In honor of Women’s History Month, Ocean Conservancy will be publishing a three-part blog series highlighting some of the amazing female scientists who study and protect our ocean.
Dr. Sylvia Earle
Dr. Sylvia Earle has been studying and advocating on behalf of our ocean for more than half a century. Earle didn’t just get her feet wet when she started studying marine life – she dove right in. She was one of the first scientists to study the ocean firsthand by scuba diving. In the late 1960s, Earle applied to a research mission called the Tektite project led by the U.S. Navy, NASA and the Department of the Interior. This was an opportunity for scientists to live 50 feet below the ocean’s surface in a closed environment. With more than 1,000 logged hours of underwater research, she was the most experienced applicant. However, the officials in charge felt uncomfortable with a woman living underwater with men. Earle then led an all-female aquanaut team on a mission called Tektite II, Mission 6 in 1970. She and her fellow female scientists spent 14 days on the ocean floor studying marine life.
Earle founded a global initiative called Mission Blue made up of more than 50 organizations and scientific teams. It spreads awareness and motivates ocean lovers to protect the 70 percent of our planet that is underwater.
In a 2009 TED Talk, Earle said, “I’m haunted by the thought of what Ray Anderson calls ‘tomorrow’s child,’ asking why we didn’t do something on our watch to save sharks and bluefin tuna and squids and coral reefs and the living ocean while there still was time. Well, now is that time. I hope for your help to explore and protect the wild ocean in ways that will restore the health and, in so doing, secure hope for humankind.”
In 1962, Carson alerted us all to the dangers of DDT, a chemical used in insecticides, with her book Silent Spring. The book reported the negative effects DDT was having on members of the entire food chain, including birds and humans. The thought of a spring without singing birds was enough for Carson to speak up and cause a public uproar. She appeared frequently in the media to talk about the dangers of pesticides and man’s role in nature. She wrote for publications like The New York Times and appeared on news outlets like CBS to demonstrate how interconnected our world truly is.
Before studying the detrimental effects DDT was having on wildlife and humans, Carson was an accomplished marine biologist. While in college, Carson completed a fellowship at the U.S. Marine Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. Her first book was called Under the Sea-Wind, which described the lives and behaviors of marine life.
In 1936, Carson was the second woman to ever be hired by the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries. During her 15-year tenure with the Bureau of Fisheries, she used her writing skills to spread scientific information to the country. She wrote reports on marine life for radio spots and brochures on fish populations. Being a scientist who could write for the masses led her to becoming the editor-in-chief for all U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service publications.
Perhaps the best gift she gave to humanity was a sense of humility. She said in a CBS program, “We still talk in terms of conquest. We still haven’t become mature enough to think of ourselves as only a tiny part of a vast and incredible universe. Man’s attitude toward nature is today critically important simply because we have now acquired a fateful power to alter and destroy nature. But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.”
Dr. Jane Lubchenco
Dr. Jane Lubchenco was the first woman to hold the positions of under secretary of commerce for the oceans and atmosphere and administrator, from 2009 to 2013, at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Before that, she taught at Harvard for two years and at Oregon State University for more than 30 years. She has studied biology, zoology and ecology.
Lubchenco focused her four years at NOAA on fighting climate change and overfishing. She helped develop the first National Ocean Policy, a unique approach to better protecting our ocean. Since ocean health isn’t bound by state lines, this policy helps states and regions work together to protect their shores. A true educator, Lubchenco made it a priority for NOAA to provide information to the American people on the ocean and our atmosphere. She even oversaw NOAA’s entrance into the digital age with the creation of its first social media channels.
Lubchenco founded the Leopold Leadership Program, which provides training to scientists on how to best inspire action to combat the world’s sustainability challenges through their research, at Stanford Woods Institute. She is also a founding board member of Climate Central, an organization dedicated to providing news and information on climate change.
After being confirmed at NOAA, Lubchenco told NPR, “I believe that scientists have an obligation to share what they know in a way that is relevant and understandable to decisions that people are making. Science should be at the table, and that’s part of the role of scientists regardless of what hat they wear.”