Oceanographer Sylvia Earle

Oceanographer Sylvia Earle

Profile of Dr. Sylvia Earle, an oceanographer and National Geographic Explorer at Large.


4 - 12+


Biology, Ecology, Earth Science, Oceanography

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Sylvia is an American oceanographer, scuba diver, and research scientist. She founded Mission Blue, an organization dedicated to protecting the ocean from threats such as climate change, pollution, habitat destruction, invasive species, and the dramatic decrease in ocean fish stocks.

Early Work

Sylvia’s interest in the ocean sprang from her love of animals. Growing up in New Jersey, she remembers “I was always interested in critters, and most of them were in the ocean!”

Sylvia studied oceanography and biology at Florida State University, before earning her Ph.D. in phycology (the study of algae) from Duke University.

Most Exciting Part of Your Work

“You never know what you’re going to find! Ninety-five percent of the ocean is not explored.”

Most Demanding Part of Your Work

“Never having enough time. I can never imagine being bored; there’s just so much to explore and not enough time to do it.”

How Do You Define Geography?

“The science of everything. Geography is the entire planet, and what it holds.”


Sylvia has dived in all five of the world’s oceans, and plays a leading role in establishing marine protected areas (MPAs) as “hope spots” around the world. MPAs are intended to “protect and restore the blue heart of the planet,” Sylvia says.

The next place Sylvia will dive is the Sargasso Sea, near Bermuda in the Atlantic Ocean. She is working with the High Seas Alliance to establish an MPA there. Like many groups Sylvia works with, the High Seas Alliance is a diverse group of environmentalists, fishermen, and commercial businesses. Sylvia hopes the alliance “will encourage the Bermudan government to protect a small area, and for that to be a springboard for protection of a larger area of the Sargasso Sea.”

Protecting the ocean really protects ourselves, Sylvia says. “We are all sea creatures. We all depend on the ocean.”

Pointing out the oxygen and other atmospheric gases released by the ocean, Sylvia laughs, “If you like to breathe, you better like the ocean!”

So, You Want to Be an . . . Oceanographer

Oceanography is a broad discipline with many sub-disciplines. “Whether you’re interested in air, the history of the planet, currents, microbes, or whales, there’s plenty to do!” Sylvia says.

Get Involved

“Everyone should be literate about the ocean,” Sylvia says. “No child should be left dry!”

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National Geographic Society
Last Updated

March 7, 2024

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