87-year-old woman has been exploring ocean floors for 70 years and has no plans to stop

She travels the globe sharing her underwater research findings and the need to let nature heal itself.

Most corporate employees want to retire as soon as possible. People who have retirement plans have the hope that one day they won’t have to exert themselves as much and can simply live their lives as they choose. But this 87-year-old woman has spent her entire life working at what she loves, so retirement is not a goal for her. Oceanographer Sylvia Earle, who currently holds the world record for the deepest untethered walk along the seafloor, is well-known. She has been investigating ocean floors for 70 years, and she has no plans to stop doing so. Earle is from Dunedin, Florida, and still spends her time satiating her curiosity about the ocean floors, telling CNN, “I’m still breathing, so why should I?” Earle is from Dunedin, Florida, and still spends her time fulfilling her curiosity about the ocean floor. “Every time I go into the water, I see things I’ve never seen before,” she said. 

This is particularly true in the waters surrounding Florida where environmental disasters and development have harmed the wildlife and shoreline. Earle has witnessed the dredging and filling of seagrass habitats to make room for coastal homes. She saw the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, which released 168 million gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico, and she lived through the extinction of Caribbean monk seals, which were once seen lazing on Florida’s beaches.

“It’s nothing like the paradise that I knew. Nature is resilient, that’s cause for hope. But we need to give nature a break, take the pressure off.”

She now travels the globe sharing her ocean-related tales and urging lawmakers in the US Congress, the UN, and schools to take action on environmental issues. Earle is known for breaking down barriers for women in ocean research, becoming the first female top scientist at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 1990, and pioneering the use of submersibles for deep ocean exploration. Her unwavering devotion to the ocean has earned her several names, ranging from “Her Deepness” to “Queen of the Deep” to “Sturgeon General.”

“There was a time in the 1970s when access to the skies above and the depths below was roughly in parallel, but then the focus on aviation and aerospace took off. Until very recently, more people had been on the moon than to the deepest parts of the ocean.” She believes that by returning to the surface with knowledge about ocean floors, humanity would understand the value of life underwater and start to treat it differently.

Although Earle feels her message is beginning to sink in, she thinks that opening up access to the deep ocean and letting people see life for themselves would help to properly solidify it. She said, “We measure ocean wildlife by the ton, we don’t even accord them the dignity of how many individual tunas are there. It just shows we don’t regard these as living creatures, as individuals.” 

Her daughter Liz Taylor, president and chief executive officer of DOER Marine, a company her mother founded in 1992 to develop submersibles, claims that her mother’s primary goal is to build new submersibles that give common people direct access to the deep ocean.

Because we lacked the knowledge, Earle says, “I can, in a way, forgive a lot of the terrible things that we’ve done to the water, to the air, to the soil, and certainly to life in the sea … because we did not have the understanding.” 

However, she claims that there are many justifications for ignoring the environmental consequences of our actions today. “We’re armed with the knowledge that did not and could not exist until right about now.”

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