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Dr Sylvia Earle
Stories of inspiration from Smart Girl Stories across the globe. Dr. Sylvia Earle Encourages Women to Pursue Their Dreams

Dr. Sylvia Earle Encourages Women to Pursue Their Dreams

Dr. Sylvia Earle is a world-renowned American marine biologist, oceanographer, explorer, lecturer, and author who has dedicated her life to understanding and protecting the oceans. In addition to her scientific accomplishments, Earle is also an inspiration to women everywhere due to her achievements in a male-dominated field. She has been named one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” and was awarded the Hubbard Medal, the National Geographic Society’s highest honor. Earle’s passion for the oceans is evident in all that she does, and she continues to be a powerful advocate for ocean conservation. She is a true inspiration to women everywhere, which is why we have chosen her as one of our “Smart Girls!”

Sylvia was born in New Jersey to parents that encouraged Sylvia to have a love for nature, which she certainly did! Beginning at a young age, she would spend hours by her backyard pond, observing fish and tadpoles, then drawing them in her notebook. She and her family moved to Florida when she was 13, so her interest soon became the wildlife of the Gulf Coast.


Sylvia was an excellent student, graduating high school at 16 while earning a scholarship to Florida State University, studying botany and graduating at age 19. She then earned her Master’s Degree from Duke University by the time she was 20.

After getting her Master’s Degree, she started her doctoral at Duke, studying algae, which creates most of the Earth’s oxygen. While working on her doctoral, Sylvia met her first husband, a graduate student in zoology. Soon after, she postponed her studies to get married and have children.

A Jot Not Often Offered To Women

In 1964, Sylvia was invited on a six-week trip aboard the National Science Foundation research vessel to the Indian Ocean. It was a job that was not often offered to women, but Sylvia was used to often being the only woman in a predominantly male field. She traveled to the Galápagos Islands, the coast of Chile, and the Panama Canal from 1964 to 1966. Shortly thereafter, Sylvia became the resident director of the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida. She did all of this while getting her Ph.D. in botany and writing her dissertation.

While writing her dissertation, Sylvia used over 20,000 algae samples to classify marine plants in the Gulf of Mexico. This an amazing feat as she was one of the first scientists to go Scuba diving to research oceanic wildlife.

First Female Scientists Underwater

In 1966, she married her second husband, the curator of fishes at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology. Soon after Sylvia became a research scholar at Harvard. In 1968, she joined a group of scientists as a part of the Smithsonian Institution’s Man-in-Sea project, an experimental undersea habitat. During this experiment, she went 100 feet below the surface of the ocean in a submarine and entered the habitat, being the first female scientist to do so in that fashion. She was four months pregnant at the time with her third child. Another amazing accomplishment as a strong woman!

But Sylvia didn’t stop there in her accomplishments. In 1970, she led an all-female team of scientists to another underwater habitat called the Tektite II Project, which was sponsored by the U.S. Navy, the Department of the Interior, and NASA by the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was similar to the Man-in-Sea project in the way that it empowered scientists to work and live underwater. She and her team of all-female scientists were all exceedingly qualified, but government officials did not want men and women living in the same quarters, so her team was created. For two weeks, she and her team observed and photographed marine life in the waters. When they came back to land, they were famous! They were celebrated at the White House and honored by a parade for them in Chicago. By being in the spotlight, she became set on educating the public about the value of the oceans.

Chief Scientists For National Geographic

Sylvia and her family eventually moved to Los Angeles, where she began teaching at UCLA. She started giving lectures and talks all over the U.S., teaching people about her experiences and findings underwater. She also began writing publications for National Geographic, frequently serving as their chief scientist on marine explorations worldwide.

She and Al Giddings, an underwater photographer, teamed together. They explored the oceans together, like following sperm whales featured in his film Gentle Giants of the Pacific. They also worked together on a book of hers called Exploring the Deep Frontier, which is her story of being at a lower depth than any other, at 1,250, where she stayed for 2 and a half hours.

Sylvia also teamed up with an engineer, Graham Hawkes, who eventually became her third husband, and together, they created two companies that make submarines and underwater vehicles.

In 1990, she became the Chief Scientist of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), being the first woman to do so. Her job was to keep the nation’s waters healthy. In 1995, she published another book, named Sea Change: A Message of the Oceans, a “call for help,” so to speak, to take action to preserve the oceans of the world.

Inspirational Accomplishments

During her career, she wrote over 200 publications, spoke in over 80 countries, and led over 100 aquatic journeys, spending more than 7,000 hours underwater. She has been given 27 honorary degrees and over 100 honors globally. She now acts as the president and Chairman of the Mission Blue/Sylvia Earle Alliance.

It is easy to see why Dr. Sylvia Earle is an inspiration to young women everywhere. From her ambitions as a teen to her accomplishments throughout her life, her determination and spirit is evident in her pursuit to help save the world’s oceans.

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This blog post was co-written by Hannah and Sarah, a contributing writer to SGS.



Founder, Smart Girl, Survivor, Champion of womens rights and kids rights


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