Although I’ve often joked about how my life has gone in unexpected directions as a result of bad timing, this week timing was on my side. I bounce around a bit these days, but realized about a month ago I was going to be in Ottawa the same time as Dr. Sylvia Earle. She doesn’t make many appearance in Canada, so I wasn’t about to miss her.
This is a woman I’ve admired for many years. A true living legend, she’s a trailblazer who’s devoted her life to exploring and researching the ocean.
She’s Time Magazine’s first Hero for the Planet, a National Geographic Explorer in Residence and founder of Mission Blue.
Seriously, take a look at her bio. There are enough honours and accomplishments for two or three people.
7,000 hours underwater
Having spent more than 7,000 hours underwater, Dr. Earle’s in a better position than most to talk about the impact we’re having on the ocean. She’s been a witness to it. At 78, she’s been diving for more than 50 years (and still does) and says she’s alarmed by the changes she’s seen beneath the surface in such a short time.
She’s worried by what we’re doing to the very liquid that allows every one of us to breathe. When speaking about the blue heart of the planet, she makes no bones about the urgency in needing to act to help it. But what I love about her is that the message she brings is one of hope. Although technology has helped us do incredible harm at an unprecedented rate, it’s also given us the ability to explore, to measure and to document the damage that’s being done. If we didn’t know, we couldn’t act. But we do, so we should.
“If you like to breathe, now is the time to listen.”
As soon as she said it, I knew I had the lead for my story.
I had the chance to spend more than half an hour interviewing ‘Her Deepness’ on Monday and despite sitting at the table with ocean royalty, managed to keep it professional…until it was time to go. Knowing I’d kick myself if I didn’t snag a photo, she graciously agreed to have one taken.
Force of Nature
Dr. Earle has a calm, serene presence about her. She’s a sweet lady and were her profile not what it is, she could easily be mistaken for your grandmother. But despite the diminutive package it comes in, you know you’re in the company of a force of nature. I confessed I was a longtime admirer as I packed up to leave. Walking out, we chatted about Newfoundland’s cod and how everyone should scuba dive to have a glimpse into this other world.
Or, she said, at least set foot on a water taxi or submarine.
As I stepped on the elevator, she winked and waved.
Later that night, at an event organized by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, she spoke to a sold-out crowd at the National Gallery. It was wonderful to see a full house; so many people who share a passion for the ocean, despite the fact we were in Ottawa, miles and miles from a coast line. But of course, that’s just her point.
As she wrote in The World Is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean’s Are One: “Even if you never have the chance to see or touch the ocean, the ocean touches you with every breath you take, every drop of water you drink, every bite you consume. Everyone, everywhere is inextricably connected to and utterly dependent upon the existence of the sea.”
Sitting in the front row as she spoke, so eloquently and passionately about a place I love as well, I couldn’t help but be awed. And moved. And inspired.
It was definitely a bucket list kind of day. Those don’t come around often enough.
Dr. Earle’s documentary Mission Blue is on Netflix and worth taking the time to watch.
And if you haven’t seen her award-winning TED talk, I’ve plopped it here for you. It’s 18 minutes well-spent.