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PETALING JAYA, April 22 — Legendary oceanographer Sylvia Earle has dedicated over 60 years of her life to exploring the wonders of the ocean.
The American marine biologist has clocked more than 7,000 hours underwater, led hundreds of expeditions, and pioneered research into deep-sea exploration that revealed life hidden within the dark depths of the world’s blue lung.
In 1979, she set a woman’s depth record by diving 381 metres down to the ocean floor in Oahu, an achievement that earned her the nickname of “Your Deepness.”
At 85 years old, Earle has no plans on slowing down and is determined to inspire a new generation of environmentalists to save our oceans from the brink of disaster.
Coral reefs disappearing at a rapid rate and 90 per cent of the ocean’s big fishes wiped out due to overfishing are just a few of the many concerns threatening the livelihood of oceans around the world.
While Earle has witnessed some of the greatest marine discoveries throughout her decades-long career, she’s also seen how human activity has led to harmful changes in the ocean.
“We have the capacity to change the chemistry of the ocean on an unprecedented scale.
“The ocean is acidifying because of excess carbon dioxide, which is not only warming the air above but all of the planet, including the ocean.
“All of these changes happened in my lifetime but at the same time, I’ve been a witness to the era of the beginning of recovery. People are now aware of this like never before,” Earle told Malay Mail.
Environmental awareness has grown in recent years thanks to the likes of teenage activist Greta Thunberg and movements such as Extinction Rebellion, but it’s easy to feel powerless when headlines about ocean degradation and climate change dominate the news.
Such a phenomenon has given rise to the term “climate grief,” which describes the negative psychological effect of witnessing the planet’s ecosystem deteriorating before our eyes.
Earle counters this feeling with what she calls “climate hope” as she strongly believes in the power of the individual to spark lasting change in the world.
While governments certainly play a key role in protecting the environment through laws and policies, individuals can also pull their weight by thinking twice about the lifestyle choices that they make.
“We make individual choices every day about what we eat, what we wear, how we travel, what we do, or what we fail to do. To join with others and organisations that are clearly making a difference.
“We don’t have time (to wait) for governments to make progress towards the right direction.
“We need that, of course, but meanwhile, look in the mirror. What can you do to be part of the solution? That’s power. That’s climate hope.”
The power of the individual is one of the core themes in National Geographic’s Perpetual Planet: Heroes of the Ocean, a film that centres around Earle and a cast of pioneering marine scientists who showcase the work being undertaken across the planet to protect the fragile ecosystem of our oceans.
Earle said it was inspiring to work with people who shared a common goal of safeguarding the ocean and were using their individual skills to bring that vision closer to reality.
Earle has always emphasised the importance of maintaining the health of our oceans because the cyclical nature of the environment means anything that harms marine life will eventually make its way into the food chain and come back to us.
She urged humans to be more conscious of how we dispose of waste, especially during the pandemic which has caused an influx of personal protective equipment (PPE) like face masks and gloves to clog up the seas.
“In nature, there’s no waste. Humans have this unique capacity to use what we derive from nature and then throw it away.
“We think there’s an ‘away,’ but now we know that everything connects.
“Whether it’s a straw, a plastic bag, a wrapper, or PPE, it’s not going away,” said Earle.
Earle’s ultimate goal is for humankind to find a place for themselves within the world’s ecosystem that allows us to give back to the natural world in restorative and regenerative ways rather than exhausting its resources.
She continues to fight for change through her Mission Blue alliance, which brings together more than 200 ocean conservation groups and organisations around the world that conduct vital research on ocean protection.
Catch Earle on Perpetual Planet: Heroes of the Ocean premiering tonight on National Geographic at 8pm on Astro Ch 551 HD and Unifi TV Ch 508 HD.