by Larry Smith
“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.” — W H Auden
When Dr Sylvia Earle began her career as a deep-diving scientist in 1953 no-one imagined that we could do anything to harm the ocean by what we put into it or took out of it. Back then, the ocean was as vast and as mysterious as outer space.
“But now we know that unless we take care of the ocean nothing else matters,” Earle told a capacity crowd at the Bahamas Natural History Conference here last week. “It is because the ocean is alive that we are alive. And we have no other option than to make peace with nature.”
The conference was organised by the Bahamas National Trust and the College of the Bahamas to spotlight the range of scientific research being conducted in the archipelago. Sixty six scientists presented their work over a three-day period at the COB library auditorium. And Sylvia Earle was one of the biggest celebrity speakers.
Raised on a small farm in New Jersey until she was 12, Earle's interest in the sea was kindled when her family moved to Clearwater Florida. "My back yard became the Gulf of Mexico,” she once said, "So instead of going out to climb trees and watch the squirrels, I had the pleasure of getting acquainted with salt marshes and sea grass beds."
At 78, she is now the world’s most celebrated oceanographer, having spent over 7,000 hours underwater during 100 scientific expeditions, including time in the Perry Hydrolab, an underwater habitat off Grand Bahama, in the early 1970s. She also famously discovered undersea dunes while diving in a research submersible off the Exumas in the 1980s.
Burt these days, Earle spends most of her time trekking around the world to high-profile meetings, desperately trying to put ocean conservation at the top of the global policy agenda.