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Oceanographer Sylvia Earle is still making waves

Oceanographer Sylvia Earle is still making waves

November 3, 2021 at 3:34pm

Sylvia Earle’s message is short and sweet. If you like to breathe, you’ll listen up and pay attention to the climate crisis.

While scientists, advocates and political leaders convene in Glasgow for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), FIU welcomed Earle — one of the world’s most renowned oceanographers and explorers — to take part in the College of Arts, Sciences & Education’s Inaugural Explorers & Innovators Lecture Series. She spoke about an important piece of the climate change puzzle, what she calls “the blue heart of our planet.”

Called “Her Deepness” by The New Yorker, Earle, 86, is a voice for what doesn’t have a voice in that big blue heart. She speaks for the fish, coral and the multitude of diverse life that calls the world’s oceans home. Throughout her career, Earle has led hundreds of research expeditions, involving more than 7,000 hours under water — including at FIU’s Aquarius Reef Base. Today, she’s the president and founder of Mission Blue / The Sylvia Earle Alliance, which inspires action to explore and protect the ocean.

The ocean is the planet’s life support system. Without it, there’s no life on earth. While it’s true that we’ve reached a critical tipping point — which Earle poignantly illustrated with a photograph of a person leaping from a cliff — she doesn’t believe hopelessness is the answer, because people have more knowledge than ever before. Combined with our inherent ingenuity, we have the power and ability to take action.  

“This is the best time in all of human history to be a human being,” Earle said. “We could be that generation of 21st century human beings who were aware enough and willing enough to take this knowledge we have to make the world safe.”

The audience was filled with many people who want to make a difference, including the finalists for the Women Explorers Award. The eight winners were announced at the event, and found out they will receive funding to support their projects, centered around different topics from sustainability and conservation in freshwater and ocean ecosystems to improving STEM education and more.


Sylvia Earle's visit to FIU was recently featured on NBC News. Click here to watch the video. 

In attendance were also people from across South Florida — like Sofia El-Rass from Nova Southeastern University's Academic Diving Program (they have a diving valve named after Earle!) — and of all ages. In fact, it was a 7-year-old ocean lover who happened to have the hardest-hitting question for Earle during the Q&A session about the easiest way to stop coral bleaching. This is something researchers, including those at FIU, are trying to answer.

Earlier in the day, Earle acknowledged FIU’s role in environmental resilience and helping inspire future generations to protect our world’s most precious natural resources.  

“FIU is a place of power. People come here because they want to make a difference,” Earle said. “It’s a gift to have places like this, where people can move where they are in terms of knowledge. One of the things I like about this university is they have Aquarius — I love that there’s a place where students, scientists and astronauts can live underwater.”

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Unfortunately, Earle didn’t get the chance to dive again at Aquarius during this trip. But that’s because she had a very important flight to Scotland and couldn’t miss a chance to, in her words, “make waves at COP26.”

After all, the world’s oceans don’t get a seat at the table. Because of people like Earle, though, the oceans do have a voice — one that speaks softly, but powerfully, for their future.

In 2021, FIU was ranked No. 11 in the world for positive impact on life below water by The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings and as one of the top universities in the United States for climate action. College Magazine also ranked FIU as the No. 1 university where students can make a difference in the climate crisis. FIU has been designated as a university of distinction for environmental resilience by the State University System of Florida Board of Governors.