Marine Biologist Sylvia Earle Joins Conservation International

Conservation International
Thursday, 31 January 2002

Conservation of Ocean Life Critical to CI's Global Biodiversity Efforts

Internationally renowned marine biologist Sylvia Earle, one of the world's leading advocates for safeguarding the oceans, has joined Conservation International (CI) as Executive Director for Marine Programs and will lead CI's conservation efforts in some of the world's biologically richest and most threatened marine ecosystems.

"Conservation International's approach to conservation is very strategic, focused, and tremendously successful in protecting the terrestrial hotspots. Now we urgently need to take that same strategic thinking to the oceans, starting with key areas in which CI already works," said Dr. Earle. "I'm thrilled to be working with such a talented and dedicated group of scientists and conservationists to protect the oceans which are so critical to our planet's life support system."

Dr. Earle, sometimes known as "Her Deepness" or "The Sturgeon General",began her life's work in the late 1950's, at a time when few women were taken seriously as marine scientists.

In 1964, she took part in an international research expedition as the only woman in a group of 70 people, and in 1970, she captained the first team of female aquanauts to live in an underwater laboratory off the U.S. Virgin Islands for two weeks. She was one of the first women invited to join the prestigious Explorers Club in 1981 and now serves as the club's Honorary President. In 1990, she became the first woman appointed to serve as Chief Scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Since 1998, Dr. Earle has been an Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society.

She is completing the final phase of a five-year project, the Sustainable Seas Expeditions, for the Society and NOAA. She is also currently chairing the Harte Research Institute's Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University.

"Sylvia Earle is one of the great leaders in marine conservation and the most effective, forceful and visible advocate in the field," said Dr. Russell Mittermeier, President of CI. "Her arrival will enable Conservation International to make the same progress in marine conservation that we have had in the terrestrial biodiversity hotspots and tropical wilderness areas."

Named one of Time magazine's "Heroes for the Planet" in 1998, Dr. Earle has pioneered research on marine ecosystems and has led or participated in more than 50 expeditions representing 6,000 hours underwater, including a record-setting solo descent to 3,000 feet in a submersible craft.

She is the author of more than 130 scientific and popular publications, including the recently published National Geographic Atlas of the Ocean and the 1995 book Sea Change, in which she argues against the use of fishing trawlers that destroy habitats and sweep up non-target fish in the process, as well as man-made fertilizers used on farms that wash into streams and eventually the ocean.

"In a few decades, our species has squandered assets that have been thousands of millennia in the making-and we're still doing it. The destructive behavior of the human species has led to a dramatic decline in fish populations, the destruction of coral reefs and degradation of our shores. What we must do is encourage a sea change in attitude, one that acknowledges that we are a part of the living world, not apart from it," she said.

"Dr. Earle has distinguished herself as a leading scientist, explorer, policy maker, conservationist and entrepreneur, devoting her life to the study, understanding and protection of the underwater world. The combined strengths of CI and Dr. Earle will be a powerful force for ensuring the future of our ocean's biodiversity," said two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvard professor Edward O. Wilson, who has served on CI's board since 1997.

CI currently has marine projects in the Abrolhos Bank, Brazil; the Gulf of California, Mexico; Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea; Palawan Province, the Philippines, and the Togians Banggai Corridor, Indonesia. CI has also completed six marine biological assessments in the coastal waters of the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Brazil and Madagascar, which have identified more than 50 new species and have led to a greater understanding of where marine biodiversity is richest and most threatened.

The oceans, which constitute two-thirds of the planet's surface and more than 95 percent of its living space, have many exceedingly rich ecosystems that are rapidly disappearing. A recent study estimates that 25 percent of all coral reefs have been destroyed or badly degraded. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, approximately 75 percent of the stock of all marine fisheries in 1999 were either depleted, overexploited or at their limits of exploitation.

For more information, or to contact Conservation International, see their website at: www.conservation.org

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