the greatest superpower is knowing. But it’s only right about now, earlier in the 21st century, that we are beginning to understand the consequences of our actions, and I think motivated to do something about it. If we can change the world in a negative way, we need to look at how we can stabilize the impact and find an enduring place for ourselves within the natural systems that make earth habitable. I mean, we couldn’t know when I was a child as much as we now do know. Not just in the records and minds of a handful of scientists, but the knowledge is now communicated widely dispersed in ways that could not happen until right about now. 

So the view of Earth from Space was a turning point in 1968. And much that is followed in terms of understanding how we are impacting the world has come about because we have the ability to get that overview from high in the sky, and to begin to connect the dots. And more than that, more than having information acquired from having human minds, eyes and satellites in the sky, but also the ability to connect that information, analyze it, see the patterns and connected to what we’re learning about the land, about the nature of how life on Earth, really, together affects the chemistry of the planet affects our existence. 

And now, realizing the ocean really is the primary governing force shaping planetary chemistry and certainly shaping planetary climate and weather. And it’s where most of life on earth actually is. And it’s the living planet, not just rocks and water is the fact that the planet is shaped by life. Other planets, other parts of the universe that we know about, they have plenty of rocks. They got all the basic ingredients are there. There’s a lot of water elsewhere in the universe, but we haven’t found any place that is less with an ocean liquid water filled with life. Here’s the extraordinary thing. It’s taken about four and a half billion years for Earth to gradually shift from an uninhabitable place for the likes of us, to our home where we breathe the air. Water magically falls out of the sky. The water that we need, fresh water. To all the things that we use freshwater for, where does it come from? Ultimately, from the living ocean powered by these processes that have taken hundreds of millions of years to put into place. It’s taken us, I think, about four and a half billion years to get to where we are. About four and a half decades to significantly unravel.

Imi Barneaud: To unravel it. Yes. And you were saying that there’s a capacity for mankind to sort of stabilize the impact. What do you mean by that? Because the latest IPCC report was pretty grim. Basically, it says that if we sort of turn the lights out for the next 30 years, it’ll still sort of take a while to get back to what it was before. How do you see us being able to stabilize the impact of mankind? And what actions should we take?

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: We do know what to do, it’s just having the will to take this seriously. And I think one of the striking things that the climate sites are noting, we’ve got about 10 years, and you can get your mind around 10 years. Think back 10 years, only those who are under 10 years old have a hard time imagining. But even so, the time we live in, we have the power of communicating. Here are the problems. If we did not know what the problems are, we be in real trouble, but we do know. We do know the cause and effect, we have evidence burning fossil fuels is part of the problem by shifting to alternative energy sources is a big part of the solution. And if we have the will to go flat out truly instead of subsidizing, continuing to subsidize the extraction of coal, oil and gas to really foster the alternative as if our lives depended on it. Because really, they do. 

Come on, what are we going to understand that we need to leave coal, oil and gas, these fossil fuels in place, not release more of that into the atmosphere? And yes, the reality is we cannot do it in 24 hours, but we certainly can not wait any longer. We need to facilitate with the power that we have a shift to other forms of capturing sunlight, of capturing the wind, of capturing the power of geothermal energy. Meaning that it’s there. What are we waiting for? We do have a vested interest in the infrastructure that has been built over the last 60 or 70 years, but we have to think about the next thousand years. And especially, we have to think about the next 10 years. Because what we do or fail to do will shape the next 10,000 years for sure. But that’s only if the burning of fossil fuels is only part of it. Look at how much of the land we have converted from forest, how much of the water we have diverted the natural flow. Look how much of the diversity of life we have lost because we clear cut forests, because with all the best intentions, we have taken these remarkable natural deserts. The desert is not a bad thing. It’s actually one of the natural, important aspects of life on Earth. There are places that are continuously less with rain. Rain forests come to mind or many places that get a lot of rain. But that’s not everywhere all the time, but never has been. 

So we need to look at natural deserts, like a library of amazing ways of adapting to arid circumstances and use that information to apply effectively to our advantage where waters is short. And when we put our houses in desert situations, it makes sense not to try to grow, hungry. Yeah, exactly. We work with a system where you are. The native plants and animals have answers to questions that we can learn from nature, just listen, look and apply. Nature is the library. It should not be regarded as a supermarket. There was a time when, think about, even in my lifetime when my father and my uncles would go out and they shoot wild birds thinking that there’s just plenty of them, they’re free. Let’s go get it, we’ll have duck for dinner. Because there were a lot of ducks, wild ducks. And it was a common thing. The little furry things that lived in the marsh, one of my uncle’s would take them by the truckload and take them to the market using wild animals as a source of groceries. We don’t do that so much anymore. I mean, people do still go recreationally, taking wild birds and some little furry animals, but we don’t have supermarkets filled with wild birds, that we do have supermarkets filled with wild fish.

Imi Barneaud: Yes.

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: We treat the ocean as a grocery store where everything is free. We are now facing a crisis because so much wildlife from the ocean has been taken, is being taken with laws that favor taking ocean wildlife as groceries for free and for products. Like going to Antarctica to capture thousands of tons of krill, these little shrimpy things that are a part of the carbon cycle that affects us everywhere all the time because of the connection to climate. I mean, economists look at the world with dollar signs, they follow the money.

Imi Barneaud: Yeah, that’s the thing. That’s the economists, or the capitalists sort of model basically treats the environment as, yeah, free goods, or actually cleaning it up is sort of thought is something that is going to react on the bottom line. And it’s just ridiculous, because there’s no long term thinking about the actual value of the environment and the value of nature. And that doesn’t seem to have been sort of taken into consideration in these economical models.

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: But I think we’re finally getting a wake up call from nature.

Imi Barneaud: Yeah.

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: And scientists are saying, follow the carbon.

Imi Barneaud: Yeah.

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: All of the carbon, if we want to understand climate, and most of it is in the ocean. And the carbon cycle, the oxygen cycle, the nitrogen cycle, the basic chemistry of what makes earth habitable. What makes Earth special, this little blue miracle in a universe that is really not friendly to us. You think it is, okay, just try going to the moon without a spacesuit, or Mars, step out of your spacecraft, you wouldn’t last more than a few seconds.

Imi Barneaud: But you were saying about the fish being taken out of the sea as if we’re going to the supermarket for free. What’s the worst enemy for the ocean? Is it industrial fishing? Or is it a sort of sum of all the different industries?

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: I think we should look in the mirror, because we’re all part of this. It’s the marketplace that drives the fishing. People said, I don’t understand why we’re eating tuna, so I’m just not going to eat tuna because tuna and the ocean are more important alive, far more valuable, no matter how much they bring in the market. I mean, a single bluefin tuna can sell for more than a million dollars.

Imi Barneaud: It’s crazy.

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: US dollars. And even for more than a million pounds, for heaven’s sakes. I mean, there was one extraordinary example of a $3 billion tuna, one fish.

Imi Barneaud: Wow.

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: So that’s just way out of line. They’re not free goods. With a billion dollars, you couldn’t make even one tuna. And we don’t know how to do that. We need to think differently about the value of the ocean to our existence, the value of life in the ocean. Every clam has its place, every little krill. And I think most of the wonderful discoveries of the 20th century, and people are still tuning into it. It’s still such a remarkable concept that every living thing, not just humans, but every living thing is unique. We all know that there’s no other person like yourself, no other cat, no other dog. If anybody’s lived in a household with 10 different cats over yours, there aren’t any two exactly alike. Even though they might look superficially like, you lined up 10 black cats, they all look like 10 black cats, right? Or horses, or dogs, or whatever, cows, but we kind of glaze over when we think about chickens. They’re just chickens. They are all kind of like, no, they’re not. If you’ve ever had chickens and known chickens, you could give them names. Because as Jane Goodall really clarified with her long term looking and living with one of our fellow primate species, chimpanzees, and realize they’ve got families, they have personalities. There’s a social structure that builds over time. And when the family member is lost, things change. They shift. It’s true with fish too.

Imi Barneaud: Really.

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: Everyone.

Imi Barneaud: She sort of noticed it and locked it.

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: It’s there for anyone to see. We just haven’t been observing as carefully as has been done with creatures who are more accessible to us. When you think of what we now know about the society of birds. I mean, there’s some remarkable discoveries about the knowledge that not only that birds acquire. But to some extent, they pass it along their habits that are culturally call it that, if you will. Certainly now, we’re seeing with whales, the social structure, and it’s not inappropriate to call it culture with language and history, and knowledge that gets communicated and applied with orcas, with sperm whales. Because it’s been happening for a long time, but only now are we really smart, intelligent human beings getting to see how other creatures have intelligence, personalities, history and the ability to acquire knowledge and pass it along. But I think our true superpower is partly that in a magnified way. We can learn things such as, how old is the earth. Other creatures as smart as they are don’t have that perspective. We’re the only ones who have developed technology to take us high in the sky and look back on the earth and see, oh, this is our home. 

This, again, it’s a miracle, a blue miracle. And the ability to go to the greatest depths of the ocean, and even to have the capacity to use sound to prove the great depths beneath the bottom of the ocean, and to physically drill core samples deep into the bottom of the ocean and get information about what’s going on in the earth beneath the bottom of the ocean. I mean, there are a lot of intelligent creatures on earth, but we have this special capacity to develop technologies, find information, communicate that information so that it becomes a power that we have been able to share globally. And we need to use that power right now, in the next 10 years to say, okay, this is what we have developed habits, we’ve developed cultures, we’ve developed laws. But some of these habits and cultural ways of doing things and laws that were appropriate 100 years ago, or 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago that no longer fit the reality of today. So we are subsidizing industrial fishing. We have laws that make it okay. The legal industrial fishing that taxpayers are enforcing with money that goes to give subsidies to large scale fishing on the high seas beyond national jurisdiction of the ocean. And everybody is costing all of us dearly in terms of modifying the world we live in in ways that are not favorable to us. We’re reaching tipping points, we’re reaching those, that level of danger to our future to our prison by actually encouraging bad behavior. And these are ideas and concepts that seemed appropriate when I was a child. But the planet isn’t the same anymore.

Imi Barneaud: And when you were at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, did you find yourself hitting brick walls with the legislation, and the fisheries, and the lobbies, how did you actually cope? Because I guess at that time, there already these laws and these decisions, how did you actually manage to get your voice heard?

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: Well, they started calling me the Surgeon General. I tried within the framework that was open to me, but it’s really hard. Again, because as you say, their laws were in place, and there wasn’t much latitude for rapid change within that framework. So I think once you really understand, and I think we’re finally getting to that place where we really understand, we are changing the nature of nature, and it’s affecting us personally. The pandemic was certainly a wake up call that viruses don’t care anything about our art, or music, our desire to live, we’re just a habitat, we’re just a home or indifferent to all the things that we care about. It’s one of the natural systems that has been affected by the way that humans have developed. That is, we are proviruses and for other diseases, we are just there for them to exploit, if you will. Let’s say that this current pandemic should not be a surprise, it’s been anticipated.

Imi Barneaud: You’re talking about some kind of super bug or pandemic that was going to come up on us. So I guess it’s just–

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: Yeah. We knew it could and would happen just a matter of time with the way that we live. The transportation systems we’ve developed, the complacency we have developed because we’ve always been able to get away with it until now.

Imi Barneaud: Yeah, yeah.

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: We just take air for granted. We have channeled our freshwater systems just wantedly. Assuming that we control the water, we built thousands of dams that alter the flow of water. And now we’re saying, wow, I wonder what’s wrong? Were they good? And I think the good news, it really is cause for celebration and hope. We can identify what the problems are and look in the mirror and say, okay, problem? What can we do? We don’t have a lot of time. So that also should inspire us to say, we can be, right now, that powerful generation early in the 21st century, what we do or fail to do will determine the future of life on Earth, ours very much included, we can be that agent of change. It’s taken us a long time, the whole history of human civilization has been one of taking from nature, consuming the trees, the water, the minerals, the life. But now that we can see it, we have the solution. We know what to do. It should not be so hard. We can also do this without great trauma or great pain to our lifestyle. I mean, we got plenty of things we can eat. Who actually needs to eat shrimp, or lobster, or cod, or herring or tuna, go down the list. A few, I always say, there are some coastal communities, some island countries with people who really rely on the ocean for sustenance. But for all of the rest of us, we have choices. And we don’t need to eat beef. No, really.

Imi Barneaud: Exactly.

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: That is truly a choice, and we could do very well. And with great culinary satisfaction, eat more plants.

Imi Barneaud: And it’s delicious as well.

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: We need to challenge the great chefs. You go to a restaurant now, how many choices of plant based meals do you have? You can always make it work, but it’s always some big chunk of meat. It’s got to be the centerpiece for fish, which is also meat.

Imi Barneaud: Exactly. And I guess this is one of the solutions that we have is to vote with our shopping carts and actually sort of release the pressure on animal based foods and revert to plant based foods, which is a great solution. There are some incredible now beyond burgers that are doing fake burgers, but they taste absolutely delicious. And there is an alternative today now, sort of technology or humankind sort of enabled that. So that’s a step in the right direction. And I also wanted to talk about a step in the right direction in terms of preserving what we have already. And in fact, the Mission Blue that you’ve created, the Sylvia Earle Alliance, do you think you could let the listeners know about what it’s about and talk about Mission Blue and Hope Spots, because that sounds like a really, really good way of also protecting what we love the most, especially the surface.

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: There is a growing movement, if you will, to save what remains of the natural world at least 30% of the lands and 30% of the ocean by 2030. It’s not just a catchy phrase 30 by 30. It’s the reality that we must look around how much of the planet is still working. And in a natural way, how many forests, old growth forests are there? Not much remains in North America, or in Europe. A bit more in parts of the southern hemisphere, but it’s rapidly disappearing to plant soybeans, or to plant oil palms, or to plant cows or whatever. So we need to hold the line and realize that’s our life support system. We should not be cutting thousand year old trees or 10,000 year old ecosystems, and that applies to the desert, as well as to dry lands, as well as to wetlands and for the ocean. It’s taken us such a short time to devastate the populations of wildlife in the ocean. 

But here’s the promising observation. We only stopped the commercial extraction of whales in 1986, a moratorium. There are other species of whales like the gray whales. We stopped killing them a bit before then. But consider they’re more whales today than when I was a child. Why? Because commercially, our deliberate industrial scale killing of those big marine mammals for the most part has stopped. I mean, Japan, Norway and Iceland still take whales deliberately. And yes, we are still killing hundreds of thousands of marine mammals. Incidentally, right with pollution, with plastic that they engulf or get tangled with. The fishing nets that were deployed in the 1960’s that are still out there, those that are made of the new synthetic materials, the old nuts, ones that were made with natural fibers and made literally by hand. Up until the 1950’s or so, they are basically gone. But the new ones are not. There’ll be around for centuries or even millennia, so they’re still catching and killing things.

Imi Barneaud: Even if there’s nobody said to be attached to them, they’re still killing machines.

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: Correct. So when you think about the real cost, a piece of fish or shrimp that goes in your nice meal at a restaurant, or what you get in the supermarket we’re not paying, all of us are paying the terribly high costs. But in terms of what the seashell out of your personal cost, it’s way under priced.

Imi Barneaud: Say with Mission Blue, so you decided to create 30 watts to protect 30% by 2030.

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: Well, here’s how it works. We don’t know, and personally has the power of no organization, but it takes people who understand and are willing to work with the government and encourage their respective governments, whether it’s local or national, with respect to the high seas, the half of the world beyond national jurisdiction to come together through international policies to protect half the world from industrial extraction of wildlife. And what we’ve done with Mission Blue that started only about 10 years ago to work with other organizations were Wildlife Nature Conservancy course, National Geographic, the many organizations around the world, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and the oldest of the international nature based organizations coming together just in a couple of weeks, there’ll be meeting in Marsay to deliberate about international policies with respect to deep sea mining, to the high seas, to climate, to the nature of life on Earth. Now, they don’t have the authority either. 

They have a lot of influence, though, and they certainly have been very effective in gathering and disseminating knowledge through the various Commission’s that IUCN has so that they can help governments make the smart, wise decisions that benefit the future of humankind, even doing this for like 70 years. And they work with World Wildlife, with Nature Conservancy, with Conservation International, with the Wildlife Conservation, all these more than a thousand NGOs, nonprofit organizations, and more than hundred government agencies and institutions around the world. It’s really a voice for nature. There’s no other organization with quite that wide stretch of input and knowledge and influence. And so Mission Blue has worked from the beginning very closely with IUCN. We have a council of advisors, volunteer scientists who accept nominations from people all over the world champions who have identified places that they know, and love, and say we really care about this place. We want to do something to move from where we are to get to a better place full protection is our goal to be a part of this 30% of the land and sea by 2030. But at least, why stop there when the other movement is a continuation of that at least half of the world land and sea by 2050. But that doesn’t mean that the other half is just up for grabs. Nature keeps us alive. How much of your heart do you want to protect 50%, 10%, 1%. We’re now only 3% of the ocean.

Imi Barneaud: I, for example, or the people who are listening to this podcast, actually sort of make their statement or contribute to Mission Blue’s mission and contribute to protecting hope spots or to create new hope spots. Because as a surfer, I can sort of definitely sort of see that in a few years time with the rising sea levels that all the waves are going to disappear because the beaches are going to be flooded and sort of nothing to surf on. So that’s something that I think concerns us all, and I just wondered if there’s a way of actually contributing personally. And for any of the listeners who are interested to go further, what they can do?

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: Well, absolutely support the organizations that are doing something that you see is the right thing to be doing. Mission Blue has a website. We have more than 200 partners, including the organizations that I’ve just mentioned. But we work very closely with IUCN. And identify a hub spot. There are 140 hub spots currently with more in the wings, and you can be a champion, identify a place that you know and love, and are willing to commit to doing something about, and look at the list that’s out there and choose one, or six, or 10 that you want to help support and work with Mission Blue, or work with an organization, or start something yourself. And certainly, look at the everyday decisions that you make. You’ve got a chance to really make a difference. Everybody can. It’s only when individuals start doing things in the right direction. Right now, we have these habits, these cultural habits that have been moving us in the wrong direction. It’s okay to take from nature because it’s free, except now we know it’s not. We’re paying dearly for our lack of understanding, but there’s no excuse anymore. 

Now we know, we really do know. And for me, the pandemic had an unexpected benefit, and that is by being forced to stay home. I got to know my backyard very well and got to see things. But I also had time to focus on writing a book that National Geographic had asked to take on that I had actually been developing in my mind for some time about the ocean, about the story of the ocean. I think I began doing research that led to the National Geographic Ocean: A Global Odyssey.

Imi Barneaud: As the name of the book that you find on Amazon from next week.

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: Well, I started this when I was about three years old and got acquainted with the ocean, and has been building over the decades. But now to have the opportunity working with the National Geographic team to produce the story of the ocean with a lot of short stories along the way. So it’s about, how did the ocean come to be? Now it was a chance for me to literally dive into the latest information, the knowledge that scientists have been gathering to help answer that question. Still a lot of questions. But based on what we now know, here it is, how did water come to be? How did the ocean come to be to try to explain based on what we now know in the 21st century and add life in the ocean. One of the great things that I took special pleasure in working with a geographic team was a scientist. Fellow scientists around the world to say, okay, who lives in the ocean? The Census of Marine life that took place from 2000 to 2010, it was a big project with thousands of scientists who really made a concerted effort to say, okay, what kinds of life, what kinds of creatures occupy the ocean? 

And looking at records from the past having expeditions going out all over the world from pole to pole and into the tropics using the latest technology to try to figure out what do we now know about life in the sea, and also anticipate what’s the future of life going to be given the current trends? So I was able to capitalize on this great body of new information, and what has happened since 2010 that we now know that we did not know before. This was the greatest era of exploration on Earth. It’s happened in my lifetime about knowing what we know about the ocean and a chance to dive into it, and then present it to the world. So there’s a big fold out in the center of this book that shows that we’ll ask the people around you, name some animals, what are animals? You’re likely to get cats, dogs and horses, birds. Some people might remember that frogs are animals, or that bumble bees and dragonflies are animals and they might remember that fish are animals. Okay, but what most people will name are vertebrates.

Imi Barneaud: Yes.

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: Not the dragonflies and bumblebees. But most life on Earth are not vertebrates. We occupy a tiny fraction of the great spectrum of life on Earth. And essentially, all of them, all of these glorious invertebrates, the squids, the octopuses, the krill, the variations on the theme of crustaceans, but they’re categories of life that most people have never heard of. Well, in this book, we celebrate them. We give them names. I mean, they’ve been given names, but we put them there for people to see there on the map. Yeah, what’s up bryozoan? What’s a photon edge? Who has heard of the category of life that are known as aero worms, but they’re really important. And all the plankton, the phytoplankton and zooplankton that look at the carbon follow the carbon? It’ll take you right into the ocean, it’ll take you into this spectrum of life, this glorious 30 to 35 variations on the theme of animal life, and only about half of them have representation anywhere on the land. Ocean is where the action is.

Imi Barneaud: So unexplored as well. I mean, it’s like a new planets, there’s so much to our planet. Yes.

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: Our planet is here for you. Anyway, the last part of this Ocean Odyssey book is how the ocean affects humans and how humans are affecting the ocean. So we dive into it. Again, we keep using that phrase, but we’re do we do it? We explore the ocean and climate health, the ocean effects, climate and health. The changing climate is affecting the ocean. And mostly, in the end, how it all comes down to effects you wherever you are. We’re all connected. And I hope we do every chapter features a Hope Spot. I think every chapter tries to deliver that, okay, here are the problems. But we know what to do. Let’s do it. We have a chance to turn from this era of decline to an era of recovery and making peace with the ocean, making peace with the planet, making peace with nature. We can do this. And what are we waiting for? Some people aren’t waiting, that we’re doing it. The Hope Spots champions, but champions, by whatever name around the world are really turning from decline to recovery. I see it everywhere. There is cause for despair, but there’s a greater cause for getting out of your slump doing something about it. If we don’t, who will?

Imi Barneaud: I really encourage the listeners of the podcast to sort of get a hold of the book once it gets out in November. And also just, yes, get out there and start protecting what we love the most, the oceans and life itself. Exactly. So where would we be able to get our hands on the book?

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: It’s available right now. You can go online and preorder it, and it will come to you as soon as it’s hot off the press.

Imi Barneaud: I was also wondering, Sylvia, as a scientist, I was wondering if you believe in something more mystical and almost spiritual about the ocean and water? Is there something that goes beyond just the scientific facts that actually attracts you to the ocean?

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: Well, I think there’s another aspect to us as humans. We think of ourselves as having the ability to sympathize, to have empathy to be, the word that is often used is to be humane humans with empathy with sympathy, but also to look at other forms of life. And I don’t think it’s unique to humans, but it is something that I think is well developed in us to care about someone other than ourselves. And part of it, you could say, is also very selfish if we don’t care about others. We’re in tough, tough shape because we need others. We need families, we need communities. If they say no man is an island, but we are a part of a community of human society, but we’re also part of this much greater community of life, we are connected. And we, perhaps in a unique sort of way, can understand that we need life in the ocean to generate the oxygen that we require for our existence. We need the diversity of life to create the chemistry of the planet that sets Earth apart as a unique system in the universe, uniquely developed in ways favorable to us. We are connected to not just life on earth as it currently exists, but life on earth as it has existed through all previous history that we are the beneficiaries of this long history that has shaped Earth into a habitable spacecraft in this unfriendly universe, and maybe we’ll begin to populate other parts of it like Mars, and maybe beyond our own solar system eventually, but not if we can’t make peace and protect our own spacecraft or living spacecraft, Earth. That’s the great breakthrough of knowledge of understanding. They call it sympathy, empathy. But in a way, it’s really selfish. Our existence depends on caring for nature, caring for others. 

I mean, we have taken war to a whole new level of destructive capacity. That technology that serves us well in so many ways. It gives us cause for hope of making a world that we can properly live in in a more balanced way. Well, a truly balanced way of working with nature working within the natural systems and the technology that gives us information. It gives us communication, it gives us cause for hope. But when we take that technological capacity and turn it against nature, against other humans, we’ve lost our way. We have really lost our way, and it will lend ultimately and disastrously for us. If we follow that pathway, but we have choices, that’s great. Part about being a human now, this is the sweet spot in time. We are the luckiest people ever. I mean, either will fail or succeed going forward based on how we use our minds, our hearts, the technology that we’ve created to really in a positive way. Understand who we are, and how we can have respect for one another, and respect for the rest of life on Earth. I think that words of respect and dignity are closely aligned, and they are absolutely vital to finding our way going forward.

Imi Barneaud: That is wonderful, so much wisdom. I really do hope that we’ll be able to realize this. And doing this podcast is great to sort of spread the word and all the documentaries that we can find on streaming platforms, there’s Mission Blue, there’s Seaspiracy, there are all sorts of great places to find information.

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: Really transformative. It’s knowing that this to carry, you could no not care. There’s a lot of that going on. We know that the ocean is in trouble, so somebody else can take care of it, right? No, we have to look in the mirror. Every one of us, together make a wave, really. It doesn’t happen with a single drop of water, it takes a lot of troughs of water to make a wave. And here we are. Knowing is truly the answer. You can’t care if you don’t know, and we’re there. We know, let’s do it. We know, let’s go.

Imi Barneaud: I do have one burning question. Have you ever tried to surf?

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: Body surfing, it’s just a natural thing to do. And kids are not afraid of getting tumbled around once you realize that was fun. That was exhilarating. I jump back in and do it again. But I think it helps to start when you’re a kid. But I think it can start anytime you feel the exhilaration of being carried along by waves. And I think there’s a certain parallel with those who love to ski, that exhilaration of motion and that little tinge of fear goes with it. I’m not quite in control here. But the more you can control the motion and really bend it to your vendor body to the will of the wave. It’s there to be done. But for me, as you know, I love looking under a wave and say, I’d love watching penguins, dolphins, whales, sea lions surf.

Imi Barneaud: Oh, yes.

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: They are great masters. I am so envious of their capacity to ride the waves.

Imi Barneaud: Wonderful, wonderful. I just wondered if you had a magic wand and you became the next President of the United States of America, what would be your first executive order?

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: Well, if I had thought we were the big boss of the world.

Imi Barneaud: Of the world, yes.

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: Say exactly what I have been saying, protect what remains of the natural world and restore, do everything you can to give back to restore what’s been damaged and lost. And do it as if your life depends on it, because it does. And I think that even if there were laws in place that mandated, we just have to stop the killing, start the carrying. It wouldn’t work if people didn’t have it in their hearts to know why. So if you could just bless the world, the knowledge that now exists about why the natural world matters, and what you as an individual, and what we collectively can and must do to secure a place for ourselves within the natural world that makes our existence possible. Land and sea, all of it, we’re doing a better job, but not good enough on the land. But the ocean, we’re doing a terrible job. We just think that the ocean is infinite in its capacity to take whatever we want to put into it, and to not be affected by anything that we take out of it. Now, we now get busy, start right now. Act as if you are able to make a difference, because you’re the only one who has control over you.

Imi Barneaud: What are your plans for the next six months and beyond?

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: Beyond the book, continuing to write, look at making great plans for more. With 140 Hope Spots around the world and new ones coming along all the time, I had this great, great vision of being able to go to each and every one of them. And to have expeditions there, to have little submarines to be able to go deep. Right now, we’re still skimming the surface of the ocean for the most part. And yet, picture this, mean, understand this. Most of life on Earth lives not just in the ocean, but lives in the dark. Because the average depth of the ocean is four kilometers. And when you get below one kilometer, a half a mile, it’s dark. I mean, it’s really dark at 100 meters. It really is. And it’s dark all of the time at night. And all life experiences some dark but below where sunlight penetrates, and depends on where you are. 

San Francisco Bay, it’s about 10 feet. And it’s some of the ports around the world, it’s really murky. But out in the open sea, you can see some sunlight, just the barest glimpse of it. Some photons chiseling down even 300 meters. And sometimes, even a bit more. But that’s still the surface of the ocean. Most of life on Earth lives in the dark and it’s cold. Even in the tropics, even around the equator. If you get down to thousand meters, it’s really cold, really cold, cold as is normal for most of life on Earth, higher pressure than one atmosphere that we have at sea level. And so get over the idea that we are the representation of life on earth? No. Most of life on Earth is out there in the ocean. We’re odd, we’re different. We’re the exception to the rule of what is life on Earth. It’s mostly ocean life, and it’s mostly deep, and it’s mostly life that lives in the dark where the pressure increases as you go deeper. Anyway, yeah, but it’s just like a wake up call. Life on Earth is more like a jellyfish than a human being.

Imi Barneaud: Absolutely. That’s a good thing to reflect upon them to get.

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: Well, we have to be mindful of it.

Imi Barneaud: Yes.

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: And not disrupt it too much. It’s like taking care of your own body. Your life depends, your health depends on being respectful of what you do to your body. Be careful about your body chemistry. You have to be careful about the planetary chemistry that is shaped largely by life in the sea.

Imi Barneaud: Fantastic.

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: I’ve only been diving in the Arctic once, but some of what I experienced and will stick with me forever. And particularly, I think the first thing I saw here was all bundled out right down to my fingertips, and my toes with a dry suit, and hand warmers, and toe warmers, and layer, and layer, layer. I mean, I was like, oh, really, I was ready for the cold and got into the water. And the first thing I saw Chris’s little jellyfish, the little lavender jellyfish, like the flower that you described. It was just going boop, boop, boop. Just pulsing along without a coat, without a layer of stuff red. It’s just this bear protoplasm, just like a lacy miracle going in really cold water. You like it here. This is perfect for you, it’s surely not perfect for me. In spite of all my layers, I was mindful that this was a hostile environment for me, but it was home sweet home for that little jellyfish.

Imi Barneaud: Wonderful. And you were saying the IUCN is meeting up in Marsay, because I’m based near Marsay, so maybe I think to say hi.

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: Check it out. I’ll go online and look at the action because it’s going to be lightly attended. I was planning to attend, but there are two things that have held me back. Of course, the monster microbe virus. But also right now where I am, you’re in California, the fires are ominous and the sky has been smoky. I mean, it’s fires in California. This part of California has been, I guess, a part of life over time, but they’re certainly more frequent and more disastrous. And I am loathe to leave right now because it’s just–

Imi Barneaud: Yeah, this sounds very, very grim. So okay, well–

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: Here’s what it is.

Imi Barneaud: I guess so. I guess so. Well, take care Sylvia, and really thank you for everything that you’ve been doing in the whole planet and the oceans.

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: I’ll do what we can, you’re doing what you can. Yeah.

Imi Barneaud: It’s been a delight to speak to you and have a conversation with you. Thank you very much.

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle: Go surfing.

Imi Barneaud: All right, then. Well, thank you very much, so take care. Bye. Bye. Bye. Okay, so can anyone pinch me? I had goose pimples listening to this conversation, and will be forever grateful to have hosted this exchange with Sylvia. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did recording. To get hold of Sylvia’s book, you can order it on Amazon, and the link is in the show notes that you can find either on your phone on the app you’re listening to, or on my website, theoceanriderspodcast.com. It’s a perfect Christmas present for an ocean lover. I can watch Sylvia’s documentary Mission Blue on Netflix, it’s well worth watching, and to see what an extraordinary life Sylvia’s had, and her living and how energetic she still is. It was directed by James Cameron himself. Needless to say, it’s a great movie. You can also connect with the volunteers at Mission Blue. But to take your commitment to our favorite playground a little further, just join Mission Blue and get involved. All the details are in the show notes. Thank you so much Sylvia for being my guest today, you’re welcome back anytime. The Oceanriders Podcast is a homemade venture, and I can do with all the support I can get. 

There are a few very simple ways you can support the show and the content I craft every two weeks. Number one, subscribe and review. Please make sure to review, share, comment and subscribe to The Oceanriders Podcast on Apple podcasts and on Spotify. This helps me tremendously. Number two, spread the word, outgrow The Oceanriders Podcasts preach by sharing your enthusiasm for the podcast and all your favorite episodes by posting about it on social media. Number three, join me on social media Let’s continue the conversation on Instagram at The Oceanriders Podcast. On Facebook, at The Oceanriders Podcast. On our Facebook group, The Oceanriders community. On Twitter at Imi Podcast. Last but not least, you can find an illustrated version of the podcast on my website, theoceanriderspodcast.com. And on medium.com is The Oceanriders Podcast. 

I do not do this alone, and I would like to thank Leng Inque for editing this episode and putting together the content of my website. Intro music was created by me. Until the next episode, take care, have fun, and enjoy the waves. 




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