What You Can Do For Our Oceans


Question: What was the aim of your \r\nMission Blue voyage and\r\nwhat did it accomplish?


Sylvia\r\nEarle: Over the years I’ve\r\nbecome impressed with how much the oceans have changed just in my \r\nlifetime and\r\nI realized that since the middle of the 20th century more has changed \r\nperhaps\r\nthan during all preceding human history... That we can see the change.  Other creatures may as well.  Grouper\r\n may live 50 years and recognize\r\nthat the ocean is not the same ocean that they experienced as little \r\nfish.  Dolphins certainly may recognize the\r\ndifference.  They can live to be 50\r\nor 60 years old.  Bowhead whales\r\ncan be 200 years old.  Orange roughly can be 200 \r\nyears old.  Tuna\r\nmay be 25 or 30 years old.  Anyway,\r\nduring this time the ocean has changed, but they don’t know why and they\r\n don’t\r\nknow what to do about it.  We do\r\nknow why and we do know what to do about it, but it’s taken us a while.  It’s taken half a century to really\r\nunderstand the view of Earth from space to see that, you know, you look \r\nall\r\naround, there is only one place where we can actually have a hope of \r\ngoing\r\nforward in time.  We can reflect on\r\na long and illustrious history, but what about the future? \r\n What about the kids 50 years from now who\r\nwill look back on us and say, “Why didn’t you do something when you had a\r\nchance and when you knew that 90% of the fish had been taken out of the \r\nsea of\r\ncertain species, the tunas, the swordfish, the sharks?”  “The\r\n big fish are gone and yet you kept\r\neating tuna.”  “You kept eating\r\nswordfish.”  “What were you\r\nthinking?”  If we continue right\r\nnow doing what we’ve been doing there won’t be these large creatures 50 \r\nyears\r\nfrom now and the kids will say, “Why didn’t you do something when you \r\nstill had\r\na chance?”  That is what has shaped\r\nmuch of what I do, have been doing, what drives me now. 


As much as I love just exploring the ocean, \r\nstudying plants,\r\nseaweeds, I love them.  They are\r\njust infinitely fascinating.  To\r\ndive into an ecosystem and be a part of it and try to understand how \r\ndoes it\r\nwork just for its own sake, just for wanting to know to satisfy my \r\npersonal\r\ncuriosity, to add a little fragment of knowledge to the great body of \r\nknowledge\r\nthat might lead to wisdom for our species... but now we’re running out \r\nof\r\ntime.  I can’t indulge myself as\r\nmuch as I once did as a young explorer, as a younger scientist.  I now am compelled to share the news.  The\r\n ocean is in trouble.  We’re in trouble.  We have to go flat out to do what we\r\ncan to embrace what remains of healthy ecosystems on the land and in the\r\nsea.  I’ve been working with the\r\nNational Parks Service and with protected areas the whole concept on the\r\n land\r\nfor many years through IUCN, the International Union for the \r\nConservation of\r\nNature, with World Wildlife, with the National Geographic, Conservation\r\nInternational, with any organization that will have me basically to try \r\nto help\r\ninspire care for the natural systems as if our lives depend on them \r\nbecause\r\nthey do.  They do.  It’s \r\nlife that generates oxygen.  It’s living systems \r\nthat drive the\r\nwater cycle.  You know protecting\r\nwatersheds to maintain the integrity of that which keeps us alive.  For the ocean... for years I’ve been\r\ntrying to do for the ocean what has been done for the land starting \r\nearly in\r\nthe 20th century, not early enough, but protected areas on the land, \r\nnational\r\nparks and wildlife reserves and so on that we should think of as people\r\nreserves because they restore our life, not just about other creatures. 


In the sea it is a relatively new concept.  Starting in the '70s, in Australia, in\r\nthis country with protected areas, the Great Barrier Reef, a system of\r\nsanctuaries in this country, now around the world, 4,500 or so marine \r\nprotected\r\nareas, but they’re mostly really small. \r\nIt amounts to a fraction of 1% of the ocean.  So\r\n when I had a call from Chris Anderson from Technology\r\nEntertainment Design, TED in the fall of 2008 saying that I had been \r\nawarded\r\nthe TED Prize and I could make a wish. \r\nIt had to be a big wish, big enough the change the world.  It was really easy to think what it\r\nwould be.  It would be to try to\r\nwin support for what I’ve been trying to do with other organizations and\r\npeople, my fellow scientists and others who care for most of my life.  Let’s try to inspire a network, a\r\npublic… sort of ignite public support for hope spots, protected areas \r\naround\r\nthe world.  It doesn’t matter\r\nreally what you call them; a sanctuary, a reserve, whatever it is.  Different organizations have gone by\r\ndifferent names, but it’s time to have an umbrella term, something that \r\nwill\r\nallow others to do their thing, but within a framework of working \r\ntogether, so\r\n"hope spots."  Mission Blue to pull\r\ntogether, to get others engaged who haven’t typically been engaged.  Pull on them.  Draw on the \r\nentertainers to celebrate using their\r\ntalents.  People ask, “What can I\r\ndo?”  I hold up a mirror.  What\r\n can you do?  What are you good at? \r\n Do you write?  Do you sing? \r\n Do\r\nyou have a way with numbers?  Are\r\nyou a politician with a kind of power at this moment in history?  Are you a teacher?  Are you a \r\nmom?  Are you a dad?  Are \r\nyou a kid?  Whatever you are you have power.  The trick is using that power.  Part\r\n of the wish with TED Said\r\nexpeditions and again the TEDsters as they are known… call themselves...\r\n and Chris\r\nAnderson pulled together to have an expedition and we worked with \r\nLindblad\r\nExpeditions, the National Geographic Lindblad ship the Endeavor to go to\r\n the\r\nGalapagos Islands, a place is an iconic place that has lots of reason \r\nfor hope.  Good things are happening there, but\r\nthere are also concerns because fishing continues to degrade the oceans\r\nsurrounding the islands and degrade the chances that wildlife have and \r\npeople\r\nhave to make this a source of hope for the future, so we had the \r\nexpedition\r\nthere with 100 people from different areas of expertise that even the\r\nscientists, although we’re scientific colleagues and know one another \r\nand there\r\nwere maybe 30 of us in this mix of 100 people who are experts in our \r\nrelative\r\nrespective disciplines, but we hadn’t been captured together in a place \r\nfor a\r\npiece of time where we had a chance to really think in new ways about \r\nthis real\r\nproblem of how do we take care of the ocean and inspire the public at \r\nlarge and\r\npeople with other talents to pull together and that what actually did \r\nhappen in\r\nthe Mission Blue expedition that has had a magical effect on everybody \r\nwho was\r\nthere to mobilize the powers that they have and pull together and to \r\ncreate a\r\nnew wave of understanding.

Recorded April 14th, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

As the oil spill continues to plague the Gulf, the deep-sea explorer makes a passionate case for saving ocean life.

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