Her Deepness. The Sturgeon General. And now: Glamour Girl.
On Monday night, renowned oceanographer Sylvia Earle earned a new moniker when she joined eight others in receiving a 2014 Glamour Woman of the Year Award at a celebrity-packed Carnegie Hall.
Since 1990, Glamour has set aside one evening each autumn to f?te the remarkable accomplishments of women in areas ranging from politics to activism to business to the arts. Other 2014 awardees included U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, actors Laverne Cox and Lupita Nyong’o, and women’s rights activist Chelsea Clinton.
Earle earned a special lifetime achievement award for more than 50 years of exploration, research and advocacy on behalf of Earth’s oceans. Fewer than 20 recipients throughout the history of these awards have been scientists, engineers or doctors. On Monday, in a rousing celebration of one of the most beloved glass-ceiling shatterers in the history of modern science, Earle became the first marine biologist to be honored.
“I’m a scientist and, generally speaking, do not feel very glamorous,” remarked Earle, clad in elegantly sequined black, upon taking the stage to address a sea of famous faces, from Jodie Foster to Whoopie Goldberg to Hillary Clinton to Stephen Colbert. “But there are some exceptions to that–like diving into the ocean at night. There really is a galaxy of life down there. And most of it has yet to be seen, let alone explored.”
I learned about Earle’s selection before most, when the Woman of the Year producers asked me to participate in the ceremony about a week before the 2014 honorees were announced. I had been inspired several years ago to create a minifigure in Earle’s likeness out of Lego pieces, and the fig became part of my growing “Scitweeps” collection of science and technology personalities depicted in that medium. So I sent Earle’s doppelganger on a trip to New York, where actress Keri Russell presented her to a beaming audience as evidence of the aquanaut’s singular ability to move people with her dual messages of concern and optimism for the future of our world.
“The real Dr. Earle, though she stands only 5’2″, is a giant,” Russell said. “For more than five decades, she’s been taking record-setting dives, including a two-week stint living at the bottom of the sea. All for us. All so that we can know more about the planet we desperately need to save.”
As with so many of Earle’s presentations, from countless interviews and public talks to her phenomenal new autobiographical documentary, “Mission Blue,” Earle’s acceptance speech was something to behold – not because it painted a rosy picture of all that she and others have learned during her extraordinary career, but because of how eloquently she weaved hope into a grim reality that many feel powerless to change.
“The ocean is alive, but since I first began exploring the ocean in the 1950s, we have lost so much,” she said. “Half a century in the future, it will be too late for us to take action to ensure for humankind and all the rest of life on Earth an enduring place. But now, because we know what we know, there is a chance to make the right decisions, to embrace the natural systems that keep us alive.”
“The biggest problem is ignorance, not knowing. You cannot care if you don’t know … We need to get the world aware of why we need to take care of nature,” she added. “Realize that never before have we had a chance as great as this special point in time. Never again will there be an opportunity to take the actions that we now can, armed with knowing why it matters.”
In other words, it’s up to each of us. To make a point of learning where our seafood comes from and modifying our habits for the sake of our oceans. To recognize that what we do on land has enormous consequences for our seas and the life they support. To take actions to preserve and protect critical areas of Earth’s underwater worlds in the same way we began protecting national parks nearly a century ago. And to share what we’ve learned in whatever ways we can — on a Facebook wall, in a poem, as a plastic toy, on a blog.
Thus, here I write. Congrats, Sylvia, on an honor well deserved. In my mind, there is nothing more glamorous than practicing and sharing groundbreaking science for the benefit of humankind. So work it, girl.