Dr. Sylvia Earle holding her had in the wind on the beach
Centennial Spotlights

Sylvia Earle

You might say Sylvia Earle broke through the surface of a field once made up predominantly of men. Born in 1935, Earle knew at an early age that she wanted to study nature. As a child, she spent hours collecting tadpoles and recording her observations.

She graduated from Florida State University, where she studied botany, and got her SCUBA certification to study ocean plant life.

At the age of 20, she had already earned a master’s degree in botany from Duke University and went on to do her doctoral work focusing on algae. She earned her Ph.D. in botany, while at the same time taking part in research voyages around the world.

While pregnant with her third child, she became the first woman scientist to descend 100 feet below the surface of the ocean in a submersible vehicle. She also was the first person to walk solo on the bottom of the sea, under a quarter mile of water. She holds the world record for the deepest untethered sea walk by a woman, earning her the title of “Her Deepness.”

Her career led her to start two companies to design and build underwater vehicles. She also was the first woman to be appointed chief scientist of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

Earle has authored more than 200 publications and led more than 100 marine expeditions. In 2015, she received the Distinguished Alumni Award and was named TIME Magazine’s first Hero for the Planet and United Nations’ Champion of the Earth, among many others. Earle also is the founder of Mission Blue, SEAlliance, and Deep Ocean Exploration and Research.

She continues her work as a National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence.