Renowned in diving circles as “Her Deepness,” Dr. Sylvia Earle is something of a living legend, a conservationist, explorer, scientist and oceanographer, who has dedicated her life to marine conservation efforts. Over the past six decades, she has achieved an almost endless list of honors and achievements, including being named Time magazine’s first Hero for the Planet in 1998, and serving as the first female chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from 1990 to 1992. Dr. Earle has been a National Geographic explorer-in-residence for the past 16 years, and has no fewer than 25 doctorates to her credit. Her contribution to the diving community is immeasurable — as well as leading countless expeditions to promote the conservation of the underwater world, Dr. Earle set a new women’s deep-diving record when she descended to 1,250 feet (381 meters) off the coast of Hawaii in 1979. Over the years, Dr. Earle has been directly involved in many groundbreaking conservation and exploration projects, as she continues to be today. In 2009, Dr. Earle was awarded the TED Prize, which offers a significant bursary to an individual with a vision to inspire the world and change it for the better. With those funds, she created Mission Blue, an organization that’s in the midst of an innovative project that could shape the future of our oceans.
This project is dedicated to the creation of a series of international Hope Spots, areas of the marine ecosystem that need protection because they are, in some way, critical to the future health of the world’s oceans. Some of these areas are nurseries for endangered or endemic species; some represent a particular marine habitat that’s in decline; still others offer an exceptional level of marine biodiversity. There are currently 51 Hope Spots around the world; together, they form a conservation network that reaches from the Arctic to the Antarctic, and from Europe to Australasia. Some of the existing Hope Spots include areas already protected either partially or in full by government legislation, which currently protects only 3 percent of the world’s oceans. The need for these Hope Spots is huge, and in each of the places that they’re established, Mission Blue is working in conjunction with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to reduce the impact of destructive human activity. The need for initiatives like this one is overwhelming if the damage done to the oceans in recent decades is to be addressed. We are currently facing a reality wherein 90 percent of large wild fish species have disappeared from our seas as a result of overfishing, where vast swathes of the ocean are choked with flotillas of plastic thousands of miles wide; and where ocean acidification and global warming have combined to bring devastation to the world’s coral reefs.
It’s imperative that problems like these are given the attention they deserve, and soon. The Hope Spot project is unique not only because of its extensive global reach, but also because it aims to involve members of the general public in the fight to save the oceans. Too often, environmental issues are considered the exclusive remit of scientists and conservationists, and as a result, people outside those spheres are not encouraged to take action to remedy them. The gap between scientific knowledge and public awareness (and therefore public compassion) is huge, and it must be bridged if the world is to care about the future of the oceans. Similarly, there is a chasm between scientific knowledge and political action, as the absence of the ocean as a topic for discussion at the recent U.N. Climate Summit in New York shows. The Hope Spots are focused on motivating people from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds and professions to take action when it comes to protecting large tracts of the ocean, from schoolchildren to businessmen, artists, athletes, scientists and politicians.
When speaking of her vision for the Hope Spots, Dr. Earle urged people to “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.” Implementing a conservation initiative on a global scale like the one proposed by the Hope Spots is a daunting task, and yet there is perhaps no one else on Earth better equipped to meet this challenge than Dr. Sylvia Earle. As befits a living legend, hers is a resume littered with seemingly impossible achievements; with her support, the Hope Spots could well constitute the future of marine conservation.