Dr Sylvia Earle is name that for many needs no contextualising. An oceanographer, explorer, author and conservationist, she is known the world over as an icon of the ocean and ambassador of the seas. However, some may not realise that Sylvia’s accomplishments are all the more laudable, as she achieved all while forging the way through a patriarchal world.
“I came along at a time when women were just beginning to be accepted as competent scientists and engineers. Having women on ships was not a particularly welcomed thing.”
Sylvia Earle features on the cover of the latest edition of TIME Magazine as part of a special project, entitled “Firsts: Women who are Changing the World” which profiles 46 women who have shattered the glass ceiling. In the interview, Earle discusses the sexism she encountered when leading the first all-female team of aquanauts, scientists who lived underwater for two weeks off the US. Virgin Islands. This included dismissive press coverage, focussed more on the women’s appearance than their scientific research and capabilities.
“The cultural bias is what it is. Men and women are different, and the society of men as leaders has predominated the society in which I came along. It’s still very much there, but it’s getting better. Women are every bit as intellectually competent as our male counterparts.”
The study of science was once considered only available to men. Earle is an immensely valuable role model for girls and women all over the world who are aspiring scientists and leaders. In Africa, lack of gender equality is still a very prevalent problem; in general females have less access to education and lower adult literacy rates than males across the continent. Developing an environment that encourages more young women to become scientists and leaders is important for the continued development of the continent.
All that Earle has achieved is in spite of limiting views of women held by many. Her accomplishments over the years include National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence, chief scientist at NOAA, founder and president of Mission Blue, nearly 30 honorary degrees, authoring more than 190 publications, lecturing in more than 80 countries, leading more than 100 expeditions, logging more than 7000 hours underwater, setting undersea depth records, appearing in hundreds of radio and television productions and receiving more than a hundred national and international honours.
Sylvia Earle is patron to our founding organisation, The Sustainable Seas Trust, and the African Marine Waste Network had the honour of having her give a plenary speech at The African Marine Waste Conference. She continues to inspire generations of women through her work.
Click here to read her interview with TIME Magazine article