Sylvia Earle
Oceanographer & Founder, Mission Blue
03:47

Touched by a Lobster

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You may like the taste, but is your dinner worth its cost to our ecosystem?

Sylvia Earle

Known as "Her Deepness" by the New Yorker and the New York Times and a "Living Legend" by the Library of Congress, Sylvia Earle is an oceanographer, explorer, author and lecturer committed to research through personal exploration. She has spent more than 6,000 hours underwater on more than 50 expeditions worldwide. In 1979, Earle walked untethered on the sea floor at a lower depth than any other woman before or since. In the 1980s she started the companies Deep Ocean Engineering and Deep Ocean Technologies to design and build undersea vehicles that allowed scientists to work at previously inaccessible depths. In the early 1990s, Earle served as Chief Scientist of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Currently she is the explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society. Earle remains a dedicated advocate for the world's oceans and the creatures that live in them. Her latest endeavor, Mission Blue, seeks to ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas and hope spots large enough to save and restore the ocean.
Transcript

Question: As a conservationist, are there certain sea creatures you won’t eat?

Sylvia Earle: I once had an encounter with a lobster, a young and curious lobster.  It was not big enough to qualify as one that people would normally take home for dinner.  It was in the Florida Keys.  It was in shallow water about ten feet deep.  I was using scuba even in ten feet of water, but I was exploring the sea grass meadow that was in many ways as rich as a rainforest, but even wetter than a rainforest.  Lots of little creatures, great diversity of life, big wedges of life that you don’t find in anyplace on the land—even in the most diverse and rich rainforest, because the ocean has whole categories of life that never have occurred on the land they are there, even in this sea grass meadow—and then about 30 feet away I saw this lobster just ambling out, broad daylight, usually you see them at night.  This was in the middle of the day and it was out exploring as young things are likely to do and it caught a glimpse of me and instead of darting away it did this most remarkable thing like the whales in Hawaii years before.  It did its little change of direction, came right over to where I was.  You know if it had been you know ten feet long and six feet high I would have been terrified because look at a lobster.  They look like some imaginary creature might, some Hollywood concoction, but no, it was this little lobster and I was… as it approached I didn’t move.  I just stayed and let it do its thing and what it did was come over, take it’s antennae and start touching my facemask and then its little pinchers and started touch, touch, touch, not pinching, just touch, touch, touch around my face and it started making these little lobster purring sounds and I never thought about lobster the same way since then.  I certainly have never eaten a lobster since then. 

I had already sort of phased out because I value them more alive than cooked.  They have a role in the ocean that is critically important and I don’t really need to eat them.  They are so much more valuable on my list if they’re out there swimming around or really for all of us if we value a healthy ocean we will value the components of what make an ocean healthy.  That includes tunas and swordfish and lobsters and grouper and snapper and clams and oysters and... Do we have to stop eating them?  No, but we need to think about what the consequences are, not just to them, but also to us.  Think about what they have been eating that you don’t necessarily want in you, given what we’ve done to the ocean in the last few decades that come back to haunt us in heavy loads of mercury and PCBs and all the pesticides and herbicides that are accumulating, even the antibiotics, the hormone, the endocrine disruptors that we have allowed to go into the ocean that are now coming back to us in what we take out of the ocean.  They get concentrated.  The further up the food chain you go the higher the concentration and we tend to eat high on the food chain when we take from the sea and we tend to take creatures that are more than just a year old.  We tend to take the ones that are the big creatures that also have the highest concentrations of what you don’t want in you.

Recorded April 14th, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen


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