Ocean Voyages with Sylvia Earle – Conversations with History

Ocean Voyages with Sylvia Earle – Conversations with History


– [Announcer] This program
is a presentation of UCTV for educational and
noncommercial use only. (upbeat synth music) – Welcome to a conversation with history. I’m Harry Kreisler of the Institute of International Studies. Our guest today is Sylvia Earle, who is the president of the SEA Alliance, founder of Mission Blue, and Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society. She is the 2011 Hitchcock
Lecturer at Berkeley. Ms. Earle, welcome, Dr.
Earle, welcome to Berkeley. – Great to be here. – Was it inevitable that you would pursue a degree in science once you
went to college and university? – I think the pattern was set
when I was five years old. (both laugh) Or maybe sooner. Maybe it was that wave that did it. – And what did you do
your dissertation on? – The marine algae in the Gulf of Mexico. Mostly one big group, the brown algae. And that was preceded
by working on the green, the division of green algae in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. So I was just working my
through that whole suite of photosynthetic creatures in the sea. – And who was your greatest inspiration as a graduate student? – Well, that’s easy. That was Harold Humm. He taught a class in marine biology at Florida State University
in the summer months, and I was fortunate to
be one of the students in a class of eight during the
second class that he taught. It was 1953 at the Alligator Harbor Marine Laboratory. We lived at the laboratory. So 24 hours a day for eight
weeks we just soaked it up. That’s where I first had
a chance to try scuba. OSHA would not approve, but
OSHA didn’t exist at the time. So we were just free to do a lot of things that today students are
constrained from doing without a lot of rigmarole. But we were allowed to drive
boats, to jump in the water, to try out diving equipment that was new. We had two of the first scuba
tanks in the country, 1953. Big double-hosed regulators, and instruction was very
simple, breathe naturally, and then were dumped over the side. And it worked. We didn’t die. We came back, I did, all of us did, totally hooked on ocean exploration. – If one looks at your
career, it’s very interesting how the evolution came about. You start as a research
scientist, you become an explorer, you become somebody who
runs a technology company. What is the key here? Is it this wanting to learn and uncovering one problem after another which sort of leads you into
an additional career path? – Yeah, I think that’s true with everyone. You start out a blank sheet and things come into your brain, and if you really are receptive, there are no holds barred. You can, in a free country, fortunately, I happened in a free country, where options are there for you to take, whether you’re tall, short, young, old, male, female, whatever your skin color. The limits are mainly imposed by what you think you can or can’t do. I mean, yes, there’s
some serious limitations when you don’t have resources, but again, free country. You can figure out the ways
and means to solve problems. I think I took seriously
that word commencement. Eighth grade, okay, commencement. Now it begins, now the next step begins. You go to high school. There’s another commencement
and you begin again. And then there’s college and
there’s another commencement. And so it just keeps rolling forward. I think Goethe said it:
it’s not enough to know. You must also act. Knowing is critical, and when
you think you’ve done it all, I got through high school, yahoo. But that really should
just be the beginning. You’ve got the tools to learn how to learn and keep learning and keep doing. So that’s how it is. I wish I could live a thousand years. – So in a way it’s after the safe landing, it’s time to take off again. – Yes. Oh yes, armed with the new stuff that you’ve acquired. – If we look at your many careers, and let’s start as a research scientist, what do you see as both the skillset, the minimal skillset required, and also, what qualities of character? We’ve obviously discussed some of the second part of that equation, but what can you tell us
looking back at your career? Skillset. – I think having an open mind is critical. I think as a scientist, you’re obliged to observe carefully and report honestly what you see. I think increasingly there
should be an obligation to communicate as widely as possible, not just to your learned colleagues, but to anybody you can get to listen. Part of the reason I think that
science is underappreciated in the United States
and maybe in the world is because scientists
have this lofty attitude, some do, not all, but it sorta comes with the territory. I experienced it when I was involved with
the Tektite project in 1970. I really took that
opportunity on as a scientist. There was a notice on
the bulletin board saying that there was an opportunity
to live underwater as a scientist, to conduct
research of your own choosing. All you had to do was submit a proposal. You might be chosen to live two weeks on a coral reef down in the Florida Keys, all expenses paid. (laughs) You weren’t paid to do it, but you could be supported
to do this wonderful thing. – And this was in 1970, right? – [Sylvia] It was actually 1969. – ’69. – The project took place in 1970, and four researchers were chosen in 1969, more or less as human guinea pigs to prove that you could live underwater. They actually stayed for
two months underwater and they were subjected to
all sorts of medical tests. And they did do research projects, but that wasn’t the major point. The major point was that they
were the research project, to see how they behaved, how they reacted, physiologically,
psychologically, and otherwise. Part of this was of interest to NASA because people had not
then lived in space. There were certainly no women astronauts, and the space Skylab and the space station was still out there in the future. But they were very
interested in how humans would behave in isolation. – And at this time, there were, for this government-funded proposal, there were a number of applicants and the government didn’t know what to do with a project that had men and women, so what was their solution? – They didn’t expect women to apply. They didn’t even bother to say,
women, this is for men only. There were no women astronauts. It just didn’t occur to them to say, only men, this is only for men. And when some women did
apply, I was one of them, and the qualifications
as scientists, as divers, was right up there with
the men who applied. The decision came down to, well, shall we allow women or not? And the head of the
program, Dr. James Miller, I think he had a good
relationship with his wife. I think he had a really good mom. Because when it finally
came to him to decide, he said, well, half the fish are female. I guess we could put up with a few women. He actually allegedly said that, but that’s the story
that comes down anyway. So they let us participate and then came the other question: men and women living together? The phrase that I heard, and
this is true, I did hear it, they were worried about
hanky-panky on the reef. (laughs) Men and women living
together in close quarters? – Getting ideas from the fish. – Yeah right, exactly. And this was 1970. So attitudes have changed a lot. Young women today really, at least in the United States, cannot appreciate how
exceptional it was at the time. And it’s because of the exceptional nature of having not just women
participate, but a women’s team, all women, that’s what they decided to do, to have five women, and I
got to be the leader of it, to put the spotlight on it. And I think the program as a whole really took advantage of the fact that the press was interested. And we became the spokesmen, spokeswomen, spokespersons,
for the project in a way. So although there were 50 people involved with the Tektite program, the women’s team got a disproportionate
amount of the attention. I have a book this thick of the clippings from all over the world. We had a ticker tape
parade down State Street. We got to ride in the car that was especially built for the pope when he went to Chicago years before, fur-lined and with Mayor Daly. And the open ticker tape parade. I mean, imagine for
divers, for scientists. It was just extraordinary. – I have a question that comes to mind as I traced your career,
and it is the thought, what do you in retrospect see
women bringing to the table in terms of insights, way of acting as you deal with the oceans, that actually draws on their strengths and their differences? – Well, for a while I was
annoyed at the thought that there are differences. I wanted to be regarded as a
scientist first and foremost, pure and simple. It’s my mind, you fools, that matters. It’s what I can do. And I said, and Life
Magazine quoted me as saying, “The only thing that men can do down there “that women can’t is grow beards.” (both laugh) Well, it isn’t quite like that. There’s a whole spectrum, a continuum, of capacity for strength, for the physical characteristics that set men and women apart. But I think there are some attributes that are special to women and attributes that are special to men. I don’t think it has anything to do with mathematical capability or whatever some have managed to inject into our society as men can
do this and women can’t. Men are better managers than women. There is something, I think, about women with families having children, the investment that women
make with their own bodies to create the next generation. Less inclined to see young people go off to become cannon fodder for war because you appreciate what
it takes to make a child, appreciate that special nature of family. They say educate a man, you educate a man. You educate a woman, you educate a family. There’s something about the giving nature that comes with being put in that role. You have to be attentive for
nine months, more or less, plus you’re the principle
caregiver at the early stages, just because it’s the
nature of nature to be that. And that probably has something to do with shaping the way women behave, even if you aren’t a mother. And it isn’t unique to women. I’m totally conscious of their really, caring
invested men as well. But there is something
about the role that women are necessarily put into
as the primary caregivers at the earliest stages of being moms. – You’re down in the water, you’re living there, and one gets the sense in what you’ve written about this that there is kind of
an awakening of insight. Talk about that. You’re in a neighborhood and you’re watching
the fish and the plants and you’re sort of able
to identify individuality. – I had a chance to do two
programs with Fred Rogers, Mr. Rogers, diving down
in the Florida Keys. Only took a day with Fred Rogers, he was predisposed to see the
things in his special way, but after we came back from a day of swimming around, looking at angelfish and groupers and snappers and little damselfish, we’re having dinner, and
both Fred Rogers and I were a little bit late coming to dinner, and all the film crew and the others involved with this project,
from the Sanctuary program and all the rest, were
busily having dinner and most of them were eating fish. And in his Fred Rogers kind of way, he just went around from person to person, saying, and this was
just as nice as could be, he says, “I just can’t believe
that you’re having fish “after what we’ve been doing today.” We were in the fishes’
neighborhood, as you say, and we were looking at individuals. And I guess I did point out to him that every angelfish was different. Every one has a different face. And I first came to really appreciate that living underwater during
the Tektite project in 1970. I’d been diving all over the place for years before that, starting in ’53. I had at least a thousand
hours already acquired by 1970. So I should have seen what
finally came into focus when day and night, I
got to see the same fish in that same area, but every one behaved a little bit
differently from their… Other members of the same species. So I began to pick up on this, realizing that it’s not just every fish. We see it with people. It’s staggering to think that every human who’s ever been or ever will be is different from every other one, even identical twins or
triplets or whatever. That every cat, every dog, every horse, every cow, every zebra. You look at a whole herd of zebras. At first glance they all kinda look alike, but you really line them up, no two has stripes on their
faces or their bodies, and they don’t behave the same, either. That’s a staggering thought. But the equally staggering thought is how much we have in common. Zebras, humans, jellyfish,
pine trees, ferns, whatever it is, the chemistry of life that holds us together. It’s remarkably similar. And that… That to me are the two
big miracles of life. – At one point you were
quoted as having said, well, oh, that’s the fish that lives – There.
– at the rock, or over there. Basically. And it’s striking that because most of us don’t go into the ocean, we can’t experience
the totality and the… The qualities of these creatures. – Well, a lot of fish, curiously, well, not so curiously. It’s what I would expect,
knowing what I now know. A lot of crustaceans, a lot of creatures on
the land and in the sea are homebodies. They have a specific range. They may leave, but they come back. They come back to the
same place repeatedly. That’s even true of tunas that range
over thousands of miles in the course of a single year. They come back to the same places. Turtles, they go away for 10 years, but they come back to
the same nesting beaches, from the same places where
they hatched as little turtles. The home range that really counts is this little blue speck in the universe. This is our home, and we range here and there over greater or lesser distances, but this is home for all of us. – To appreciate this in the ocean, you have to go into the ocean. – I think so.
– Most people don’t do that, and some would say, well,
this is really courageous. Somebody like Sylvia Earle
is a real risk-taker. What’s your answer to that, and if it’s true that you have
to have courage to do this, how is that nurtured? – I don’t think of it as taking risk. I think the biggest risk is not going, and if you don’t like to get wet or if you have problems
with your ears or whatever, actually there are other
ways than just diving. Submersibles are coming into their own. I expect there will be Hertz
Rent a Sub one of these days, but already there are passenger submarines that enable you to buy a ticket and cruise down in the company of anybody who wants to go underwater,
to go to 50 meters or so. In Hawaii, in the Red
Sea, in various places around the world you can now do this. You can even go to, in a few
places, to a thousand feet, like the Cayman Islands
has had an operation in place for years. You can buy a ticket, get
into a little submarine, go down along a wall, see a cross-section of life on Earth, right there, presented for you to enjoy. Or you can go to an aquarium, another way to get acquainted
with life in the sea without getting wet. Aquariums are getting much better, so much better that I almost have this vision of fish lining up outside to get inside the Monterey
Aquarium, for example, because they make it
so easy, so attractive, for the creatures that they take care of. They think like fish,
they think like barnacles, they think like, what does it
take to keep a barnacle happy? And then they provide it. – But back when you went underwater, was it a lot riskier, or is it, you just didn’t think about it? – I didn’t think of it as being risky. I thought of it as being a passport to something really
wonderful and irresistible. My mother waited until she was 81 to actually put on a mask and fins in a beautiful place in Bonaire, where the water’s clear and warm and you could walk in from the beach. And once she had seen what was there… She’d been to aquariums and
she’d seen lots of photographs, but that personal experience
really made her cross with me. Why didn’t you get me in the water sooner? And I thought I had tried, but I… I guess I didn’t try hard enough. But I keep trying now with people and take her message out there. If you are 81, don’t wait any longer. (both laugh) If you aren’t yet 81,
don’t wait any longer. This is the time. We have the opportunity to go. – So in a way it’s a curiosity, and then once you’ve been there then the wonder of what you see– – It’s addictive. – Then it’s–
– It’s addictive. – Yeah, just why not again. Do you have a measure of how many underwater
expeditions you’ve done? – Well, the time underwater is something in excess of 7,000 hours. The number of expeditions, well, lots and lots. I’ve been involved with
more than a hundred. An expedition is something
more than just going out on a Saturday afternoon,
although that can qualify, depending on what it is. For example, I considered it an expedition to go with James Cameron
in the Russian Mir sub to the bottom of Lake Baikal. Now, it was just a day, but it is a day that
will stay with me forever because it was this
great piece of machinery that enabled me to go with the great explorer, filmmaker, polymath, if you will, James Cameron, and the designer of
the submersible itself, Anatoly Sagalevich, Russian engineer, spokesperson for the ocean. Been to the North Pole, the
real North Pole, that is, 15,000 feet down at the
bottom of the North Pole, the real North Pole. And this was just last year. So that was an expedition
that I will treasure. But other expeditions can last for a week or two weeks or a month, whatever it is. But I’ve had the pleasure
of putting together and participating in lots
of adventures of that sort. Not just waiting for
somebody to invite me, although I’m always receptive
when I can to participate. But the thing about, again, being a human, you don’t have to wait to be asked. I suppose that’s why I
started those companies. I started three. I was not happy with the equipment
that exists, so why wait? Why not team up with
engineers to start a company? I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Great education, launching
yourself as a scientist into this world of being an entrepreneur and learning law, learning accounting, learning how to make payroll, learning how to balance the books. I guess a good start for
me was being an ecologist, knowing that you have
to balance the books. Nature always does, and as an entrepreneur,
you have to do that, too, even if it means mortgaging your house. – In looking and reflecting
back on your career, one sees that there are
several trajectories coming together. One is curiosity, all that
you got from your family. The other is… The opportunities opening up for women. But thirdly, it’s really technology. – Oh, absolutely.
– So you’ve ridden a wave of technology,
and in the beginning, you’re a beneficiary of technology, but then you move into the realm of actually helping to
create the technology. You were talking about that just then, but what is navigating that like? – Well, it’s the joy of
being alive, I suppose and being receptive to
what’s going on around you. Building new generations of submersibles to have access to the sea. It is so frustrating to know the magnitude of what we don’t know about this blue speck in the universe, and to understand that part of the reason that people aren’t just all over the place trying to get into the ocean
is that they don’t know, they don’t see it. They don’t see what I see, don’t grasp the significance
of life in the sea and the need we have to protect it. First we have to understand it. While I’ve witnessed the big inroads that we’re making into
our life support system, altering the nature of nature, and we’re doing it in ignorance. A big frustration, watching
people really excited about going high in the
sky, and I’m among them, I love that, being able
to look back and see Earth from space and to
have the ability to fly all over the world and hone the technology to communicate in ways, to
be able to find your place on the planet. I lived through the time
when you couldn’t get back to the same place underwater twice unless you were really lucky. Our ability to navigate,
to find places in the sea, to be able to track a course
and repeat that course over the surface, let
alone under the ocean. These are all developments of the latter part of the 20th century. Ironically driven largely by war, by conflict. We wanna get the edge on the enemy. It’s true with aviation
and aerospace as well. And with military needs, the spillover into science and exploration is coming, but it’s a little slow. Much better maps of the ocean in the secret places of the
military than we have available to those of who want to know
the ocean for other reasons. – It’s an interesting problem, because what drives technology if it’s a military purpose, then that’s different
from driving technology and creating technology based
on the needs of exploration, curiosity, knowing, and so on. And you actually, in
starting this company, then began working with engineers and giving to them ideas
about what you wanted to do, if you wanted to turn in the water or swim like a fish or whatever, that you- – To pick things up without
crushing them. (chuckles) – And so that, hey, that’s
what we really need, and what was that interface
like with engineers? I mean, you really moved
the technology along. – Well, part of it actually began in discussions with one of
my favorite engineers ever, and that’s Ed Link, who was first smitten with aviation. He developed the Link Trainer that pilots owe their lives to. This was a way to train without
actually going up in the sky and falling out of the sky,
sometimes disastrously. But to have an on the ground replica of what the cockpit was
like, to learn the motion through a simulator. Flight simulators. And then he turns his attention to the sea and developed the Johnson
Sea Link submersibles, and prior to that working with John Perry to develop a submarine
that you could swim out of, a lockout submarine. This goes back to the
1960s, this great explosion of interest in living underwater, submersibles that could take people down. Anyway, I was invited
to go on the Man in Sea, I think I was the only woman
in the Man in Sea project, in 1968 to try locking out of that little submarine
called the Deep Diver. I was actually expecting my
youngest daughter at that time, and she attributes her love of the ocean for saying, well, I
locked out of a submarine before I was born, and so of course I had to
naturally love the ocean. Anyway, so after that
Ed Link wanted to know, okay, so I’ve got this wonderful machine. What can I do with it? Give me some ideas about science projects that could be conducted from this wonderful gift to science. So he invented the tool and then said, how can we use this tool? So I was among those who had the great fun of figuring out, so, we have this means of getting down to a thousand
feet beneath the surface and then swimming out of it, And as a diver, as a scientist, using the ocean as a laboratory. And then when the Johnson
Sea Link, a pair of them, were developed, I again had a chance to be among the first to lock out of this beautiful new piece of equipment that has continued to operate until, and it’s still operating,
but unfortunately this country gave away, it didn’t give it away, but those assets, the two Johnson Sea Links,
were sold to Petrobras, a Brazilian oil company. So we don’t really have that kind of asset in this country at this point in time. The Alvin submersible. I’ve tried now about 30
different kinds of submersibles, haven’t yet tried the Alvin, although lots of scientists have. It’s the workhorse of access to the sea down to the average depth of the ocean, two and a half miles. The Alvin is currently out of commission, but it’s getting refitted to be able to resume a new life
with a new pressure hull and all the great assets that engineering and science together have developed over the last
40 years or so, 50 years. – What we need, it seems, is government investment in exploring this part of the world. But that hasn’t come, so– – Yet. – Yet. But it’s like there’s a catch-22 here, that we can’t appreciate the oceans and realize the damage
we’re doing unless we see, but we need the money to
invest in the equipment to see. So how do you account for the fact that the government has been
willing to explore the stars, go into outer space, but it seems constrained in this greater adventure here on Earth? – Well, there are a lot of… Possible answers to that. I had lunch once years ago with that great
stateswoman and playwright, ambassador, lots of
things, Clare Boothe Luce, at her home in Hawaii. And I put the question to her: why is it that we are so drawn to aviation and aerospace and why are we neglecting the ocean? What’s going on here? And she said, “It’s simple, my dear,” looking up at these puffy white clouds that were floating by. She said, “Heaven is there “and you know what’s in
the other direction.” (laughs) There’s this mindset that good is up and bad is down. And I think there may be some
psychological truth to that, but there’s something more. Another really good
friend, also in Hawaii, John Craven, who is another polymath. Engineer, really skilled in law, he was involved with
the Navy for many years. The dark side of the Navy
that you can’t talk about. Chief scientist for the
Polaris missile program. He was the one working
with Admiral Rickover about nuclear submarines and the force behind the NR-1, the Navy’s research nuclear submarine. He has written a book trying to kind of apologize to the… More than that, it celebrates, but the mostly men involved with the Navy who dedicated their lives to ocean exploration and the
development of technologies that have made possible a great knowledge base about the sea, but they’re not talking about it. It’s all secret stuff. And it’s sad, but there are heroes
that we can’t celebrate the way we celebrate the astronauts because they’re behind closed doors. Some of the benefits, think
of the many technologies we now have for navigation, for so much surveillance, and it’s a combination
of what’s up in the sky and what’s under the sea. This whole network, the listening stations that we didn’t know about for years that were developed to
listen for enemy submarines, now they have enabled
scientists to track whales, to understand the importance
of sound in the sea that scientists would not have the budget to put the billions of dollars
into this listening station so we can tune into the little tweaks that submarines make or
ships on the surface, too. But that investment has been made. Just as much of the
investment in satellites is not for domestic benefits, but for military purposes. But everyone has been the
beneficiary of the investment made for security reasons. But not all of the benefits
have been made known. There’s still this treasure chest of wonderful new insight
about technologies that we don’t yet have access to. So what do we do? We tap into the private
resources that are there. We’ve got Jim Cameron now
taking what he has earned as a filmmaker, as an entrepreneur, as a businessman. Richard Branson, same thing. Using his wealth to
invest in pushing the edge of new technologies, pulling from things that have come to us from
those who have invested from the past, but pulling it all together and not being afraid to commit to looking where nations, governments, taxpayers, are not making the investment. Individuals are. And eventually, we will see nations catching on. In fact, they are. I mean, China is building a
7,000-meter Sea Dragon sub to go deeper than anybody
else now can go in the sea. India is developing a 6,000-meter sub. Russia has three. The United States has exactly zero. We aren’t making that investment. But the entrepreneurs, the businessmen, the visionaries, are using their personal
wealth to fill the gap. And that in a very small, modest sense is what I tried to do in starting Deep Ocean Engineering, Deep Ocean Technology, and then finally, the company that now still exists. It’s Deep Ocean Exploration and Research, D-O-E-R marine operations that I no longer have anything to do with, but my daughter and
son-in-law own and operate and are continuing in that same spirit, that same mode of trying
to make a difference while at the same time making a living. – It would seem, then,
that if we’re concerned about global governance of the oceans, which, because of the things
that we’re doing to the ocean in the way of taking out
and putting in bad stuff, the key is gonna be
some sort of governance that nations agree–
– Has to be. – So do you have any thoughts about how this dynamic is gonna work? In one sense, national
security is denying us– – And international security. – Yeah, are denying us the
opportunities of the sea, but we have to understand the sea for the public education to really have a kinda global insights in the way you have developed them as an individual and as a scientist. So there’s a conundrum here. – [Sylvia] There is. – You’ve committed yourself
to public education. – [Sylvia] Partly. – Yeah, to awakening people
to the set of problems that relate to the ocean. What should we be doing in working toward to make the kind of changes
that seem necessary? – I personally am driven
by an awareness that… Nature matters. That our lives depend on
maintaining the integrity of the planet that works in our favor. All preceding history, four
and a half billion years, Earth was not hospitable for us until fairly recent times,
geologically speaking. Go back a billion years, there’s lots of water on
the planet, lots of life, but Earth wouldn’t be
suitable to support us. It’s amazing that we, in a very short period of time, have kind of reversed that trend, this long history, a planet
that works in our favor, and now in a few decades
we’re making it work in a way that’s not in our favor. What are we thinking? This is the first time
in history, first time. Didn’t know even in the
middle of the 20th century what we now know. The capacity to hold
the world in our hands, to see that nature matters, that what we’re doing to the atmosphere, what we’re doing to the fabric of life, what we’re doing to the systems that generate the oxygen that we count on, the systems that we count on
to grab the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, the systems that hold the planet steady. The chemistry of the
planet depends in the end on each and every little microbe, every elephant, every whale,
every raccoon, every human, whatever it is, that we
all have an influence on the world around us. But there’s one species that is just kinda run away with things, and altering the way the world works and happening in a very
short period of time. And it’s knowing that that drives me to do everything I can
in every way that I can, education, call that
communication, whatever it is, to get people to see it for themselves. It’s not a big deal. We’re not making this up. Information is accessible now for the first time to the world. Anywhere in the world you can, thanks to Google and other technology that I have embraced with my whole heart, along with a companion technology, this company called ESRI, where you take data from
here, from here, from here. It’s looking at the world as an ecologist, with layers of information. And then you step back and you see okay, how does the water affect
where the trees are, where the people are. And if you want to put
a factory or a school or a community, well, first let’s look at how the world works. Where does the water flow? Where are other people? Where are the transportation lines? What impact does that
have on the downstream? Anyway, now we know, and now we can look at
the world with new eyes. In 2006, which wasn’t that long ago, I attended a conference in Spain. The person who had much to do with the development of Google Earth, in fact, its predecessor,
called Keyhole, John Hanke, the company Keyhole was acquired by Google and became Google Earth. I downloaded Keyhole to my computer when it existed like that,
paid my 600 bucks to do it, and then I paid my
second round of 600 bucks when Google wasn’t free, now it is, so that I could do this wonderful thing: look at my computer screen. Now you can you look at your cell phone and there it is: Google Earth. But until 2009, you couldn’t
look under the ocean. It took three years. I met John Hanke in 2006 at this conference in Spain. I had a chance to say why the
ocean matters in 15 minutes. John Hanke had a chance to talk about Google and Google Earth. When I saw him sitting in the front row, I just couldn’t resist. I said how much I love Google Earth and how much my kids love
it, my grandkids love it. But I just said, “I hope
someday, John, you’ll finish it, “because you’ve done a
great job with the land, “but you should call it Google Dirt.” (both laugh) I think it’s that word that I used that really got to John. I said, “The ocean, the
blue part, it’s missing.” Later we talked and he said, “Well, you’re right, something is missing, “like most of the world. “Can you come down to the
Googleplex, talk to the Googlers, “and see what can we do?” And what followed was three years, an advisory group of scientists, about 30 from around the world, conversations with the
Navy to see how much data could be pried loose that
would be publicly available to populate Google Earth with a map, starts with a map. In National Geographic,
we put out an atlas the same year that the ocean
in Google Earth was launched, in February of 2009. It was a really exciting time. – Tell us about what you’re trying to do with your TED grant and build a network of reserves in the ocean. – Well, 2009, February, that same time that the atlas, the National
Geographic ocean atlas came out and Google launched the
ocean in Google Earth, that week I was given a chance by TED, Technology, Entertainment, Design, this amazing collection, sort of a brain trust of
individuals who started in Silicon Valley in Monterey. It’s been more than 25 years now. They hold this annual conference to give individuals a chance
to give the talk of their life. And when I had a call from Chris Anderson, who looks after TED, at first my thought leaped. I’m going to be given the chance to give the talk of my life. And I was, but there was more, that I was being given a wish, a wish that had to be big
enough to change the world. And my wish, after some deliberation, not much because it’s
what I’ve always been, well, for a long time,
most of my life, I guess, wanting to protect the
ocean any way we could or the land, too, you know, nature. But most of it’s underwater. Most of it is the sea. It’s where 97% of the biosphere is. It’s being seriously neglected
and seriously affected by our actions. So my wish was to ignite public support, to develop new technologies,
to explore the ocean. But most importantly, to protect the ocean with any means that we could muster, resulting in networks of protected areas. On the land, not enough,
but about 12% of the land is invested in national parks, reserves, places that serve as an insurance
policy against the losses that we’re now seeing all over the planet. But the ocean, we’ve only got a fraction, well, a fraction of 1%
that is truly protected, about 1% that has some form of management with an eye toward protection. But when people say, well, okay, how much of the ocean
do we need to protect? I respond by saying, think of the ocean as the
blue heart of the planet. How much of your heart
do you wanna protect? In effect, we have to get serious about protecting all of it, because the ocean governs
the way the world works. We can certainly start by identifying the most critical areas. Where do fish spawn? Where are the corridors
over which these… Migration routes? Barbara Block at Stanford has been working now for years, trying to figure out with her students, where are these patterns, the
routes that tuna and swordfish and turtles and big elephant seals and other creatures travel? They do come back to the same
place time and time again, but they travel widely,
thousands of miles. Great white sharks travel
across the entire Pacific Ocean, from California to Japan and back again, to the Farallon Islands. And we know their faces,
we know their names, well, we’ve given them names. They may have names they give themselves, but certainly we come to
recognize individuals. So how do we protect them? It starts with knowing and information such as Barbara
Block and her colleagues have been amassing. We know where to avoid these highways in the ocean. If we know that this
is where the whales go, we can avoid the central headquarters for where they pass through, or be cautious when we cross these… Animal shipping lanes, if you will. It’s really important if we care, and we should be caring, because our lives are
linked to the same processes that matter to the creatures in the sea. – And is there a hope that governments will accept these designations, or that people will learn about them and then lobby their governments? – Both. It takes governments to protect the ocean because you can own a
chunk of land, in quotes. We have, as we live our
lives as individuals, we can take title and have responsibility for a chunk of land. But in the ocean, individuals, at least in our country
and most countries, and some countries actually,
island countries do, communities and even individuals, have a say, at least over some aspects of the adjacent ocean. But most nations now have
jurisdiction out 200 miles, so it’s necessary to inspire nations to do what has been done for the land, to accept responsibility, not
just to give away the assets, fishing rights. Go strip the ocean of
the life that’s out there and take as if it’s free, which it’s not. Extract the systems. Oil, gas, minerals, fish,
lobsters, shrimp, whatever. We have had an attitude that it’s free, that it’s available. Even without a license we have extracted wildlife from the sea to the point that we
have lowered the level of many of the creatures that we do like to market for commodities, either as food or as goods, oil, fertilizer, whatever. The way we used to with whales. Whoever thought that whales
were owned by anybody? They’re just there up for grabs. In the 1600s, 1700s, 1800s,
we stripped the ocean of whales and other large marine mammals, thinking them primarily as goods, not as something of value
as living creatures. Right up through much of the 20th century, right up to 1972 in Richmond, a whaling station that
took humpback whales. A lot of people today can’t imagine a time when Californians killed whales as commodities, mostly for animal food. Dog food and cat food and
the like and fertilizer. New Zealand killed humpback whales. I visited the last whaling station there. In 1978 they had just closed it, and South Africa, too, involved. Australia. I visited the last whaling
station in Australia in 1978. They were killing sperm whales. I saw six young male sperm whales brought in and leveled down to chunks of meat and
oil in a matter of hours. It took maybe 20 years to get those whales to the point where they
were just pounds of meat to be used as commodities. Well, Australia’s among
the fiercest defenders of whales alive today,
and so is New Zealand. The United States still allows some of the native Alaskans
to take whales, bowheads, and a few gray whales, but by and large we’re not killing whales as a matter of policy,
as a matter of principle. In part because it doesn’t
make any sense financially to do this anymore,
and maybe it never did. To send ships all the way from Nantucket to the Southern Hemisphere? How do you make a viable
economic model out of that? To bring back a few barrels of oil, and you sacrifice lives? But for a while there
was demand for whale oil to illuminate our societies. But we have made the transition to other forms of energy, that now we know that maybe
these aren’t working either for other reasons. – One last question. Reflecting on your life,
you’ve made this transition from research scientist
now to an activist. Is there a lesson that one can distill from your life experiences that would be a nugget
of advice for students? – I haven’t made any
transition, not at all. I am a scientist, first and foremost. I observe carefully. I try to report honestly what I observe. The audience has just gotten bigger. I used to communicate largely
with my learned colleagues. It was the National
Geographic who probably kicked me out of my complacency in 1970. That, plus being forced to speak in a way that I was most
uncomfortable with, in 1970 as a straight arrow ivory
towered scientist at Harvard, imbued with the attitude that if you communicate to the public, if you write an article even
for the National Geographic, you’ve crossed the line. You’re a popularizer. And never look back, because
you aren’t welcome anymore as part of the club, those who are respected as scientists. It’s a phenomenon that I
think is largely passing, that now scientists are encouraged, not required, but encouraged, to communicate with the public. But it was the National Geographic, it was the Tektite project. But it was also reading a
book that was on my shelf, lurking there for years that
I hadn’t really taken it in the light that I did in 1970, when the Geographic asked if
I’d write an article for them and I first said no. And then Thomas Huxley spoke to me from more than a hundred years
before, in the book called Discourses Biological and Geological, a collection of essays based on lectures that he had given as a scientist. And the first essay
was on a piece of chalk that he delivered to the carpenters union in Norwich, England, and he talked about the history
of the North Atlantic Ocean written in a piece of chalk, like the chalk in the back pocket that carpenters carried
around to make a line before they hammered nails or whatever. And in the introduction to that book, he spoke to my problem of the moment. He said your fellow
scientists will scorn you if you speak to the
public, but you must do it and you must tell the truth. Don’t embellish. Don’t stretch the truth because you think it makes a better story. The best story is the truth. It is. It’s the most exciting story of all. I don’t think of myself as an activist. I think of myself as a scientist who will convey to the best of my ability the view of what I see and to encourage others
to go see for themselves, because we are in a race to take the knowledge
that we have acquired through all preceding history, and this pivotal time that we now share, I tell kids they’re the luckiest ever to come on the planet
because for the first time we know what we know, and it’s the last best
time we’ll ever have to do something about using
the power of knowledge to take care of the natural world, nature, that takes care of us. We’re in trouble. We’re in trouble because
of what we’re doing to the atmosphere, to the ocean, to the fabric of life. It was one thing to do it in ignorance. That’s all preceding history. But now we know. So to sit on that knowledge and not do what you can while you can so that in the future
you will be respected for taking action, and if
that’s being an activist, then so be it, but why would
you want to be anything else? If you know something, you see the train heading over the cliff and you’re just watching it happen, are you doing everything you can to say, hey, conductor, hey, people on the train, do something while we have a chance. – On that note, Dr.
Earle, thank you very much for sharing your life
experiences with us today. – It’s a start. I hope I still have some more time. – Good, good. And thank you very much for joining us for this conversation with history. (upbeat synth music)

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