Sylvia Earle's achievements as an oceanographer have earned her nicknames such as "Her Deepness" and "The Sturgeon General." Earle was one of the first scuba divers to explore underwater habitats, and she made what is still the world's deepest solo dive in 1979, when she descended 380 meters (1,250 feet) in a pressurized garment off the coast of Hawaii.
In 1970, Earle led a group of women divers in one of several Tektite expeditions. The scientists lived for two weeks alongside coral reefs near the U.S. Virgin Islands in an underwater craft submerged 15 meters (50 feet) below the ocean's surface. This structure served as both motel and laboratory—scientists were able to watch undersea creatures swim by, in addition to spending as many as 10 to 12 hours in the water each day.
The diverse aquatic habitats Earle has investigated include waters off the coasts of Panama, China, and the Bahamas as well as the Indian Ocean. Earle has also explored a battleship graveyard in the South Pacific; followed sperm whales during their migrations from Hawaii to New Zealand, South Africa, and Alaska; and made a film about humpback whales. While studying humpbacks, she swam alongside them in the water and learned to distinguish different whales as individuals.
Earle has also discovered a wide variety of new marine species and discovered unusual landscape features such as undersea dunes off the coast of the Bahamas. The most serious mishap Earle suffered during her explorations occurred when she was stung by a poisonous lionfish while examining Japanese wrecks in Truk Lagoon.
In order to study the deepest parts of the ocean, Earle and her former husband, Graham Hawkes, built carefully engineered submersible crafts under their companies Deep Ocean Technology, Inc., and Deep Ocean Engineering, Inc. The submersible Deep Rover, for example, could explore depths of more than 900 meters (about 3,000 feet) and, as a result, revealed much about life in the deepest parts of the ocean.
Earle was born in Gibbstown, New Jersey, in 1935. She earned a bachelor's degree from Florida State University and a master's and doctorate from Duke University, where her dissertation addressed algae species in the Gulf of Mexico. She has held positions at the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida; the Farlow Herbarium at Harvard University; the
Earle has written a number of books on her experiences as a diver, including Exploring the Deep Frontier: The Adventure of Man in the Sea and Dive!: My Adventures in the Deep Frontier. She also is the author of Hello, Fish and Sea Critters, which are directed at young adults; the National Geographic Atlas of the Ocean: The Deep Frontier; Wild Ocean: America's Parks Under the Sea; and The Oceans.
Earle has written a variety of technical papers and publications, including Tektite program publications on coral reef plants, invertebrates, and fishes. Her book Sea Change: A Message of the Oceans discusses human-caused damage to the oceans and represents one of her many efforts to promote underwater research and conservation of marine environments.
Earle, Sylvia A. Dive!: My Adventures in the Deep Frontier. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 1999.
——. Hello, Fish. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 1999.
——. National Geographic Atlas of the Ocean: The Deep Frontier. Washington, D.C.:National Geographic Society, 2001.
——. Sea Change: A Message of the Oceans. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1995.
——. Sea Critters. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2000.
——. Wild Ocean: America's Parks Under the Sea. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 1999.
Earle, Sylvia A., and Al Giddings. Exploring the Deep Frontier: The Adventure of Man in the Sea. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 1980.
Prager, Ellen J., with Sylvia A. Earle. The Oceans. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000.