Legendary Oceanographer Sylvia Earle Delivers Words of Warning and Hope

September 15, 2011

sylvia earle
Photo by David Noe

It was standing room only in Bush Auditorium on Wednesday, September 14, as Sylvia Earle, author, environmental advocate, oceanographer and self-proclaimed “hope-aholic,” shared words of wisdom and warning about the state of the planet’s oceans and the critical need to save them. In the kick-off event for this season’s Winter Park Institute, Earle delivered her presentation, “Sustainable Seas: The Vision and the Reality.”
“The ocean is so deep, so big, so wide, so resilient, we never thought we had the capacity to harm it,” Earle said as she spoke of the many ways in which the oceans and its inhabitants have suffered as a result of climate change, overfishing and environmental carelessness.
With a blend of personal stories, oceanographic history, daunting statistics and quirky humor, Earle encouraged the audience to experience the ocean. “Once you’ve been in the ocean, you think of it differently,” said the scuba enthusiast who asked the audience to not “wait until you’re 81” to learn to scuba dive. “I’m so jealous of whales,” she laughed. “They can stay under water for an hour before having to come up for air.”
Associate Professor of Biology Fiona Harper, who delivered Earle’s introduction, hung on every one of Earle’s words. “I found her talk to be very inspiring, and I hope that the people in the audience begin to consider their own actions.” Earlier in the day, Harper had the chance to host Earle in her biology class. “She shared her experiences and her take on what we’re doing,” Harper said. “What’s incredible is that despite all the damage she has witnessed in her lifetime, she continues to remain positive about our ability to improve. That all hope is not lost.”
Harper wasn’t the only faculty member on campus feeling a little star struck by the oceanographer’s visit to Rollins. For Associate Professor of Biology Kathryn Patterson Sutherland, Earle is a legend. “Dr. Earle is an accomplished marine scientist and explorer, and she communicates her passion for the oceans in a way that inspires our students and the community to care and to consider how they, like her, can make a difference.”  

It was with equal parts that Earle warned that the ocean is in a dire state while attesting that we still have the chance to save it. She continued to deliver versions of one key message: “We still have a chance, but now’s the time,” said Earle. “The gift of our time is that we now know what we couldn’t know when I was a kid,” she told the students in the audience. “You have the power to create a different outcome.”
As her presentation concluded, the captivated crowd was treated to a sneak peak of her upcoming documentary Mission Blue, which chronicles the story of Earle’s dream to ignite public support around the concept of taking care of the ocean. Mission Blue is expected to premier at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
On Thursday, September 15, Earle returned for a second presentation titled, “The Role Humans Have in Our Oceans: Past, Present and Future.” Earle once again conveyed her urgent dedication to taking care of the planet's "big blue blob" and expressed her commitment of wanting to make sure the world her four grandchildren will inherit is "at least as good as the one I've enjoyed."

Earle's visit to Winter Park Institute was enjoyed by a large contingency of biology enthusiasts and environmental activists. But what made her contribution so special was her ability to inspire the average laymen to begin thinking carefully about the oceans because, as she so eloquently stated, "it may determine our fate if we destroy them. Our future is at risk."

Winter Park Institute continues on Tuesday, October 18 at 7 p.m. with a visit from David Shi who will present “The Great Recession and the Revival of Simplicity.” Shi, who served as the 10th president of Furman University from 1994 to 2010, is a specialist in intellectual and cultural history and is the author of several books including The Simple Life: Plain Living and High Thinking in American Culture. During his visit to Rollins, Shi will share his insights about the supposed revival of frugality and simplicity prompted by the Great Recession of the last three years.
For more information, visit www.rollins.edu/wpi or call 407-691-1995.

By Kristen Manieri
Office of Public Relations & Community Affairs
For more information, contact news@rollins.edu.

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