Colloquy: Editor’s Column
American oceanographer Dr. Sylvia A. Earle recently received the Hubbard Medal, the National Geographic Society’s highest honor, recognizing “leadership in exploration, science, environmental stewardship and education.” Earle was honored for her outstanding achievements in marine exploration and conservation in June 2013. Film director and explorer James Cameron and Harvard Professor Dr. E.O. Wilson were also recognized and received Hubbard Medals.
The Hubbard Medal was named for Gardiner Greene Hubbard, the principal founder and first president of the National Geographic Society. It was first awarded in 1906, to Robert E. Peary, for his polar Arctic expedition. His companion, navigator Matthew Henson, was awarded the medal posthumously in 2000.
Dr. Earle is only the fourth woman to be honored in 107 years; preceded by Anne Morrow Lindbergh (1934); Mary Leakey (1962); and Dr. Jane Goodall (1995).
Sylvia Earle has been at the forefront of deep ocean research for 40 years. She was among the first scientists to use SCUBA diving for research, and has spent more than 7000 hours under water. Earle holds the women’s world record for a solo submersible dive (3300ft, 1986). She’s led more than 50 undersea expeditions, including the first team of women aquanauts in the Tektite Project in 1970. The Tektite habitat was an underwater lab that served as the home to divers during the Tektite programs in Great Lameshur Bay, Saint John, U.S. Virgin Islands.
In 1979, Earle descended to the ocean floor in a submarine off Oahu, with an open-ocean JIM suit (atmospheric diving suit) and walked on the seabed 1250ft below the surface, setting a human depth record.
In 1982, Earle and husband Graham Hawkes founded Deep Ocean Engineering to design, operate, support, and consult on piloted and robotic subsea systems, culminating in the Deep Rover research submarine.
In 1990, she was appointed chief scientist at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and led expeditions to the Persian Gulf in 1991 to determine environmental damage following Iraq’s destruction of Kuwaiti oil wells.
In 1992, she founded Deep Ocean Exploration and Research to further advance marine engineering.
Earle has been a National Geographic Society Explorer in Residence since 1998, and holds the Rosemary and Roger Enrico Chair for Ocean Exploration.
The New Yorker and New York Times dubbed Earle “Her Deepness,” the Library of Congress calls her a “Living Legend,” and Time Magazine in 1998, named her as the first “Hero for the Planet.”
Earle earned a BS at Florida State University (1955) and an MS (1956) and PhD (1966) from Duke University. She has held various positions at the California Academy of Sciences, the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard University.
Earle’s Hubbard Medal is the latest in a long train of accolades and recognitions, including the 2011 Royal Geographical Society Gold Medal, and 22 honorary degrees.
In 2009, Dr. Earle won the TED Prize, awarded annually to “an exceptional individual who receives US$1,000,000 and the TED community’s resources and expertise to spark global change. The Prize begins with a big wish—a wish to inspire thinkers and doers across the globe.”
Dr. Earle’s plan was to “Bring knowledge of our oceans to a wide audience and galvanize support for marine protected areas,” using all means, including films, expeditions, the web, new submarines, to help create a global network of marine protected areas.
In April 2010, TED hosted the five-day Mission Blue conference, to draw public attention to ocean protection, on Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavor in the Galapagos Islands. Over $17 million was committed to seven ocean conservation initiatives, and MissionBlue.org was launched: an ocean community hub.
Mission Blue is a global initiative that includes more than 100 ocean conservation groups, coordinated by the Sylvia Earle Alliance (SEA), based in California. OE