Marine Biologist Dr Sylvia Earle Talks About Our Changing Ocean

Robyn Foyster Robyn Foyster has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
on 15 February 2022

Dr Sylvia Earle is among the most respected marine scientists in the world. She is also the narrator of a powerful four part series called Changing Ocean Asia, produced by award-winning film and documentary-maker Liz Courtney.

Changing Ocean Asia explains how climate change is already affecting the ocean and the low-lying South-east Asian area. Currently streaming on the Apple TV, Amazon Prime and CuriosityStream platforms, the documentary shines a light on the research being conducted by the Earth Observatory of Singapore to help find solutions for the people living in the region.

Here Dr Earle talks about the power of hope and our ocean.* Watch the full speech below or read on for the transcript.

CHANGE, is not only an if or a but, it is real, it is happening and it will continue to happen, so all of us will have to have the courage to be bold, and to be innovative in working towards a future that may not be in our lifetime, but it will be in our children’s life time, so there is much to do to get busy, and I look forward to being a part of that through EOS and the exciting projects we have on the drawing board, you can all help and assist to make possible.

Today, I want to reflect, consider and leave you with something powerful to dwell on – THE POWER OF HOPE IN A CHANGING OCEAN.

We can all really make a difference in the world one way or another.

We all have the power to destroy and the power to change and heal My question is what are you choosing to do with your life, your business, your voice, your footprint, and what difference will you be proud to have made in this time of great change?

There are a number of ways to think about the current situation and our changing ocean. It is certainly a great time we can see it , we can feel it, a great time of change, and for many  the last two years have been the greatest time of change in our life.

Pexels Belle Co

In my lifetime it is the greatest time of change, although when I was a child, I witnessing changes in human society,  the beginning of World War 2, my parents lived not  only through World War 1 and World War2 and the Great Depression that followed.

When you look back to times in the past, there have been other pandemics, think smallpox, think the black death, that took out much  of Europe, and smallpox which persisted globally for thousands of years.

Like the current virus all were indiscriminate, they did not care, whether you were a king or prime minister or a kid, or a teacher or a scientist. And this virus does not care who you are or how important you think you are, this virus just sees us as part of their life support system, – wow when you consider the prime minister of England, the president of the United States, they made it through but they might not have.

Think the flipside to this global pandemic is that it has really maybe for the first time in our lifetime shown us how connect we all are – smallpox was a slow migration for it to become a pandemic.

However, this virus has moved so fast, it hasn’t taken decades it’s taken only weeks to get the attention of everyone, everywhere around the world – the world is a connected community, so we are also connected with knowledge 8 billion brains to act on the current crisis.

And maybe this will pave the way towards understanding that the climate does not care either. We are all in this together.

As the planet warms, the systems respond and everything that we think of as human civilisation is affected – some regions in the world are better prepared than others to deal with the changing climate, the loss of diversity, the ecosystems that are in decline but at least now the world is listening as one and at The Earth Observatory of Singapore, we have some of the best minds in the world  working together to solve these pressing climate issues – and I am personally proud to be working as part of that team looking at ocean health and how it connects to human health to our collective future.

And to have been part of the critical documentary series that explores how our ocean is changing, the cause and effects, and the solutions that science, business and government can bring together.

So now we CAN SAY to the world, we are here, and now we know.

Now we are armed with the most important capacity of all called knowledge.

Knowledge that did not exist 25 years ago, 50 years ago, or 5,000 years ago.

Imagine, no-one had seen earth from space? When I was a child even the smartest people who ever lived until recently did not know what earth looked like from far away.

Porapak Apichodilok at Pexels

Einstein did not and could not know what earth looked like from space. The blue planet in the middle of a universe filled with possibilities, the only one  in our solar system to carry life, water, oceans, rainforests, a natural world, a living planet that supports life.

He was really perceptive about the universe, but he did not have the benefit of seeing us as the water planet, the ocean planet, the living planet that supports life. Enstein was really perceptive about Earth as a living planet, but he could not have imagined us as the blue Ocean planet.

No one had been to the deepest part of the ocean during his lifetime. We now know that life exists from the surface to the greatest depths – we gained knowledge. We now know that the consumption of fossil fuels, alone are destabilising earth’s climate system.

We have lost rainforests, the deliberate killing of wildlife for food, looking at the ocean, we have destroyed many species from overfishing, bleached major coral nurseries due to rising temperatures, and we have treated the earth with disregard for the role that all these elements play in keeping the earth healthy, and we have lost sight of the fact that we need healthy earth systems as the underpinning of our own health.

Arnie Chou at Pexels

Now we can see that a healthy planet is necessary for healthy people. If the planet is not in good condition, then we won’t be either not only for the present time but for the long-term. This is generational situation that now has to be reversed as we stop and pause for a moment in time.

We have always thought through history we can take what we like from the earth – the ocean is too big to fail, but on my watch and now even on yours, and for the kids coming along, the next generation, we can see the consequence of human actions. We can see with this pandemic, you can see that since people have drawn back from travel, the air is clearer, the soot in the atmosphere has reduced, water is now clearer in the canals in Venice, the Great Barrier Reef is showing signs of new growth – the ocean is quieter, all because human activity has stepped back and given nature a break.

I have been a witness to a dramatic shift from the middle of the 20th Century when I first began exploring the ocean to the present time.

From a time of enormous prosperity to a time of enormous loss I have witnessed about half the corals reefs around the world either disappear or enter into a state of decline exasperated by the rapid melting of the ice sheets, changes in ocean temperature, the heavy load of CO2 being carried on oceans.

So here we are today. It is predicted by the middle of the 21st century, most coral reefs will be gone if they continue to decline at the current rate.

Tom Fisk at Pexels

True to of mangrove meadows, sea grasses meadows , and may types of sharks and other fish that have already been reduced by 90% , but there is still time to shift from a time of great loss to a time of recovery.  There is time, but not a lot of time.

But think of this: half of the coral reefs are still in pretty good shape, ten percent of the sharks and tuna’s are still there, we need to emphasis the value of the living ocean as the base of the earth’s life support system and put a value on the living ocean to take care if it as if our lives depend on it ..because they do!

As human being living on the planet now, we are the luckiest to be here in this time – why? Because of our superpower of knowledge. Imagine if we did not know the cause of climate change, the cause of the pandemic, the interconnections between all things. That the ocean is home to all living things on this planet.

Imagine if we did not know that the earth is declining due to our very actions? Elephants are really intelligent, whales, cats, dogs, dolphins are really smart!

Hayden Panettiere and an elephant
Hayden Panettiere alongside an elephant

I know some pretty smart fish, octopus, but they cannot know what earth looks like from afar, they cannot communicate and share research and findings across the globe, they may sense the world around them is changing in their lifetime, but they don’t know why or have the power to do anything about it even if they did know why – but we can! We do know, we must change, we know protecting the oceans safe guards planetary health and human wellbeing.

Today only 3% of the ocean is protected and 97% is open for exploitation one way or another and nationally, globally nations are coming together, individuals are coming together in support of the idea of high or full protection of at least 30% of the ocean by 2030 and 50% by 2050 including the high seas beyond jurisdiction.


Today many nations are coming together to build policies to protect the ocean and overall to respect the systems of nature that make our life on earth possible.

In the last 10 years, 140 HOPE spots have been embraced by nations, champions around the planet to protect our ocean and to reverse he damage caused.

My hope is that we can build enough hope spots around the world to protect our changing ocean and ensure the future of this planet including here in Singapore in the coming year,

Here in south east Asia, on our very backyard is the Coral Triangle, home for the richest diversity of marine life on the planet, and critically important part of the climate system – right on our back door step.

So, it is a combination of planetary warming, taking of many of the creatures vital to the system, parrot fish all fish are part of the system, and even crustaceans we think of coral reef as a source of what we can take out of the system, but every piece has a place – and by taking too much of the wild creatures associated with the corals that form the structure. we have really set this decline and change in motion.

There are many ways we are impacting coral reefs but intern the loss of those reefs is impacting the health of the oceans. Scientists at the Earth Observatory of Singapore are really committing to enhanced study of coral reefs and the surrounding ocean – the next 10 years are really critical.

If has been a privilege to work with the team at EOS, Prof Ben Horton, Adam Switzer, Emma Hill, Kyle Morgan to name a few and Liz Courtney, writer and director of this series, in her role as the Artist in Residence at The Earth Observatory of Singapore.

This is a time like never before and maybe as never again, to understand the oceans and to make the link between what is happening to the ocean with climate how all of it together comes back     to affect the survival and the wellbeing of people here in southeast Asia.

And You, you are all a reason for hope. What will your contribution to change be for the next generation and generations to come?

I leave you with this thought.

*This story came from the speech Dr Silvia Earle delivered at the recent Changing Ocean Asia premiere in Singapore. We would like to thank Dr Earle and Liz Courtney, the director of the documentary, for allowing Women Love Tech to reproduce the speech.

We would also encourage you to watch the documentary Changing Ocean Asia. You can watch the first episode for FREE here:

For more info, click here.

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