Superheroes in the Field

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Dr. Sylvia Earle

2011 Exemplar Award

Sylvia Earle received her Ph.D. from Duke in 1966. Since then she has made a lifelong project of cataloguing every species of plant that can be found in the Gulf of Mexico. Dr. Earle then went on to Harvard as a research fellow and then to the resident directorship of the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory, in Florida.

In the 1980s, along with engineer Graham Hawkes, she started the companies Deep Ocean Engineering and Deep Ocean Technologies. These ventures design and build undersea vehicles like Deep Rover and Deep Flight which are making it possible for scientists to maneuver at depths that defied all previously existing technology. In the middle of this life of adventure, Sylvia Earle has been married and raised three children, some of whom have worked side by side with her at Deep Ocean Engineering.

In the 1980s, Dr. Earle took a leave of absence from her companies to serve as Chief Scientist of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. There, among other duties, Sylvia Earle was responsible for monitoring the health of the nation’s waters. In this capacity she also reported on the environmental damage wrought by Iraq’s burning of Kuwaiti oil fields.

Among the more than 100 national and international hors she has received is the 2009 TED Prize for her proposal to establish a global network of marine protected areas. She calls these marine preserves “hope spots, to save and restore the blue heart of the planet.”