What a Time to Be Alive: Diving Into the Miracles of Earth with 2023 Goodyear Fellow Dr. Sylvia Earle

Dr. Sylvia Earle found her love of water and the ocean very early in life.

“I got knocked over by a wave when I was three,” she shared during her presentation to students. “The wave took me underwater, and at first it was a little scary, but then I realized it was fun, and I’ve been submerging ever since.” As a pioneering oceanographer, explorer, author, and conservationist with more than 7,000 hours spent underwater, that is no exaggeration!
Last Thursday, as the 56th Alison Harrison Goodyear ’29 Fellow to speak at Foxcroft, Dr. Earle spent the day with students, answering questions and sharing some of her life experiences and thoughts on ocean preservation. 

“[The ocean] is vulnerable to what we're putting into it and what we're taking out of it,” she shared. “It once seemed like nothing we could do could possibly change the weather, could possibly alter the nature of nature, and certainly not harm the ocean, that we could have an impact on when it rains or when it doesn't, or that we could ever have an impact on ice in the polar regions. When I was a child, it seemed impossible to endanger Santa Claus, polar bears, walruses, and ultimately ourselves.”

But as she mentioned several times throughout her comments, she is hopeful. “But we are — and you are especially — the luckiest humans ever. The greatest era of exploration itself is just beginning. We are poised with choices we didn't know we had until right now. We can choose to make peace with nature. We can choose an enduring future for ourselves within the matrix of all the other creatures that live on our planet. Or, we can choose to do what we've always done, which is to consume nature, thinking that it doesn't matter how many trees we cut, or how many fish we take, or how many dams we build.”

When speaking about her early years as a botanist, she shared two key opportunities that helped solidify her career trajectory. The first was an opportunity to spend six weeks at sea studying seaweed and fish. Ultimately realizing she would be one woman among 70 men, she said it really wasn’t a problem. “I was focused on what I was there to do as a botanist. I was there as a professional.”

The second was an opportunity to live underwater for two weeks. “They didn't expect women to apply, but some of us did. They allowed five of us to be chosen, but they couldn't tolerate the idea that men and women could live [together] underwater. So they made a women's team, and that created big headlines. This was 1970, and astronauts were all the rage. The idea that you're aquanauts caught the imagination of people. So we got a ticker tape parade down the streets of Chicago and were invited to the White House. We were given medals as the women's team because we were special. Anyway, one thing that set us apart was the fact that they did not call us aquanauts — we were the aqua babes or the aqua naughties. But really, we didn't care much what they called us as long as we got to go, and we did.”

Once again sharing her eternal optimism, Dr. Earle reflected on the current climate and what can be done. “Earth is a biogeochemical miracle, and what we do to the rest of life on Earth determines what will happen to us. Again, I think we're so lucky to see it, to understand we are one little piece of this amazing fabric of life, and we've been doing damage to that fabric, but you can also solve the problems. We could not do it a century ago, even 50 years ago. You can. You've come along at a moment when the technology exists, the knowledge exists, to really shape a future where we have a future.”

She closed with this advice to students; “When people say ‘you can't do that’ for whatever reason (you’re a girl, or you're too young or too old), don't let anybody for whatever reason steal your dreams, whatever your dreams are.”

In addition to speaking with the Foxcroft community, Dr. Earle visited the AP Biology and AP Chemistry classes and enjoyed lunch with several students interested in oceanography and ocean conservation. Later that evening, the local community was invited to campus to hear her speak.

Thank you to Dr. Earle for her time and the Alison Harrison Goodyear ’29 Fellowship Program for providing this wonderful experience for our community.
If you were unable to join us for the Thursday evening presentation, you can view a recording of the event here.
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An all-girls boarding and day school in Northern Virginia, Foxcroft prepares young women in grades 9-12 for success in college and in life. Our outstanding academic program offers challenging courses, including Advanced Placement classes and an innovative STEM program. Our premiere equestrian program is nationally recognized, and our athletic teams have won conference and state championships. Experience the best in girls' boarding schools: visit Foxcroft.