Ocean Legend Dr. Sylvia Earle Celebrates Her 80th Birthday

On August 30th 2015, one of the diving world’s most inspirational figures celebrated her 80th birthday. Over the course of the past eight decades, Dr. Sylvia Earle has logged more than 7,000 hours underwater – some of them in her capacity as a scientist and explorer, others of them in her role as an influential conservationist. Reverentially known in diving circles as ‘Her Deepness’, the octogenarian has no plans to slow down. In fact, she recently celebrated her landmark birthday with an expedition dive to Cashes Ledge, a submerged mountain range and ecological hotspot off the coast of New England.

In her years at the forefront of marine exploration and conservation efforts, Dr. Earle has received no fewer than 25 doctorates. She has won more than 100 environmental awards – including being named TIME Magazine’s first ‘Hero For The Planet’ in 1998. Only last year, she was one of eight luminary figures recognised by the United Nations as a ‘Champion of the Earth’ – a title that serves as the organisation’s most prestigious environmental award. After graduating from Duke University with a doctorate of philosophy in 1966, Dr. Earle’s illustrious career took off four years later, when she was selected to lead an all-female expedition to the underwater habitat Tektite II.

After that, her influence in diving circles began to spread like the ripples from a stone flung into a glass-calm lake. In 1979, she used an atmospheric diving suit known as a JIM suit to make a dive to 381 metres (1,250 feet) off the coast of Hawaii – and in so doing, set an international human depth record. In light of her staggering achievement, Dr. Earle was thereafter known as ‘Her Deepness’. Her passion for deep-sea exploration inspired her to start a company called Deep Ocean Engineering with her husband, engineer Graham Hawkes. Together, they invented a research submarine called Deep Rover, which Dr. Earle used to dive to 1,000 metres (3,280 feet) – and in so doing achieved a world depth record for solo diving in a sub.

Several years later, Dr. Earle founded a second engineering company, Deep Ocean Exploration and Research (DOER). The submersible research equipment invented and produced by DOER has proved invaluable in countless underwater research projects – including those promoting marine conservation. Dr. Earle herself has led several key environmental expeditions, particularly in her capacity as National Geographic’s explorer-in-residence, a title that she has held since 1988; and in her role as the first female chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Perhaps her most significant contribution to the future of our oceans, however, has been as the founder of  marine conservation organisation Mission Blue.

In 2009, Dr. Earle was awarded the TED Prize, whose purpose is to provide funding for individuals with a vision to change the world. She used her winnings to set up Mission Blue, an organisation dedicated to establishing a global network of Hope Spots – marine areas of incredible environmental importance whose protection is critical to the overall health of the world’s oceans. The goal behind the Hope Spot initiative is to inspire members of the public to get involved with and take responsibility for the future of the marine environment. There are nearly 60 Hope Spots in existence today – with Cashes Ledge and six new South African Hope Spots amongst the most recently established.

Whilst launching the Knysna Hope Spot in the Western Cape, South African Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom suggested that August 30th should be recognised as World Hope Spot Day – as a tribute to Dr. Earle and the astounding contribution she has made to global marine conservation efforts. The creation of a World Hope Spot Day will help to keep the Hope Spots in the public eye, thereby increasing their impact and helping the initiative to achieve its goal of creating a network of protected areas “large enough to save and restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet”.

To find out more about the global Hope Spot network, visit: http://mission-blue.org/hope-spots-new/

To find out more about the recently launched South African Hope Spots, visit: http://www.sst.org.za/hope-spots

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