Some sharks are named for their appearance like the blue shark, the hammerhead shark and the blacktip shark. Others are named for where they are found, like the Galapagos shark, the Japanese wobbegong and the Greenland shark. Then there are sharks that have the same name as fierce land animals like weasel sharks, houndsharks, the tiger shark and the infamous bull shark.
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They call her the goddess Yemaya, Ymoga (Mother of the Fishes), Iamanga, and Balianne. She traveled with them from Yoruba to distant lands, comforting them in the holds of the slave ships that took them far away from their homeland in Africa. Today she is also celebrated under many other names, including the virgin Mary (Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception), Stella Maris (Star of the Sea), and Our Lady of Regla...to name but a few.
Ready for some spooky ocean stories to tell before your next night dive? Today’s post includes tales of ghost ships and sailors’ superstitions. Heed these tales or find yourself in Davy Jones’ locker! For those who dare to read on, we’ll share some of the world’s eeriest places to dive.
by Dr James Hunter
By mere chance, the two ships encountered one another on the afternoon of 19 November. The naval engagement that followed lasted less than an hour, resulted in the loss of both ships, and spawned one of Australia’s greatest naval mysteries.
As Sydney steamed south, a disguised commerce raider of Nazi Germany’s navy, the Kreigsmarine, was cruising north along the coast of Western Australia. The vessel, HSK Kormoran, had been engaged in disrupting Allied merchant shipping in the Indian Ocean for seven months, and was on its way to lay mines in Shark Bay. Once this mission was completed, the raider would continue north to the East Indies (modern-day Indonesia) before heading west to the Bay of Bengal.
On 11 November (Armistice Day) 1941, the Modified Leander Class light cruiser HMAS Sydney (II) pulled away from Victoria Quay in Fremantle, Western Australia and proceeded to leave harbour. The Second World War was in its third year and Sydney, which had recently returned to Australia after serving with distinction in the Mediterranean Theatre, was tasked with escorting the troopship Zealandia to Indonesia’s Sunda Strait. Following an uneventful six-day passage, Sydney rendezvoused with the light cruiser HMS Durban, to which it transferred responsibility for Zealandia and the final leg of the troopship’s voyage to Singapore. As Sydney reversed course and began the return journey to Fremantle, those aboard Zealandia and Durban could not have known that they would be among the last people to see the warship then regarded as the ‘pride of the Royal Australian Navy’ for another sixty-six years.
BY SHANE GROSS
I love mangroves, except when i’m in them.
I’m being attacked by mosquitoes and sand flies while recovering from a mild jellyfish sting. It’s hot — like really hot. The sun is setting over tiny tide-driven Paige Creek on 110-mile-long Eleuthera Island, a beanpole strip of land located in the Atlantic east of Nassau. The sharks I’m here to photograph are not cooperating, so I decided to drag my camera gear (and my stiff, dehydrated body) back to the tent. I begin to fruitlessly swat at the sand flies that are getting into my (theoretically) sealed tent. While dripping salt water all over my sleeping bag, I check the images in the back of my camera, but they are not what I was hoping for. I dry off, lay back and wonder what the hell I’m doing here.
The goal is to capture images of baby lemon sharks. I saw 10 today, and call me crazy, but I find them super-cute! From a photographer’s perspective, they live in a beautiful habitat surrounded by mangrove trees. Sharks and trees are not things most people correlate, but these sharks depend on mangroves for the first five to eight years of their lives.
A week earlier, to learn more about lemon sharks, I traveled to the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) and visited Ian Bouyoucos. A native New Yorker, Bouyoucos is a tall, young shark researcher whose primary interest is in elasmobranch stress physiology. Sharks’ lives are far more complex than the eating machines most of us conjure, says Bouyoucos. For example, he says, lemon sharks can form friendships. “Certain individuals tend to stay close to one another, and they can even learn from one another. They definitely have individual personalities.”
A 2-foot lemon shark pup looking for food off Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas.
From the moment they are born, sharks are independent. “They learn how to hunt for other juvenile prey and make a lot of mistakes,” explains Bouyoucos, “but they are learning.” Later, I am reminded of Bouyoucos’ comment as I watch shark pups accidentally bump into mangrove roots, get temporarily stuck in small spaces, and grab leaves in their mouths before spitting them back out as if to say, “Yuck!”
As you watch the 20-inch cuties swimming, the first thing you notice is how floppy they are — a far cry from the 10-foot-long powerful predators they will hopefully survive to become. Lemon sharks are currently listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN.
In a different part of the Bahamas, scientists at the Bimini Biological Field Station (aka Sharklab), led by Samuel “Doc” Gruber, recently made a stunning discovery: The lemon sharks there return to the same mangrove creek where they were born to give birth 12 to 15 years later. It took 20 years of tagging and monitoring to prove, and is the first time this behavior has been confirmed with any shark species.
Hence, every mangrove creek is important. I ask Bouyoucos what would happen if Paige Creek were turned into a marina. “If it’s developed, we don’t know what a returning mother would do, and the pups currently in the creek would certainly be displaced,” he tells me.
Like many shark species, lemons are caught in both commercial and sport fisheries for their meat, and their fins can generate high prices for shark-fin soup across the globe. Bouyoucos says their largest threat, however, “is habitat destruction; as mangroves disappear, so will lemon sharks.”
More than 50 percent of mangroves worldwide are already gone, and the Food and Agriculture Organization calculates the world is losing mangroves at a shocking rate of 1 percent per year. “People want to be by the ocean, so they build their homes or hotels, golf courses, etcetera, right where the mangroves are,” says Bouyoucos.
The good news is there are groups of people working hard to research, protect and restore mangroves. CEI is not only studying lemon sharks, but it is also reaching out to help educate the public. A scenic two-minute walk from CEI (a bridge over a mangrove creek, no less) is where you will find the Island School, which accepts international high school students who participate in CEI’s research. Locally, scientists from CEI visit all the schools on Eleuthera to talk about sharks, mangroves and many other aquatic topics that will affect their future. Internationally, many conservation organizations are working hard to help mangroves and the many species, including lemon sharks, that depend on them. There is still hope.
As I lie in my tent, uncomfortable, swatting away at an army of mosquitoes and sand flies, I know I want to help bring attention to the plight of these beautiful predators. I realize that I love mangroves, even when they are not so easy to love.
The Cape Eleuthera Institute is a research station and educational facility teaching and housing students from around the world. In addition to the lemon shark study, researchers there are also doing pioneering work on deep-sea sharks, bonefish, inland ponds, lionfish and sea turtles. The institute is one of the most ecofriendly campuses in the world. They grow much of their own food, recycle cooking oil from cruise ships to power their boats and vehicles, store rainwater for showers (hot water provided by the sun) and toilets, and use solar and wind power for electricity.
LEMON SHARK FACTS
• Lemon sharks grow to 10 feet (3 meters), but may only be 20 inches at birth.
• It takes them 12-15 years to become mature.
• The oldest recorded lemon shark is 37 years old; however, it is possible they live much longer.
• They are found throughout the tropical and subtropical waters of Africa, Australia and the Americas.
• They are known to congregate in large numbers for breeding, and give birth every second year. After the pups leave the mangroves, they can be found on reefs, estuaries, sea-grass beds, and have even been found up rivers, showing they can tolerate a range of salinities.
Lemon shark pups are not the only species to call the mangroves home. They share this thriving habitat with bonefish, barracuda, crabs, lobsters, rays, seahorses, puffers, snapper and grouper, among others. In some locations, like Florida and Cuba, alligators can also be found among the tangle of roots; overseas you might even find a tiger! It is always an adventure exploring mangroves, whether by snorkel, kayak or paddleboard.
A QUICK INTRODUCTION TO DIVING IN THE LAND OF THE LITTLE MERMAID
Denmark, the small kingdom in Scandinavia, may only have some 5.5 million inhabitants in its 16,000 square miles of land mass, and due to its northern latitude, it’s waters are not exactly abundant in corals and tiger shark.
However, it boasts an impressive 4,500 miles of coastline, longer than the Chinese wall, and nearly 5 feet of coastline per inhabitant.
North Carolina—Where the War Came Home Due to the great number of ships that met their demise in the turbulent waters off North Carolina’s coast, the area is often referred to as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. In 1942, the area began to get a second nickname. Just six weeks after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, German U-boats began sinking ships off the North Carolina coast. There were so many ships torpedoed that it wasn’t long before the area near Cape Hatteras was coined ‘Torpedo Junction.’ One of those attacks occurred on July 15, 1942, when Convoy KS-520, with 19 merchant ships and five escorts, was sailing near Cape Hatteras to Key West when the convoy was spotted by a German U-boat, U-576. Before the U-boat could fire its torpedoes, one of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutters saw it and began to drop depth charges. U-576 fired four torpedoes into the convoy. Two rocked the Chilore, one hit the J.A. Mowinckel and the fourth struck the SS Bluefields, which sank within minutes. U-576, previously damaged, surfaced in the middle of the convoy and the Unicoi opened fire while two U.S. Navy Kingfisher aircraft dropped depth charges, thus sending U-576 to the bottom of the sea with all 45 crew members
Whether your destination is Kansas or Kathmandu, successful travel requires planning. And while some people love researching destinations and creating detailed lists and itineraries, many of us would rather not work so hard.
That’s where the latest crop of travel apps comes in. Today’s travel apps put powerful planning and organizing tools in the palm of your hand, allowing you to easily book and organize your trip, find the best ways to get from one place to another, and document and share every moment along the way.
Here are 12 free travel apps to explore—whether you’re planning your next getaway or already on the road:
Australia’s Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston, Tasmania has successfully brewed beer from what is believed to be the world’s oldest beer, surviving in a bottle salvaged from the historic shipwreck Sydney Cove from 1797 located at Preservation Island, Tasmania.
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery Conservator David Thurrowgood has initiated and coordinated research into the bottle contents by assembling a team of expert scientists from Australia, France, Germany and Belgium.
The research team isolated live yeast from the bottle contents and used it to brew beer using period recipes. The beer has a distinctly light and fresh flavor, giving a taste of beer that has not been experienced for 220 years.
BEAUFORT — Whales are the largest creatures on Earth. But seeing them from above puts into perspective not only just how large, but also how majestic, these ocean-dwelling mammals are.
We’re looking from a vantage point of only 100-feet or less above the whales as they surface to breath. Researchers are able to secure this incredible birds-eye-view with drone technology. And these drones are capturing more than just video.
ying over Prince William Sound, Alaska—an expanse of silver-gray seas, blindingly white mountains, stark blue glaciers, wild islands, and rainbow-hued streamers of spilled petroleum snaking through thousands of square miles of ocean—Dr. Sylvia A. Earle looked out the window of a Coast Guard helicopter and shouted over the noise of the rotors, “It’s an inexcusable outrage!” It was a Sunday afternoon in April, three weeks after the supertanker Exxon Valdez had run aground on Bligh Reef, a few miles from the mainland, leaking more than ten million gallons of crude oil into the sea—the worst oil spill in our country’s history. (It was not the world’s largest—that was a spill of some eighty-eight million gallons off Trinidad and Tobago in 1979, in very different ocean conditions—but it may be the world’s worst in another sense, since the varied coastline, the cold waters, and the tidal conditions in the huge, sheltered sound have made cleanup efforts extraordinarily difficult, with environmentalists predicting that deleterious effects upon the region’s ecology may persist for a decade or more.) Dr. Earle, a marine botanist and biologist, who is perhaps the world’s best-known woman marine scientist, had been in Alaska for four days, during which she had surveyed several stretches of ocean, tramped over a number of oil-blackened beaches, attended many meetings, and engaged in consultations with other scientists who were among the hordes of people to have invaded the small, formerly tranquil town of Valdez following the catastrophe. By this time, everyone—including the Exxon Corporation—acknowledged that the spill was out of control. Great patches of unprocessed oil now extended over about three thousand square miles of sea. Some of the oil was in its characteristic darkly iridescent state, similar to what you might see on your garage floor. Some of it—whipped by wave action—had turned into long, rust-colored floating strips of clotted stuff known as mousse. Some of it had slipped beneath the surface, either in sheets or in blobs, where it would continue to affect the ecosystem, unseen. The damage was more obvious onshore: more than eight hundred miles of rocky beaches were covered with a heavy black coating, which penetrated the subsoil. In the rest of the country, the public’s attention was being focussed to a great extent on the plight of wildlife: by now, several thousand birds and some three hundred sea otters were known to have died, while untold numbers of smaller, less visible species had been condemned to death. In and around Valdez, a high-level circus was in full swing in the form of a non-stop, highly emotional round of activities involving federal and state agencies, Exxon, scores of scientists, and the United States Coast Guard, all of whom were trying to ameliorate the effects of the disaster but were—to more than one observer—managing to recall the Keystone Cops.
I had accompanied Dr. Earle to Alaska in order to see the results of the spill and to watch her as she helped to assess the damage and to carry on related research. Over the previous year, I had spent a good deal of time with Sylvia Earle, and had come to realize that she is a woman of many accomplishments. She is not only a highly visible environmentalist—having made her mark as a writer and lecturer and participant in various conservationist organizations—but a renowned marine explorer, who has dived all over the world in various kinds of miniature submarines, or submersibles, and has set a number of records during more than three decades as a biologist, a leader of scientific expeditions, a resident of undersea habitats, a pilot of advanced subaquatic vehicles, and a pioneer of experimental marine equipment. Moreover, fellow-oceanographers recognize her as one of the most experienced, most versatile, and most intrepid divers in the history of underwater exploration. An ichthyologist who has worked with her for many years, Dr. John McCosker, the head of San Francisco’s Steinhart Aquarium, once told me, “I think Sylvia may have mellowed a bit in recent years, and thank goodness, because her magnetism and dynamism are almost impossible to keep up with. I mean that Sylvia, in her most enthusiastic state of life, is just too hot to handle.”
In the Coast Guard helicopter—a big H-3—Sylvia sat just behind the pilot and co-pilot, talking with them over headsets as they surveyed Naked Island, one of several mountainous, tree-covered islands that extend like a small archipelago through Prince William Sound. The day before, flying over the same island in another helicopter, she had noticed a milky, cloudlike formation in the water off a rocky point—the milt, or sperm, of spawning herring. (One result of the oil spill was that within a week and a half the area’s herring season, a mainstay of several nearby fishing communities, had been cancelled by Alaskan authorities. Herring fisheries in the area normally bring in twelve million dollars a year. Salmon hatcheries, another multi-million-dollar industry, were also in a near-critical state.) Today, Sylvia was trying to locate that same point of land, so that she could go down and examine the milt at close range. Just ahead of us, dead in the waters of Outside Bay, was the Exxon Valdez, tended by tugboats and surrounded by containment booms to prevent more oil from spreading. The huge tanker had been refloated and towed to this spot, about thirty miles from the place where it had run aground, but it had taken a salvage crew twelve days to figure out how to do it.
After we had made two circuits of the island, Sylvia determined that we were at the spot of the previous day’s milt, which was no longer obvious from the air. Arcing downward, the helicopter landed on a sloping stretch of rocky beach, and three of us climbed out—Sylvia, Charles Jurasz, and I. Jurasz, a sandy-haired man in his forties, is the director of a non-profit marine research and educational organization called Sea Search, Ltd., of Juneau; he is an old friend of Sylvia’s, having worked with her some twelve years earlier on a project involving humpback whales in the Pacific. The H-3 lifted off again—the Coast Guardsmen had other work to do—and then, while I scrambled along behind, Sylvia and Chuck Jurasz began doing a biological survey of the area. A light, misty rain that had been falling for several hours added to the slickness of the terrain. The boulders and smaller rocks and pebbles on the beach were almost uniformly slate gray, but plant life—fucus and other algae—formed a carpet of heavy, slippery growth that brought the rugged beach alive with rusts, golds, and greens. Mussels and barnacles clung to the rocks by the thousand. Here and there were small tidal pools, many of them filled with tiny forms of life and some of them with glittering swirls of oil. Though we were within sight of the tanker, this beach had not received the full onslaught of the spill, and therefore, Sylvia explained, there was a good chance that its plant and animal species might not have been irreversibly damaged.
Now Sylvia set out, camera in hand, to climb over some jagged rocks toward the place where she had seen the milt. For a world-class explorer, Sylvia Earle is surprisingly slight of build. A wiry bantamweight, she stands five feet three and weighs a hundred and ten pounds; and with her regular features, amused-looking brown eyes, soft-brown hair, and ready smile, she radiates enough all-American dazzle for TV commercials. (She once made one for Tang.) But her appearance is deceptive: among fellow marine explorers, she is known as a strong and extremely tough diver, having spent more than five thousand hours submerged, much of the time in chancy conditions or hazardous situations. She had told me that she hoped to return to this area in a couple of months to do some scientific diving. Today though, except for a little wading, she was keeping to the shore, wearing yellow rubber boots and an orange flotation suit with a hood. She bent to examine amphipods, copepods, whelks, and other small creatures, and at one point she reached into a small pool and picked up a tiny starfish on her fingertip—an apparent casualty that soon began to show signs of life. The most significant find, though, was a vast blanket of herring roe. Through tidal action, millions of herring eggs had been deposited on the beach—tiny, crystalline objects, which, as they clung to branches of fucus and other growth, seemed to cover the plants with glistening hoarfrost.
Over the next two hours, Sylvia and Jurasz took samples of the roe at carefully chosen places on the beach, and Jurasz made a written record of each find. “Let’s be sure to take two samples from each site,” Sylvia said to him. Then she explained to me, “We’ll have these studied in several ways. We’ll test to see whether the roe contains any hydrocarbons, and then we’ll rear some of the eggs, let them hatch, and eventually dissect the herring to see whether they have any deformities or other disorders.” From time to time, Sylvia looked out to sea, where we could see otters swimming, and once she spotted a group of six harbor seals. “That’s a good sign, but they’re certainly not out of danger,” she said. Glaucous gulls swooped overhead, and later three eagles flew over the beach. (Eagles and other raptors were considered to be in special peril, since so many water birds—the eagles’ prey—had been killed by oil; by ingesting them the eagles were almost certain to be fatally poisoned.) As I watched Sylvia going about her work, I could see that she was utterly absorbed in it—kneeling to examine a single blade of alga or crawling over rocks to inspect the variety of living things within a small pool. When, after about two and a half hours, we heard the H-3’s rotors overhead, she looked up and exclaimed, “Oh, no—not yet!” But the Coast Guard had its schedule, so the three of us climbed into the copter and headed back to Valdez. During the flight, we looked down and saw other beaches—far more severely damaged than the one we had visited—where a broad stretch of glittering black, reaching to the high-tide mark, was as clearly separated from the natural gray of the rocks as if it had been painted there by a giant brush.
Valdez is a town of about three thousand inhabitants, many of whom, by this time, were becoming visibly disconcerted by the influx of outsiders. Motels and many private homes were filled with officials, researchers, and reporters. In the command center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which had been set up in the town’s largest hostelry, the two-story Westmark Hotel, Sylvia was soon conferring with other scientists and making a non-stop series of phone calls. (At one point, I counted six calls within two minutes.) She had been doing this sort of thing for four days now—ever since she arrived in Valdez. In that time, she had been involved in such matters as these:
A visit to a tarry, oil-ravaged beach on Mummy Bay at the southern tip of Knight Island, in the company of a group of officials and experts that included Admiral Paul Yost, the commandant of the Coast Guard; Vice-Admiral Clyde E. Robbins, the commander of the Coast Guard Pacific Area and Maritime Defense Zone Pacific, who had just been appointed the on-scene coördinator at Valdez; Dr. William Evans, the administrator of noaa; and Clifton E. Curtis, executive director of the Oceanic Society. As Sylvia walked around the gravelly, blackened area, she turned over a heavily coated rock and studied some dead barnacles, and said in a characteristically soft voice, “This little beach tells a story all by itself.”
Evening science meetings (at seven o’clock sharp) in the Valdez Community Center, attended by a hundred or so biologists, geologists, chemists, and other professionals, at which lengthy reports were delivered on things like water-quality studies, shoreline surveys, intertidal sampling, the merits of various beach-cleanup proposals, and the condition of thousands of birds and hundreds of sea otters that had been received at rescue centers.
A particularly long science meeting, on Friday, at which Admiral Yost addressed the assembled experts, saying that he had just arrived in Alaska after receiving instructions in the Oval Office from President Bush, who had decided to put the Coast Guard in charge of the cleanup. (For the past three weeks, most people involved in the confused operation seemed to have been playing a game of “Who’s in charge?”) Exxon officials, Admiral Yost said, had told him that they did not want to take cleanup measures that would later be denounced as ill-advised, so he intended to remain in close contact with the scientists. The Admiral, a ramrod-straight, clear-eyed man, said, “I intend to clean beaches.”
A visit to the nearby fishing community of Cordova, whose economy is in chaos.
A visit to the Valdez Otter Rescue Center, in a public school, where forty-two traumatized animals cowered in cages, under the round-the-clock care of scientists and veterinarians (and where a rumor circulated that someone wanted to buy the pelts of the dead otters).
Four helicopter flights and an overflight of Prince William Sound in a Coast Guard C-130.
A visit to the temporary headquarters of Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation, where a sign advertised “Tanker From Hell” T-shirts.
Several tense hours on Friday, after Sylvia learned by telephone that her husband, a British engineer named Graham Hawkes, had been in a plane crash in Florida. (She has been married to Hawkes for three years; two earlier marriages ended in divorce.) Toward evening, she learned to her relief that Hawkes and the pilot of the small plane—an aging Tiger Moth—had crash-landed in a tree, an outcome that damaged the aircraft but permitted its two occupants to climb to the ground unscathed.
One evening toward the end of her stay in Valdez, Sylvia lingered over vanilla ice cream (the only flavor on the menu) in the Westmark’s restaurant and glanced at a handout from a local citizens’ group that read, “Mr. President, please come to Alaska. . . . Your people are hurting. They are angry at this senseless environmental destruction. . . . The Prince William Sound disaster cannot be understood from the White House horseshoe pit.” She nodded, and showed the handout to the rest of us at the table. While agreeing that it was vital for the President to view the damage at first hand—in fact, she believed that he should have declared the situation a national disaster—she went on to make several other points. First, she said, the immediate reaction to the spill—on the part of Exxon, as well as of state and federal governments—had been woefully late and grossly inadequate. Second, she had grave doubts about the wisdom of the belated and, to varying degrees, misguided cleanup efforts, and even of many of the scientific studies that were being undertaken here. While they were undoubtedly acting with good intentions, she thought, the crowds of scientists who were now encamped in Valdez—some working under the aegis of noaa and some under contract to Exxon—seemed to be participating in a kind of “feeding frenzy” of experiments and studies, many of questionable value, as if simply keeping busy were an end in itself.
“To begin with, I would have used mechanical means to clean up the spill within the first twenty-four hours,” she said. “I’m very dubious of chemical means—such as dispersants sprayed on the water—because you’re just adding more chemicals to the environment, and these chemicals carry with them unknown risks. In any case, we know that meaningful work didn’t get started here for days. The Alyeska Pipeline Service Company”—the consortium of seven oil companies which operates the pipeline and its terminal—“had a contingency plan, but the plan failed. And let’s face it—four or five days went by before the Coast Guard had a sizable presence here. For heaven’s sake, when you see the enemy attacking, you pick up the pitchfork, and you enlist everybody you see. You don’t stand around arguing about who’s responsible, or who’s going to pay. What’s so tragic about the whole thing is that we know better. There are ways to solve this kind of problem. It’s a fact of life that there will be oil spills, as long as oil is moved from place to place, but we must have provisions to deal with them, and a capability that is commensurate with the size of the oil shipments. We should, for example, mandate double-hulled vessels, and compartments in tankers, and smaller vessels. In the past, the oil companies have protested that these measures would not be economical. Well, what’s economical about this catastrophe?”
One of the others at our table—a biochemist working with noaa—mentioned that Exxon was now predicting a rapid cleanup. There was an exchange of skeptical glances, and Sylvia said, “I’m uncomfortable with the idea of Exxon’s being in charge of this cleanup anyway. Exxon gets to pay the bill—that’s only logical—but, as far as I’m concerned, it has assaulted this area, and it has thereby lost the right to make decisions about how the work is done. If somebody dumps something noxious in my back yard, the dumper is the last one I would call on to repair the damage. Still, I’m not really angry at the oil companies. What does anger me—greatly—is the policies that make such an abomination possible. This really is a policy issue, and it seems like such an obvious place to apply money and effort. There are resources. There is money. And there is authority. And since the oil companies are not self-disciplined we should insure that there will be very stiff consequences for an act of this kind in the future. Even more important, we should use our authority to work toward prevention—now—and never let this happen again. The environment here in Prince William Sound will continue as a living, productive system, but we know that it will never be the same. There are a lot of subtle needs in a system like this one, and much of the time we don’t even know what questions to ask, let alone the answers. But simply to attack the most visible damage—to wipe the rocks on the beach with paper towels—is almost laughable. What do you do with the paper towels?”
During her four days in Alaska, Sylvia encountered innumerable strangers, many of whom reacted immediately to her name, since within the world of marine science and exploration she is something of a celebrity. The most surreal of these encounters occurred on Saturday morning, at a beach in Port Valdez, a few hundred yards from the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Terminal, the complex of structures that serves as the terminus for the pipeline carrying crude oil across Alaska from the rich oil fields at Prudhoe Bay, some eight hundred miles to the north. On that morning, Sylvia and Chuck Jurasz were collecting specimens of the shrimplike crustaceans called krill—mostly dead—from the beach. Before long, four scuba divers emerged from the bay not far from where Sylvia was working. Introductions were made. When Sylvia’s name was mentioned, the lead scuba diver—who turned out to be a fireman from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks—exclaimed, “Jim suit!” Translation: The diver recognized Sylvia as the person who in 1979 had worn a diving system called a Jim suit to walk on the ocean floor at twelve hundred and fifty feet, in the deepest dive ever made without a tether to the surface—an accomplishment for which she still holds the record. As they talked, Sylvia said with a laugh, “I don’t suppose you have a card with you.” Still dripping, the man reached into his diving suit and produced a business card.
Sylvia Earle’s recognizability in the world of marine activities—and, to an extent, with the general public—has come about gradually during a career that began with a narrow specialization and has grown broader as she has kept moving toward more comprehensive, and often highly adventurous and daring, activities. Over the years, she has become well known not only for the quality of her thinking and her dedication to the environment but also for her drive and energy and astonishing toughness. Once, while scuba diving among sharks—something she enjoys—she noticed that a member of the school was twitching its body ominously as it circled her, and, in a nice bit of underwater karate, she sent the offender packing with a kick to the snout. Sylvia, however, tends to discount any talk of unusual courage on her part, preferring to emphasize that the world beneath the oceans, lakes, and rivers is essentially a benign and even wondrous place, and that with continually advancing knowledge and technology people have every reason to spend more time there. She supports this view in the same way she approaches most of her projects—with an optimistic, go-for-it sense of adventure that can be contagious.
Some years ago—not long after she had made the record-breaking dive remembered by the card-carrying diver at Valdez—colleagues began referring to Sylvia as Her Royal Deepness, or simply Her Deepness. She is not the first woman to be active in marine science; in the nineteen-thirties and forties there were some outstanding women in the field, among them Jocelyn Crane, Grace Pickford, and Marie Poland Fish. But marine scientists in those days were severely limited by the state of technology, and female marine scientists were subject to a rigid mind-set that, almost into the nineteen-sixties, forbade a woman to go on an oceanographic vessel unless she was in the company of her scientist-husband. More recently, Dr. Eugenie Clark, who began her career about a decade before Sylvia, has become well known for her work with sharks. But Sylvia has crossed so many boundaries, done so much original field work, and been active in so many areas simultaneously—pure science, exploration, technology, communications, and conservation—that she seems to have broken all previous molds.
In May of last year, Sylvia was honored, together with five other outstanding women in science and exploration, including the ethologist Jane Goodall, at a formal dinner at the National Geographic Society, in Washington. The next morning, over breakfast at her hotel, Sylvia told me something about how her interests had developed over the years. Her parents both had rural backgrounds, and neither had gone beyond high school, but they clearly possessed some homespun strengths that they were able to transmit to their children. The Earles’ first four children, all boys, died young—one in an accident and the others because of medical conditions that nowadays probably would not prove fatal. As a result, Sylvia Alice Earle, who was born in 1935, in Gibbstown, New Jersey, formed part of what was, in effect, her parents’ second family, growing up with a brother two years older and another four years younger. Though times were tough, their father, Lewis, did have steady employment, as an electrician with Du Pont. His wife, Alice, kept house and looked after the children. When Sylvia was three years old, the family moved to a farm about fifteen miles south of Camden, which turned out to provide an ideal setting for the future biologist.
“We lived in a big brick-and-stone farmhouse that was built before the Revolutionary War,” Sylvia told me. “All the nails in the house and barn were handmade. There were lots of wonderful, wild creatures there. We had squirrels and raccoons, and so many birds—the sky was filled with birds, as I haven’t seen them since. And I really owe a lot of my interest in wild things to my mother. She just had a natural rapport with the world around her. Unlike a lot of parents, she would never say, ‘Yuk! Don’t touch that slimy thing!’ Instead, she’d bring a snake into the house and say, ‘Isn’t this an elegant creature? Touch it gently, because it’s very sensitive.’ And it wasn’t zoology, at least not in any formal way. It was just an empathy for life. There was a pond in the back yard, and I used to go sit on a willow tree and spend hours there. And I always had jars filled with fish and frogs and tadpoles, and I made observations and kept notebooks. Nobody had to tell me to do those things—I just did them. And I always knew, somehow, that I was going to be a biologist or a botanist or something, even before I knew what those things were called.”
In the summers, the Earles vacationed in Ocean City, where Sylvia first became acquainted with the marine world. She and her brothers would spend two weeks running along the shore catching crabs, pawing through seaweed, and investigating some of the larger creatures that occasionally washed up on the beach. In 1948, after twenty-seven years with Du Pont, her father left the company (“without a pension, without anything,” she said with an uncharacteristic trace of bitterness) and moved the family to Dunedin, a small town bordering Clearwater, Florida. There, after a few difficult years, he set up his own electrical concern. Dunedin is on a bay of the Gulf of Mexico, and Sylvia considered the Gulf her back yard, spending as much time as possible in or on or around the water. “And in those days Clearwater used to live up to its name—it used to have clear water,” she said. “Now it’s constantly turbid from all the dredging activity, the industrial pollution and agricultural runoff and other chemicals that flow into the Gulf.” Sylvia was always a fast learner (she describes pleasant evenings buried in an encyclopedia), and she was encouraged in her academic aspirations both by her parents and by an aunt, Helen Richie, who taught school and who lived with the family. Sylvia graduated from high school at sixteen, received an associate of arts degree from St. Petersburg Junior College at seventeen, got her B.A. from Florida State University at nineteen, and received her master’s degree from Duke University at twenty.
After a brief flirtation with Cornell, she returned to Duke and plunged into a doctoral program. All through her college years, since her parents could not contribute much financial help, she took jobs and earned scholarships. In graduate school, she supplemented her income by working as a lab assistant and doing illustrations for her professors’ botany papers. At least once, though, she was denied a valued teaching assistantship—for which she was the best-qualified candidate—because of her sex: “They said, ‘It has to go to a man, because a woman will just get married and have babies.’ Of course I was indignant, but that attitude wasn’t considered unusual in those days.” As Sylvia began working toward her Ph.D., she sought and received the sponsorship of Dr. Harold Humm as her major professor. She says that it was Dr. Humm’s fascination with algae—primitive, plantlike organisms that range all the way from microscopic forms to three-hundred-foot-long kelp—that tilted her toward concentrating on them. (A lot of ichthyologists find the subject insufferably boring, since—unlike fish and other marine animals—algae just seem to sit there. Sylvia, though, is apt to speak of the beauty of her objects of study, and especially their importance in the ecosystem—through photosynthesis, algae produce most of the oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere.)
Then came several events that altered the course of Sylvia’s life profoundly. Soon after beginning work on her Ph.D., she fell in love with a graduate student in zoology named John Taylor, married him, and suspended her studies. “I had been stuffing my brain with books and lab work for as long as I could remember,” she said. “I was still only twenty-one, and I think I was suffering from information overload. I decided that I wanted to go out and do things that were real.” In 1960, she gave birth to her daughter Elizabeth. For a while, Sylvia and Jack Taylor worked together in the National Park Service, and there was a good deal of moving about, during which Sylvia took part-time teaching jobs and eventually resumed work on her doctorate. Her second child, John—who has always been called by his middle name, Richie—was born in 1962, and by this time she and her husband had settled into a house in Dunedin not far from that of her parents.
“In the summer of 1964, I received an invitation to go on an expedition, and it turned out to be one of those things that changed my life forever,” she told me. “I was asked to join a scientific team aboard the National Science Foundation’s research vessel Anton Bruun, for a six-week voyage to the Indian Ocean and other places. It was not the usual thing for women to go off on expeditions like that in those days—a few other women had done what I was about to do, and had had a terrible time, because they were either harassed or kidded to death. I think the reason that I was able to handle it was that it wasn’t the first time I’d been alone, working in a group of men. All through college, I had frequently been the only girl in a science class—which wasn’t such a bad deal.” She laughed. “But, you see, I really was serious about what I was doing. And this expedition was not a lark. I worked very hard, and I never looked for favors. In fact, I’ve found throughout my life that there are just about as many advantages as disadvantages in being a woman. Naturally, there have been obstacles. And later in life I learned that the business world can be especially difficult for a woman. But in science, at least, I’ve often found that the door is open because you’re a woman, and they want to give you a special opportunity. Then, of course, it’s up to you. You can fall flat on your nose unless you can carry your weight.”
The expedition on the Anton Bruun took Sylvia to the Comoros, Aldabra, the Seychelles, the Farquhar Islands, Nairobi, Mombasa, Cairo, Athens, and Rome. Back in Florida, her parents and her husband—whom she describes as very supportive—looked after the two children. “After that, there were more invitations,” she recalled. “During that whole era, from 1964 to ’66, I really was out there doing things that, in my mind, were real. But I was also working on my dissertation and trying to finish up a lot of classwork. I went on an expedition to the Galápagos Islands, and another one to the Juan Fernández Islands, off the coast of Chile, and another one to the Panama Canal Zone. I really spent a lot of time at sea. And going on those expeditions I began to develop a network of colleagues and friends and associates, and to gain a professional acceptance that was above and beyond anything I’d ever had before. In the meantime, Jack was working on his Ph.D., at Gainesville. And—well, I guess it really is not a wonder that my marriage eventually came apart. There was a lot of compatibility, but also a lot of differences. Jack is a fine naturalist, and he was quite happy to take on a little green patch in Florida and settle down in the pine trees, and I didn’t want to settle down at all. I just wanted to take on the world.”
After Sylvia and Jack Taylor separated, the children remained with her, and in June of 1966 she received her Ph.D. in botany from Duke. Her dissertation, which had taken her more than a decade to complete, was considered unusual for several reasons. Up until the nineteen-fifties, researchers in marine biology had been forced to gather most of their evidence secondhand, either by scavenging bits of life that had washed up onshore or else by dredging or by dragging nets behind boats in order to bring up a mishmash of animals and plants, which were almost invariably damaged or dead. But Sylvia had begun her graduate studies not long after the Aqua-Lung, or scuba, was developed by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Émile Gagnan. In 1953, when she started working under Dr. Humm, she became one of the first people in marine science to use scuba equipment. Also, because of the extended length of her project, she was able to chart significant changes in the region—the sort of thing that few graduate students have time to do. Soon after she submitted her dissertation, she received her doctorate and went out to the University of California at Berkeley, where Dr. Paul C. Silva, a leader in marine algology, helped prepare the dissertation for publication. Within a few months, it was accepted by Phycologia, the major international publication in the field, which, in an unprecedented move, devoted an entire issue to it. Among marine scientists Sylvia’s dissertation, “Phaeophyta of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico,” is still referred to as a landmark study.
By this time, Sylvia already seemed headed for a distinguished career as a marine botanist. But other fairly challenging opportunities kept coming her way. She continued to go on expeditions. And she was also attending scientific conferences around the country and getting acquainted with more and more people in her field. At one of these gatherings, she met Dr. Giles W. Mead, the curator of fishes at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology. Dr. Mead had been working in the forefront of marine science and was known as an outstanding researcher. He was about ten years her senior and had three children from a previous marriage. “We had many friends in common—it’s a small group, after all—and each of us was already known to the other by reputation,” she said. “At that point, Giles had been unmarried for several years, and he was sort of looking for somebody. And I was sort of looking for somebody— No, I wasn’tlooking for anybody, really. But I was found by somebody, and we began to share this vision of being able to do some exciting, original scientific and exploratory work together.”
Sylvia and Giles were married in December, 1966, and she soon obtained appointments as a research scholar at the Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study and as a research fellow at Harvard’s Farlow Herbarium. She and her husband found “one of those skinny little row houses on Beacon Hill,” and after a few months her children came up from their grandparents’ place, in Dunedin, to join them. She and Giles were able to go on several expeditions together, and during these—and subsequent—absences her parents would almost always be on hand to look after the children. Meanwhile, there was a lot of commuting. In 1965, Sylvia was named resident director of the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory, in Sarasota, Florida—replacing Eugenie Clark, who had become executive director—a post she held through the spring of 1967. “It was a period when I tried to do everything for everybody,” she recalled. “It was a great balancing act. But then, it’s always been a great balancing act.” In addition, it was a period when she was getting involved in some rather startling technological experiments.
As she was aware, underwater technology had always lagged behind terrestrial—and, more recently, space—technology. Attempts to dive deep or to sojourn underwater began long ago, but in man’s efforts to emulate fish two very tough problems have always plagued designers of equipment: providing a supply of breathable air—or a suitable artificial mixture of gases—and protecting a diver from the immense pressure created by the weight of the water above him. Discussing the situation with me on one occasion, Sylvia expressed her impatience with the fitfulness of progress, noting that the military side of things has always proceeded with some consistency, while the scientific-exploratory side has seldom received much funding in any country. Of course, attempts to dive deep or to remain submerged for extended periods have not always proceeded smoothly and a number of them have resulted in deaths and serious injuries. But in the early nineteen-sixties Jacques-Yves Cousteau supervised the creation of a couple of successful underwater habitats, in which people could live for weeks at a time, and from which divers could explore the surrounding waters and return at will. Other, similar experiments followed, and in 1968 the Smithsonian Institution sponsored its Man-in-Sea Project, which was a followup of earlier Man-in-Sea Projects, pioneered by Edwin A. Link, the inventor of a widely used flight simulator.
The 1968 Man-in-Sea Project involved several types of underwater vehicles and living units, and it also exposed participants to extended periods of saturation diving, which was then fairly new. In saturation diving, a person is exposed to pressure for a period long enough, or at a depth great enough, so that the person’s system begins to absorb excess nitrogen from the gas he or she breathes. After about twenty-four hours, a human being’s bloodstream will have absorbed all the nitrogen it can, and it will be considered saturated. A diver can live under these conditions for extended periods, but on coming back up special precautions must be taken to prevent decompression sickness—the bends—which can be crippling or fatal. On returning to the surface after long periods of submersion, a diver may have to spend a week or more inside a decompression chamber. When Sylvia heard about this new project, she immediately applied for it, and after several weeks she was accepted. In February, 1968, she joined a team of scientists in the Bahamas and descended in a vehicle called Deep Diver, which Link had designed and which was the first modern submersible with a lockout chamber, permitting divers to leave and return to the vehicle underwater. When Deep Diver descended to a hundred feet, Sylvia became the first woman scientist to lock out of a submersible. She set another record, too, since she was four months pregnant at the time. She had consulted doctors beforehand and had been told to expect no difficulties with the pregnancy. She had none, and her daughter Gale was born the following July.
However, the Man-in-Sea Project paled beside Sylvia’s next adventure. In the winter of 1969, a project called Tektite—sponsored jointly by the Navy, the Department of the Interior, and nasa—had got under way off St. John, in the United States Virgin Islands. The project involved successive teams of scientists living in an underwater habitat fifty feet down. Tektite was named after a glassy meteorite that is often found on the ocean floor, and one of its goals was to study people’s ability to live and work underwater for weeks at a stretch. When Sylvia found out that there was to be another such project—Tektite II—she resolved to become part of it, and her effort to do so resulted in a not very surprising contretemps. “Nobody else who applied for the project had as much diving experience as I did—more than a thousand hours underwater at the time,” she said. “And I also had designed a good project around studying the fish and the plants of the area, together with ichthyologists, in an ecologically compatible exercise. I knew I had a good chance. And when I was accepted I was just delighted. But then I learned that there was a catch. It seems the review committee in Washington hadn’t expected any women to apply. But when women did apply, and had credentials as good as—if not better than—most of the men, they almost couldn’t say no. But there were still some remarkably prudish attitudes in Washington in those days, and the people in charge just couldn’t cope with the idea of men and women living together underwater.”
Washington, ingenious as ever, created a special women’s team, with Sylvia as its leader. Tektite II’s Mission 6—the all-female one—took place in the summer of 1970, and it began when Sylvia and four other women swam down to enter a habitat resting on the seafloor near a coral reef. From the outside, the habitat had a ghostly, forbidding look. It consisted of a rectangular foundation surmounted by two squat, tanklike towers that were joined, like Siamese twins, by a small cylindrical passage near the top. One of the tanks contained a lockout hatch and support equipment, and the other contained living quarters. For two weeks, Sylvia and her fellow-aquanauts swam from their habitat into the surrounding waters, made observations, and took photographs, spending so much time with tarpons, snappers, lizard fish, batfish, and other “critters” native to the area that they came to recognize an individual animal not merely as an eel, say, but “thateel which lives under that rock.” Sometimes the divers wore scuba tanks and sometimes rebreathers, which are backpacks by means of which a person’s exhaled breath is “scrubbed”—the carbon dioxide is removed—and recirculated, so that the same air can be used for extended periods. One advantage of rebreathers is that they do not give off bubbles, which can startle marine life. The scientific results of the Tektite Project were later published in two volumes, which Sylvia co-edited, but the more immediate outcome of the project was Sylvia’s abrupt entrance into the media spotlight—something altogether new to her.
“It was Tektite that really turned me around,” she said. “And it really did change my life forever. When we came back to the States, they made a circus out of it, and we hadn’t expected anything of the sort. But we no sooner emerged than we were showered with attention and given honors and awards and pursued by the media as if we were celebrities. For one thing, of course, it was only a year after astronauts had landed on the moon, and we were sort of swept up by the strong interest in man in space and its parallel, man in the ocean. But suddenly I just found myself propelled onto center stage. I addressed a special congressional group, and we were honored at the White House. I think the biggest shock came in Chicago. They gave us a ticker-tape parade, and we rode through the streets in Mayor Daley’s open car—it was fur-lined—and Mahalia Jackson sang. And then, with about two minutes’ warning, I was told that, since I was the leader of the team, it would be very nice if I would say a few words to the public—just like that. There I was, never having addressed crowds, and now there were dozens of radio and television stations carrying my words. So I was forced to reach into myself and think of what I could say about our experience to a general audience, and try to talk coherently—in a way that untrained people could understand—about something that I cared about deeply. And afterward this sort of thing kept happening, and it caused me to think very hard about how I could convey something about the animals and plants in the ocean—the system which actually dominates our planet, and which had come to mean so much to me—to millions of people, some of whom had never seen a fish in its natural habitat. So much of that system has yet to be explored—like the vast Midocean Ridge, which winds through the world’s oceans for thirty-seven thousand miles. How do you get people interested in that, and how can you make people care about this vital system, which is filled with forms of life that are as unknown to us as residents of Mars would be? I mean, if you came back with the tiniest scoop of green guck from Mars—as long as it was certified as alive—it would make headlines all over the world. And it should make headlines. But I still cannot understand why there isn’t more excitement about the incredible diversity of life that we’re just beginning to get acquainted with in the sea.”
Significant as the Tektite Project was, Sylvia added, it never had a sequel, and its potential was never developed. Government, it seems, had learned what it wanted to learn, and had moved on to other things.
As it happened, Tektite and its aftermath coincided with a very important shift in Sylvia’s life. Just before she set off for the Caribbean and the underwater habitat, she and Giles Mead moved from Massachusetts to California, where Giles had accepted the post of director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, one of the top five or six such institutions in the country. He had grown up in Southern California and was a member of one of Los Angeles’ socially prominent families. Now Sylvia and Giles and their six children—three from his previous marriage, two from hers, and their two-year-old daughter, Gale—settled into a thirteen-room Georgian-style house in Hancock Park, just off Wilshire Boulevard. As often as possible, they also spent time at the Mead family’s large ranch in the Napa Valley.
“So we started over, with all kinds of new activities and new duties,” Sylvia said. “Giles was the head of the museum, with a staff of more than a hundred. And I soon found that I was becoming Mrs. Museum—I was entertaining senators and was called upon to be a hostess in a way that I had never even imagined. I also took a position as a research associate in botany at the museum, and, as usual, I had my lab at home, and I had a teaching job at U.C.L.A. Frequently my parents would come out to stay with us, and that helped a lot. It was a wonderful, exciting time, but there were six kids in the family, and I was serving on various committees, and I was still trying to get off on expeditions when I could. Unfortunately, there were only twenty-four hours in the day. And in the wake of the Tektite Project I could have given ten talks a week. I did give at least one a week. I mean, I was aware that I had this huge investment riding on my shoulders, and that I had a responsibility—a duty, really—to tell people about what I had experienced. That can be an awesome thing.”
Soon after the Meads moved to California, the Los Angeles Times named Sylvia its “Woman of the Year.” As another result of her increasing fame—or notoriety, as she calls it—Sylvia found that she was being asked to write about her experiences, and she eventually accepted a proposal from the National Geographicthat she do an article on the Tektite Project. (She has since done several more pieces for that magazine, and has also written or collaborated on several books and films.) But in so doing she came up against one of the shibboleths of her academic discipline: Thou shalt not write for the general public, lest thou be considered a mere popularizer. Still, she told me, she was learning to live with criticism that came her way from behind ivied walls, believing that it was more important to let people know about her experiences, and to communicate her insights about the planet’s rapidly changing ecological systems, than to worry about raised eyebrows in academe.
Meanwhile, invitations to go on expeditions kept arriving. In 1971, one of these expeditions took her to Panama. In 1972, she was named chief scientist aboard the research vessel Searcher on a cruise to the Galápagos Islands. That year, she was also named chief scientist on a project called Flare, which gave her still more experience in saturation diving, from an underwater habitat in the Florida Keys. In 1973, she made her first trip to China, as a member of a group called American Women for International Understanding, and over the next few years she was appointed chief scientist for three saturation-diving projects involving a cylindrical underwater laboratory called Hydrolab, in the Bahamas, and participated in some early dives of Johnson Sea-Link submersibles.
In March, 1975, Sylvia set off on an expedition to the Comoro Islands, in the Indian Ocean, which she had visited briefly on her first expedition, on the Anton Bruun, eleven years earlier. This latest expedition was a project of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco and was headed by John McCosker. The project’s primary goal was to bring back a live coelacanth—a large fish belonging to a broad group called crossopterygians. Fossil coelacanths have been found dating from three hundred and twenty million years ago, and until the nineteen-thirties the fish were thought to have died out about the time the dinosaurs did. Then, in 1938, a fisherman caught one in the Indian Ocean, and clubbed it to death. Since then, several more coelacanths have been caught, but none has been brought back alive for scientific study.
“In the end, we didn’t find a coelacanth,” she said. “But we did find something totally unexpected—a tiny fish called a photoblepharon, which has a bioluminescent spot under each eye. Photoblepharons were not known to inhabit those waters, but diving at night we found them by the thousand. We were making reasonably deep dives—down to two hundred and fifty feet, which is right to the edge of where you can go, breathing compressed air—and we’d see these little blinking lights. We’d put five or six photoblepharons in a plastic bag, and they’d give off a beautiful, spooky blue-green light. It was just like having an underwater lantern. And all the while the water was so clear that, even at fifty or a hundred feet, we could look up and see Venus and some of the stars. We could use the moon for orientation. It was like walking through the woods by starlight.”
It was at about this point that the personal side of Sylvia’s life again grew troubled. Her first marriage had lasted nine years, and she had been married to Giles Mead for nine. But there had been some fairly deep-seated problems in her second marriage all along, she told me now. Despite repeated efforts to patch things up, Sylvia explained, when she returned from the coelacanth expedition her marriage was effectively over. Not surprisingly, she faced the situation with mixed feelings. “My parents—my role models—were married young, and they were absolutely loyal to each other through their entire lives and eventually shared their sixtieth anniversary. My father died soon thereafter, in 1981. But that’s what I grew up believing that life should be, and marriage should be, and the family should be.” The situation was clearly a distressing one for both the Meads. They decided on a divorce—the second for each of them—and for several months after their separation Sylvia continued to live and work in Los Angeles.
Soon after her marital breakup, a dramatic new project came her way, and she hastened to sign on. It involved going on a research vessel to the Caroline Islands, in the western Pacific, in order to work with Al Giddings, a prominent underwater photographer and filmmaker, and a team of divers among sunken ships in Truk Lagoon. In June, Sylvia and Giddings and the rest of the team undertook to explore a vast graveyard of sunken ships in the forty-mile-wide lagoon, where little scientific work had previously been done. On February 17, 1944, a fleet of about sixty Japanese warships and merchant vessels had been sent to the bottom by United States Navy bombers, and over the next three decades the sunken ships and their cargo—much of it munitions—had formed a huge artificial reef, encrusted with corals, sponges, algae, and a dazzling variety of other growth, which provided a rich environment for marine animals. Sylvia calls the reef “a living laboratory.” The team spent six weeks at Truk, with Sylvia making dozens of deep dives. She did suffer one serious injury—a sting from a highly poisonous lionfish—but she refused to let it interfere with her work.
Early in 1976, Sylvia decided to move with her three children to the San Francisco area, where she had a number of professional contacts. After a good deal of searching—because of their ages, her children would all attend different schools—she bought a large house in hills overlooking the bay. She soon got a half-time appointment as a research associate in aquatic biology at the California Academy of Sciences and also an appointment as a research associate in botany and biology at the University of California at Berkeley. She supplemented her income from these sources by “just going out on my own and doing things.” And not long after she moved to the Bay Area, she says, she received an invitation that hastened the expansion of her professional activities in dealing with threats to the environment, and prefigured the kind of concerns that would occupy her some years later in Alaska.
“In 1976, I was asked to give an address at a conference of the World Wildlife Fund, a gathering of about five hundred people at the St. Francis Hotel, in San Francisco,” she recalled. “It was a very impressive audience, and I felt that I had an obligation to say something meaningful. So I spoke to the gathering about Palau, a group of islands in the western Pacific. Or, rather, I used Palau as a focal point, because my subject was really the oceans. It was a plea to take care of the oceans, because things are changing—we are changing things—at a rate that is unprecedented in the history of the planet. I don’t like to take the spotlight off the rain forest, or other habitats that are in peril, but the greatest significance—in terms of the broad divisions of life that matter—really is in the ocean. The ocean covers nearly three-quarters of our planet, and about ninety per cent of all living things are found there. Well, it was only a forty-five-minute address, but I worked very hard to say a lot of things that represented a lifetime of thinking. And I seem to have made an impact, because some contributions were made immediately after my talk—one foundation gave a hundred thousand dollars to help protect Palau. And that talk turned out to be another very important turning point for me.
“Increasingly, I had come to realize that I had to speak out about the irreversible damage we are doing to the world we live in. I mean, we’re ripping through our resources at an alarming rate, consuming and not giving back, chewing up forests for lumber and newsprint and not sustaining those forests, using freshwater resources without sustaining our rivers and lakes, wreaking havoc on our coastlines and the entire ocean system. And it has been estimated that we are losing ten thousand species a year—plants, insects, birds, fish, mammals, microörganisms—many of them before we even know they exist. We need sustainable life, not just something that will go out in a blaze of glory in this century. We human beings have modified the system on this planet. And nothing could be more obvious than that we are dependent on a healthy planet for our own survival. And the health of this planet, in turn, depends upon the living ecosystems. And the fact that there is direct interaction between the living and nonliving worlds—the living creatures and the physical environment—is irrefutable. It’s there. It’s all-pervasive. When you pick up any piece of this planet, you find that, one way or another, it’s attached to everything else—if you jiggle over here, something is going to wiggle over there. And really, in a very fundamental way, I’m changed forever because I lived underwater for two weeks in 1970. I wish that everybody could go live underwater, if only for a day. We need this sense of the continuing interconnectedness of the system as part of the common knowledge, so that politicians feel it and believe it, and so that voters feel it and believe it, and so that kids feel it and believe it, so that they’ll grow up with an ethic. Because what we do—or don’t do—now will be an inheritance for all time.”
In the spring of 1988, not long after the dinner at the National Geographic Society, in Washington, I visited Sylvia at her home—the house in Oakland that she moved to in 1976. It is a neo-rustic, rambling structure near the crest of a hill, and looks as if it might have grown out of a wilderness of trees, shrubs, and perennially blossoming flowers. Behind the house are several frame outbuildings and a swimming pool, which doubles as a testing tank for underwater equipment. One large room at the rear of the house serves as Sylvia’s laboratory and contains thousands of specimens of algae. The household includes Sylvia’s husband, Graham Hawkes; her son, Richie; her daughters, Elizabeth and Gale; Elizabeth’s husband, Edward Miller, who is a curator at the Steinhart Aquarium; and two dogs, six cats, a parrot, a macaw, two geese, an iguana, an East African horned chameleon, several snakes, some fish, some tarantulas, a caiman, and an alligator. (The alligator is called Charlie and will eat a fish out of your hand, sometimes.)
It was Saturday morning when I stopped by, and while other members of the household were occupied with weekend chores Sylvia and I sat at her kitchen table and talked. The period after she moved here had been “a very heady one,” she told me. “On the one hand, I was working at the California Academy and going off on expeditions, and, on the other hand, I was getting more and more involved with the environmental movement. By this time, of course, I had overcome ideas from my younger days that being a professional conservationist was a lightweight sort of thing. As a graduate student, I used to think that realscientists were supposed to spend their lifetimes buried in a lab. Well, I’ve come a hundred and eighty degrees since then. In the summer of 1976, I was asked to address a film-and-lecture conference in Syracuse, New York. So I went there and discussed the ecology of coral reefs, including some of the serious changes that have been taking place in them. Naturally, I was interested in what the other speakers had to say, and one of them was Dr. Roger Payne. He’s a well-known expert on whales, and he had made recordings of the songs of humpback whales, which at that time had recently been issued. I listened to him in utter fascination, and after the presentation Roger and I talked on into the night and into the early hours of the morning. Eventually we said, ‘Listen, we each have an area of expertise. What if we were to work together and start looking at whales the way Jane Goodall looks at chimpanzees?’ In other words, what if we could get close enough to the whales, and spend enough time with them in the water, so that we could get to know them as individuals, the way Jane Goodall had come to know chimpanzees in the years she lived in Tanzania? No one had ever done that.”
As a result of that late-night talk, Sylvia and Roger Payne decided to combine forces. Sylvia enlisted Al Giddings in the project, and after a lot of hard work—approaching foundations, and managing to secure the interest of a British film company called Survival Anglia—a project got under way which was to last several years. From January through March of 1977, Sylvia lived on a boat off the Hawaiian Islands with Payne and his wife, Katherine, who is a zoologist, and a photographic team led by Giddings and his chief assistant, Chuck Nicklin. At times, Sylvia and other team members would leave the main vessel and go out in a Zodiac—an inflatable rubber boat—from which they would use either snorkels or scuba equipment or rebreathers and venture fifty or more feet down to swim or drift among the whales, which, they determined, were often in family groups.
“We really did get to know them as individuals,” Sylvia told me. “And in the process we learned a great deal about how whales behave. They’re so huge, but they’re not at all what people imagine—they don’t move along like Greyhound buses. In the water, a whale is as supple as an otter. And when they sang underwater it was uncanny. You could feel your whole body vibrating.”
After that stay in Hawaii, the project continued throughout 1977, entailing a second trip to Hawaii and trips to waters off New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and Bermuda. There was also an extended stay in waters off Alaska, where Chuck Jurasz—whom I was to meet in Valdez—became a principal participant. Jurasz, through his Sea Search, Ltd., specializes in the behavior of marine mammals, and most of the Alaskan filming was done from his boat, the Ginjur. Repeated voyages stretched the whale project into 1980. “As we had planned, a film did emerge, and I think it transmits some of the glory of that experience,” Sylvia said. The hour-long film, “Gentle Giants of the Pacific,” is narrated by Richard Widmark, and it contains scenes of humpback whales living their daily lives in both tropical and arctic waters—scenes that, along with other work done on the project, proved that Pacific whales migrate from Hawaii to Alaska in the summertime.
The whale project affected her life strongly in another way, Sylvia explained: “That was the first time—aside from my research on seaweeds, as a graduate student—that I had consciously said, ‘This is something I want to do, and I’ll go out and beat on doors to find financial support, and do it.’ Because up to then, I realized, most of what I had been doing—in terms of expeditions and so on—had been reacting to opportunities. Someone would invite me along on an expedition, and I would go. Of course, many of those experiences had been wonderful. But now, in a new way, I was beginning to take control of my own life.” Meanwhile, Sylvia said, she continued to see a good deal of her parents. But in the late nineteen-seventies her father’s health deteriorated, and eventually there were nursing-home expenses, which Sylvia helped to defray, together with her two brothers—Lewis, who is a dentist in Orlando, and Evan, who runs the family electrical business in Dunedin. Since her father’s death eight years ago, Sylvia’s mother has continued to live on four acres or so of land, with its own little lake, in Dunedin.
During Sylvia’s years with the whales, she was also in demand as a writer, a lecturer, and a participant in a number of organizations dealing with the oceans or with conservation issues. She was appointed a trustee of the World Wildlife Fund and became associated with a variety of other environmentally concerned groups, including the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, and the President’s National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere. For several years, she also served as an unpaid consultant to the designers of epcot’s Living Seas Pavilion, in Florida. While continuing her work at the California Academy of Sciences, she was also travelling all over the world to participate in meetings and conferences. (I first encountered her in St. Louis, in 1982, when she was co-moderator, with the actor Cliff Robertson, of the Charles A. Lindbergh Fund’s annual awards dinner. She had been elected to the Fund’s board the previous year.) A series of other honors and awards came her way, too, the highest of which—for a scientist—may be having had a number of species of marine plants and animals named for her. In 1986, a life-size figure of Sylvia Earle was installed in Hydrolab, which was being retired to the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington.
Meanwhile, she had formed a close working relationship with Al Giddings, and in 1978 she and Giddings and Christopher Dann, a former director of the World Wildlife Fund, recruited several other leaders in science and environmentalism to create the Ocean Trust Foundation. This was a nonprofit organization that would enlist well-known marine scientists to do on-site research in the world’s oceans and, in the process, to create films not unlike Cousteau’s. Sylvia mortgaged her house so that an old Coast Guard minesweeper could be purchased and converted into an up-to-date research ship. While the research ship was being outfitted in San Francisco, Sylvia continued with her manifold activities, taking the whale film to the Soviet Union and then to Hong Kong and China, where she met Mme. Sun Yatsen. “Madame Sun invited us to dinner, so that we could show the film to her friends and members of her staff,” Sylvia recalled. “I think they had a hard time getting their minds around what they were actually seeing. It was just so far removed from anything they had even thought about before.”
In September, 1979, Sylvia journeyed to Hawaii to participate in a project that was to result in the Jim dive, the deepest dive ever made without a cable to the surface, which was to earn her the sobriquet Her Deepness. She and Giddings had already collaborated on several articles and films and were now gathering information for two new, related undertakings. They were preparing a book titled “Exploring the Deep Frontier” for the National Geographic Society, and Giddings was assembling material for an ABC television special to be called “Mysteries of the Sea.” For both these projects, Sylvia wanted to use a diving system called Jim—often referred to as a Jim suit—which recently had been modernized by the British engineer Graham Hawkes. She also was eager to evaluate Jim for scientific use—until then it had been used mainly for industrial purposes. A Jim suit is a descendant of the cumbersome, extremely heavy metal diving suits that were used as early as the nineteen-twenties to lower a person, via a cable, a few hundred feet. A diver named Jim Jarratt was the first to wear one of those suits, the Iron Man (he used it in 1935 to find the sunken Lusitania at a depth of three hundred and thirty feet, off the coast of Ireland), and today’s Jim suits—there are now thirteen of them—are named for him.
The pressurized Jim suit that Sylvia wore looked something like an astronaut’s space suit, and with good reason, since the purpose of the suit is to maintain a normal atmosphere inside while sealing out a hostile environment. Sylvia’s Jim suit was made of plastics and magnesium alloy. Its head and body were in one curved piece and were mostly white. Each multi-jointed arm, or manipulator, was black and ended in a fierce-looking metal pincer. There were joints between the body and the fat black-and-white legs, which had knee joints and ended in stubby boots. Inside Jim, Sylvia had some room to shift around—for instance, she could pull her arms out of the suit’s arms in order to write in her notebook. She could also move her head freely and was able to see through four acrylic portholes—one directly in front of her face, one above her head, and one on each side. On Jim’s back, like a knapsack, was a rebreather. Walking in the suit was difficult and very slow, but after some practice, Sylvia says, she became adept at it.
As Sylvia prepared to descend into the ocean, Graham Hawkes—whom she had just met—was in communication with her from the Holokai, a support ship. Meanwhile, Giddings and a veteran pilot named Bohdan Bartko were inside a submersible called Star II, which was to transport her downward, and to which she would remain connected throughout her dive by an eighteen-foot tether. Sylvia, inside Jim, was also attached by a safety belt to a platform extending from the bow of Star II. A similar Jim system had been used a year or so earlier to carry a person down to fourteen hundred and forty feet off the coast of Spain, but in that operation the diver had been lowered and raised by a cable. What Sylvia was doing now was far more dangerous, because if anything went seriously wrong at the depths she was heading for it would be almost impossible to rescue her.
The dive began as a multi-piggyback operation. First, Star II, with Sylvia attached to it, had been placed aboard a launch-recovery transport, or L.R.T., a flat-decked underwater vehicle that, from a position alongside the Holokai, descended to sixty feet. Then Star II—a bulbous little submersible that looked as if it had piscine antecedents—used its own power to leave the L.R.T. and carry Sylvia toward the bottom. On earlier trials over the past few days, Sylvia’s dives had been cancelled twice when communications abruptly failed. This time, communications seemed normal. Every hundred feet or so, Giddings would report the depth, and while Sylvia made scientific observations she was entranced to see swarms of tiny luminous creatures through the portholes—hitherto unknown forms of life. For about a half hour, Star II cruised above a seafloor that was gradually sloping downward, in an area where—as in more than ninety per cent of the ocean—no one had ever been. At twelve hundred and fifty feet, Giddings told her that Bartko recommended that they end their descent, because the current was picking up, and also because they had already used up a lot of power and breathable air. Bartko stabilized the sub by venting air from its ballast tanks, and then Giddings turned a handle which released the safety belt that had held the Jim-suited aquanaut in place. Moving slowly, Sylvia stepped onto the ocean floor.
In “Exploring the Deep Frontier” she wrote of what she experienced then:
As I stepped from the platform, I was aware that I was venturing onto terrain in some ways comparable to the surface of the moon. Not only do the slopes and craggy ridges of the deep seafloor resemble a moonscape, but they also are equally unexplored. And, until recently, they have been just as inaccessible. There is a significant difference, however. Astronauts on the moon have been impressed with its bleak, stark barrenness. . . . In the extreme darkness of the deep sea, a small circle of light from Star II illuminated for the first time a dozen or so long-legged, bright-red galatheid crabs swaying on the branches of a pink sea fan; a small, sleek, dark brown lantern fish darting by with lights glistening along its sides; an orange fish and several plumelike sea pens clinging to the rocky bottom near the edge of visibility. And when I turned away from the sub’s lights, I could see sparks of living light, blue-green flashes of small, transparent creatures brushing against my faceplate. . . . As I wandered through the area, the sub powering along behind, I concentrated on observing the corals, especially the bioluminescent spirals of bamboo. Why do they pulse with light? Why do they glow at night? How do they and their neighbors survive in the eternal night of the deep sea?
Questions like these could be posed about underwater life the world over, and, as Sylvia often points out, most of them have yet to be answered. Now, for about two and a half hours, Sylvia walked—with extreme effort, since at those pressures Jim’s joints tend to get arthritic—over the ocean floor. When Giddings told her that time was up, she says, she thought that only about twenty minutes had gone by. Since Jim is not agile enough to permit her to return easily to the sub’s platform and be strapped back onto it, Star II’s long return trip to the surface was made with Sylvia dangling beneath it from her eighteen-foot tether.
When news of her dive began to spread, it made an impact both on the public and in scientific circles. The ABC television special, which was narrated by William Holden, was broadcast in 1980, and “Exploring the Deep Frontier” was published the same year. When Sylvia talks about the dive nowadays, she is apt to concentrate on the exhilaration she felt and on the beauties of the deep, dark sea. (This is typical Earle. She is loath to talk about underwater perils or numbing ordeals. Such things are not nearly as bad as what you encounter on the streets of New York or on any highway, she says.) But in fact her dive did involve serious risks. There were hundreds of things that might have gone wrong, among them another communications failure, a failure of her air supply, and a failure of the suit’s insulation. A serious leak in the suit would have subjected Sylvia to the tremendous pressure of the water at that depth—about six hundred pounds per square inch—which would have crushed her.
“Sylvia really does have nerves of steel,” Giddings told me later. “She and I have been on some very hairy diving expeditions together—I mean deep-water business, and long exposures, and shark situations, and so on. And Sylvia is a rare combination of the scientist who’s incredibly bright and articulate and also very brave. She’s very physical, very capable in the water, and she just knows all the parameters and possibilities of physiology, physics, and the mechanical aspects of what she’s doing. That Jim-suit dive in Hawaii was very risky. I was very nervous about the whole thing. In fact, she and I had breakfast one morning, and I was leaning into it just a bit much. I was saying, ‘What if this happens? What if thathappens?’ We were getting down to some real nitty-gritty stuff, and Sylvia decided she didn’t want to hear any more about it, and that was the end of our breakfast. She wasn’t huffy about it. She just got up and left.”
Her Deepness—when I visited her one morning in her office at a company called Deep Ocean Engineering, in San Leandro, just south of the Oakland Airport—was wearing a navy-blue suit, a white shirt, dark stockings, and black pumps. It was around ten o’clock, but she had already been at her office for several hours. (One secret of her success, it is rumored, is that she is able to get by on three or four hours’ sleep, night after night. According to another rumor, she catches up on sleep at the hairdresser’s.) Her office appears designed for efficiency. It is medium-sized and fluorescent-lighted, and without windows, but it has a door opening toward other offices and another door opening toward the company’s workshop and design studio. On one wall was a map of the world studded with hundreds of colored pushpins representing places she has dived, and on a table was a small model of a submersible called Deep Rover, which Graham Hawkes designed, and which Sylvia pioneered after its launching in June, 1984. Deep Rover is a compact, bubble-shaped craft, and it is one of the first tetherless submersibles designed to hold one person; most previous submersibles were much larger and heavier and held two or more people.
Sylvia made a couple of brief phone calls, and then settled down to tell me something about the way her life had continued to change and expand in the late nineteen-seventies, as she became more involved with advanced marine technology.
As Sylvia described her first meeting with Graham Hawkes, at the time of the Jim dive in Hawaii, it sounded like something out of a romantic comedy in which the hero and heroine “meet cute.” She said, “The first engineering discussion that I can remember with Graham was when I was complaining about the manipulator arm of Jim. I said, ‘That stupid pincer! All I can do is reach out, and things just fly right through its jaws! It’s like having a pair of pliers on the end of a stick!’ It was only later that I found out that he had designed it. I was so embarrassed. I must say that he was very good about it. And also, in talking with Graham I began to realize what a really difficult engineering challenge it is to build a manipulator that has a human arm on the inside and the pressure of the deep sea on the outside. It’s no mean task.”
Not surprisingly, Sylvia and Graham continued to talk with each other. At first, they focussed on the goal of going still deeper in the ocean. The difficulties were—and continue to be—daunting. For one thing, a person must be able to breathe. For another thing, a diver wants to be able to function—to move about, to perform tasks, to communicate with people on the surface—while at pressures that could prove fatal.
“So I learned a lot,” Sylvia said. “Even though I’d already had a lot of underwater experience, I discovered that things that sound dead simple can be extremely difficult and challenging and hard to overcome in an engineering sense. I mean, here I was talking with this extremely creative engineer, and I would say, ‘Why can’t we just jump into the water and go down to the bottom of the ocean? We climb mountains, don’t we? We go up in airplanes, don’t we? We’ve even gone into space.’ Jim was rated to go down two thousand feet—and I was just stubborn enough to say, ‘O.K., why can’t we build vehicles to go seven miles down—the deepest known place in the sea?’ “
After the Jim dive, Sylvia and Graham began a correspondence, and they also bumped into each other at various gatherings. When they were in Washington for the publication of “Exploring the Deep Frontier,” while having breakfast one morning they discussed the possibility of designing a one-person submersible that would be able to travel underwater with complete freedom, unconnected to anything at the surface. Many engineers insist on tethers, since they seem to provide a strong safety factor—a sure way of hauling somebody out of the water in an emergency. But Sylvia has always disliked tethers, believing that they are more trouble than they are worth. Since they can easily get tangled or snagged, she says, they may actually be more dangerous than simply venturing out on your own. Graham began sketching on a napkin, and the sketch turned out to be the first involving the craft that eventually became Deep Rover.
Several months later, Sylvia and Graham ran into each other at a meeting in San Francisco, and this time he showed her evidence of the progress he had been making in manipulator design. They soon began talking seriously about starting a venture together—one that would focus on developing new technology to increase access to the ocean. After a good deal of soul-searching, Graham decided to leave the company he was with in England and move to the United States, and after still more soul-searching, he and Sylvia decided that the best way of achieving their goal was to forgo the usual philanthropic-grant approach—becoming dependent on foundations and so forth—and to join the free-enterprise system.
In July, 1981, they pooled their resources and founded Deep Ocean Technology, or D.O.T. The next year, they created Deep Ocean Engineering, a sister company with a different financial structure. Graham became president and chief executive officer, and Sylvia became vice-president and secretary-treasurer. (Today, Graham has taken on the more technical duties of chief engineer and chief operating officer, and Sylvia is president and C.E.O.) From the beginning, the two companies set up an advisory board to help oversee the course of research and development. The board now includes such people as Dr. Edwin E. (Buzz) Aldrin, Jr., the astronaut; Dr. John Craven, the director of the Law of the Sea Institute at the University of Hawaii; Dr. Paul MacCready, who is the first person to have developed successful means of human-powered flight and solar-powered flight; Dr. Bruce Robison, who is a senior scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute; Dr. Jacques Piccard, who, together with his father, Auguste Piccard, pioneered deep-diving submersibles in the nineteen-fifties; and Dr. Don Walsh, who in 1960, with Jacques Piccard, used the Piccard bathyscaphe Trieste to become one of the only human beings ever to descend to the deepest known place in the ocean—a spot thirty-seven thousand and five hundred feet down, in the Mariana Trench, off Guam. (A bathyscaphe resembles a dirigible, and Piccard and Walsh’s descent, a United States Navy project, was a sort of inverse balloon ride. For reasons having to do with a dearth of funding and a puzzling lack of interest in official quarters, no one has attempted to dive nearly as deep since. Sylvia says that one of her fondest hopes is to be able to descend to that depth someday, with a new kind of equipment—probably designed by Hawkes—which will enable her to move about and do scientific work on the very bottom of the sea.)
“No over-all national policy exists for developing this sort of technology,” Sylvia told me, with a trace of indignation. “There is no underwater equivalent of nasa, and there never has been. This means that we are more committed to going to other planets—and I’m all for space exploration, by the way—than we are to getting to the more than seventy per cent of our own planet that has never been explored. There is some very limited funding for underwater research through the National Science Foundation. And, of course, there’s noaa, which is a very valuable body, but, again, it does not provide a lot of funding for underwater activities. Graham and I discussed all this, and it was obvious that the main source of funding for underwater technology is industry. So we decided that if we were to go ahead with our scientific-research vehicles we might be able to finance them by building equipment that would appeal to the offshore-oil industry. And, as a person who is passionate about the environment, I see no contradiction in this, since the kind of equipment we make should, if anything, help the oil industry to take better care of its rigs and to perform more safely. For example, some of our equipment can make well blowouts much less likely. Personally, I’d like to see the world switch to alternative forms of energy—like solar and wind—as soon as possible. But for the near future, anyway, the oil industry is there, whether we like it or not.”
The new companies set up offices and a workshop in this warehouse-like building in San Leandro. In the meantime, Giddings’ work had taken him more toward Hollywood—he went on to do underwater photography for action-adventure films like “The Deep” and “The Abyss”—and the Ocean Trust Foundation was put on hold. One of the first vehicles that Graham worked to complete was Deep Rover, and when it was launched five years ago it created a lot of comment among marine scientists. For one thing, it was relatively light and cheap. While Deep Rover cost around six hundred and fifty thousand dollars and can be launched in a number of fairly simple ways, a larger and heavier submersible (like Alvin, the Navy-owned vehicle that Dr. Robert Ballard used in 1986 in exploring the wreck of the Titanic) can cost several million dollars, is apt to rent for around thirty thousand dollars a day, and can be launched only from a dedicated support ship. Also—through somewhat crabbed reasoning—submersible designers used to believe that scientists were either too inept or too absent-minded to operate an underwater vehicle, so trained pilots had to be employed. But Sylvia and other scientists soon began using Deep Rover in many kinds of aquatic situations, easily proving that an advanced degree does not disqualify someone from sitting at the controls of a sub.
Soon after moving to the Bay Area, Graham, who has four children from an earlier marriage, moved into Sylvia’s house in the Oakland hills. Before long, he set up a design studio behind the house, with a glass-walled southern exposure facing the swimming pool that doubles as a testing tank. To the surprise of almost no one, Sylvia and Graham were married in May, 1986.
Since Sylvia was obliged to go over some records with the company’s accountant, I stepped out into the design-and-workshop portion of the building. D.O.E. employs about twenty-five people—a noticeably enthusiastic bunch—and several of them were busy at workbenches or drafting tables. Bending over a silicon-intensified camera was a quiet fellow with reddish-blond hair, who turned out to be Sylvia’s son, Richie. Both he and his sister Elizabeth work here full-time; their younger sister, Gale, is away at college. As I wandered around the workshop, I saw enough mechanical, electrical, electronic, and miscellaneous space-age paraphernalia to delight the heart of just about any inquisitive child. I also saw designs for one of Graham Hawkes’ new vehicles, to be called Deep Flight, which will—astonishingly enough—be the equivalent of an underwater airplane. Deep Flight, I learned, will be shaped very much like an aircraft, will carry one person lying prone, and will be able to descend to four thousand feet and travel at speeds up to fifteen knots. (Nothing like this exists in the civilian market; it is thought that advanced craft may be under development in top-secret military programs, but if so they are under heavy wraps.) Deep Flight is expected to be launched by the end of this year.
The next morning, I accompanied Sylvia, Graham Hawkes, and several D.O.E. staffers on a trip aboard the Cobra, a ninety-six-foot fishing boat. The Navy had expressed interest in buying two remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs, which D.O.E. makes under the name Phantom, and had sent a team of experts—six young guys in T-shirts—from Maryland to do test runs on the vehicles. We boarded the Cobra in Richmond Marina Bay Harbor, some ten miles north of Oakland, and for a couple of hours Graham Hawkes and his people busied themselves loading and adjusting equipment. Shortly before we sailed, Graham told me something about the Phantoms, which he had designed and which the company began producing in 1985. Graham is a native of London, a self-contained man in his early forties who might be likened to a pensive owl, but he can spring into animation at a moment’s notice. By the time he met Sylvia, in Hawaii, at the time of her Jim dive, he had designed and built several ingenious underwater vehicles. (Soon after that dive, Graham played the role of an underwater villain in the James Bond film “For Your Eyes Only,” piloting a vehicle of his own design, called a Mantis, in combat with submarine pilot Bond, played by Roger Moore. Graham likes to tell how he could not keep from bursting into laughter during the filming. It is his only feature-film appearance to date.)
“These two Phantoms are heavy-duty models—we call them HVS4s,” Graham told me. “They can go down to fifteen hundred feet and travel at speeds in excess of four knots, which is fast for this kind of beast.” The vehicles were now on deck in bright sunlight; each was a sleek, flat, streamlined object—small enough to fit into the trunk of a car—painted a brilliant orange, with a couple of rakishly tilted fins and six thrusters, or propellers. Each Phantom had a video camera in its nose, two small headlights, contact sensors, color sonar, and other accoutrements, and Graham explained that they could also be equipped with a variety of tools, including a cable cutter, and a suction device (or slurp gun) to bring back marine specimens. Each vehicle was now attached to a long cable, rolled on a drum, that would carry electrical power and electronic information to consoles set up in the cabin. I knew that this sort of automated vehicle had gained popularity lately, and that some experts, including Robert Ballard, believe the future of marine exploration should be pretty much confined to robotic devices. But Graham and Sylvia, who is passionate on the subject, believe that despite all the difficulties and risks, people should continue to go down into the sea. Sylvia once told me, “I can’t imagine that human beings will ever be content to stand on the shore and watch.”
The Cobra left the dock at around noon, and by early afternoon we had passed beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and entered the Pacific Ocean, where the Phantoms were lowered overboard and put through their paces. In action, the vehicles looked almost lifelike as they darted forward and backward, dived in a rush of bubbles, and resurfaced with a splash. By evening, we had drawn near the Farallon Islands, three rocky prominences about thirty miles offshore, inhabited mainly by birds. The islands were shrouded in ominous-looking mists, and the Pacific had been rough all day, but Graham had foreseen that the waters in the islands’ lee might be somewhat calmer, and over the next couple of hours the Phantom trials proceeded as we lay anchored there. (Ultimately, the Navy experts were satisfied with the vehicles’ performance, and after we returned to shore the sale was consummated.)
Then, when it had become quite dark, and despite the boat’s continual pitching and rolling, which had caused more than one green-complexioned passenger to take cover, Sylvia went below and changed into a navy-blue wetsuit and hood and a blue buoyancy compensator—an inflatable vestlike device, with a small yellow tank of compressed air strapped to it. Carrying a camera, she came back up to the afterdeck. After slipping on the rest of her gear, which included transparent fins, she plunged into the water. For a long time, there were no signs of Sylvia. It was a good twenty minutes before her head reappeared above the water, her face mask glittering in the boat’s lights. She climbed back onto the deck—shivering slightly—pulled off her mask, and announced, “It was wonderful! I’ve been swimming with sea lions!”
In August of last year, Sylvia and Graham and a couple of D.O.E. staff members travelled to Crater Lake National Park, in the high Cascade Mountains, in southern Oregon, to participate in an exploration of the lake involving the submersible Deep Rover. From the time I had first heard about that vehicle, I had been eager to see it in action, so I joined them in Oregon for a few days in order to watch them working with a scientific team that was engaged in a study of the lake’s ecology. The most startling thing about Crater Lake, when you first see it, is its color. When early explorers first sighted it in 1853, they called it Deep Blue Lake, since it is so clear and so deep that, from any distance, even from a few inches away, its water appears to be an impossible shade of blue—so unbelievably intense that it might have been colored with cobalt pigment. The explorers also found the lake to be mysterious and a bit menacing—qualities that still impress visitors. Geologists have determined that the lake, some six thousand feet above sea level, was formed after a huge volcano erupted and then collapsed about seven thousand years ago, creating a nearly circular caldera—an enormous basin in which, from rain and snow and runoff, the lake eventually formed. It has neither inlet nor outlet, maintaining its water at a fairly constant level entirely through evaporation, seepage, and precipitation. The volcano’s remnants form the lake’s rim, which rises in most places to about a thousand feet above the water. The lake is some six miles in diameter, and about nineteen hundred feet deep at the lowest point: it is the deepest freshwater lake in the United States and the seventh deepest in the world. Surrounding the lake are sheer cliffs, bizarre rock outcroppings, and jagged, unearthly-looking peaks.
The exploration of Crater Lake was being carried out by a group of oceanographers and biologists from Oregon State University, who were coöperating with the United States Geological Survey and the National Park Service in an effort to map the underwater contours of the lake more thoroughly than they had been mapped in the past. In particular, the scientists were searching for the presence of hydrothermal vents—openings in the floor of a body of water through which superheated, mineral-rich water flows or bubbles up from substrata. Though nobody expects the ancient mountain to erupt any time soon, thermal activity does exist in the region, which means that the volcano, or what is left of it, is still active. (One reason for the scientists’ interest in thermal vents here was that a commercial company had recently begun tapping some geothermal springs a few miles east of the lake, for electrical power. Environmentalists fear that, because all the thermal activity in the area is thought to be interconnected, this exploitation of nearby hot springs may damage the ecology of the lake, with its extraordinarily pure water.)
When Sylvia and Graham first joined the others at the lake, it was a sunny but chilly morning. Deep Rover had been lowered to the lake’s surface by helicopter a few days earlier (even after all these years, the only access to Crater Lake is by a mile-long, tortuous footpath). By early afternoon, some fifteen people, mostly swimsuited scientists and park rangers, were on a small pontoon boat and a barge that was roped against it, floating about a mile from the lake’s north rim. The barge was shaped like a square doughnut, and Deep Rover was suspended by a winch above the doughnut’s square hole, from a tubular metal A-frame that straddled the barge. At a glance, Deep Rover suggests something out of “Star Trek.” Its main element is a transparent sphere five feet in diameter, which—iridescent in the sunlight—looked about as insubstantial as a soap bubble, but which is made of acrylic plastic five inches thick. Closer examination shows the sphere to be two hemispheres hinged on top and joined by a rubber O-ring, so that they can be opened just enough for a person to slide through. The sphere—the vehicle’s pressure hull—rests on a rectangular black unit, mostly of aluminum, which is about six by eight by three feet and which contains batteries and other equipment. Attached to a metal framework surrounding the sphere are four shielded and adjustable thrusters, which enable the craft to move in any direction underwater. Mounted on each side of the vehicle is a jointed metal-and-plastic manipulator about six feet long, which can be used for grasping, lifting, cutting, and other tasks. The submersible is also equipped with a depth gauge, lights, still and video cameras, a gyrocompass, sonar, and various types of communications.
Sylvia was wearing faded jeans, a plum-colored sweatshirt, a white plastic visor, and white sweatsocks (she had taken off her sneakers), and after she had conferred with Graham for a couple of minutes she climbed into Deep Rover’s transparent cabin. Then she sat down in an aircraft-pilot-type armchair and began to study the monitoring equipment and other devices that she would be using during her dive. Her main tasks, as she took the craft toward the bottom, would be to note topographic features and to look for evidence of living things, especially the kind that favor thermal vents, at extreme depths. She donned a headset and used her transmitter to speak with a tall young man named Steve Fuzessery, who was standing under a canopy on the pontoon boat. Fuzessery is an engineer with Can-Dive Services, of British Columbia, the company that had hired D.O.E. to build Deep Rover. Soon two sunburned park rangers began turning a large screw device, and as it brought the hemispheres together Sylvia started breathing Deep Rover’s self-contained air supply. She was now sealed in at the same atmospheric pressure as at the surface; this pressure would be maintained during her dive, no matter how deep she went or how long she stayed there, providing she did not exceed the vehicle’s capabilities. (Deep Rover has most often been used to descend a few hundred feet, in dives lasting a few hours; however, Graham designed it to go as deep as three thousand three hundred feet and to support life for a week.)
As Sylvia talked over the transmitter with Fuzessery, four men began to let out ropes that had been holding Deep Rover in place, while another man began turning the winch. Gradually, the vehicle descended through the barge’s square opening, and then, in a rush of ripples, it entered the water. As Sylvia, in her bubble, eased into the lake, two park rangers wearing scuba gear swam beside her, detaching the ropes from the craft and then releasing the hook from which it was suspended. The submersible continued to move smoothly downward, remaining visible in the water for another half minute or so, after which it seemed to melt into the cobalt vastness.
Soon, Sylvia’s voice could be heard over a speaker on the boat, saying in a businesslike way, “Topside, this is Deep Rover. I’m at six zero.”
On the boat, Fuzessery said into his headset, “O.K. Continue down.”
For a while, there was silence. After about three more minutes, Sylvia said, “I’m at one zero zero.”
“Roger. Depth one zero zero,” Fuzessery said.
“No fish down here,” Sylvia said. “I’ve got my manipulators ready.”
The transmitter exchanges were sporadic as Deep Rover continued its descent. Occasionally, contact was interrupted—probably because Deep Rover had strayed beyond the transmitter’s limits—and when this happened the topside personnel were usually able to get Sylvia to make a specified number of transmissions with an electronic sounder, or pinger, to indicate that she could still hear them, even if they could not hear her. At thirteen hundred feet, she reported that it was getting much darker, and at fourteen hundred and fifty feet that it was “very gray, going to black.” At fifteen hundred and sixteen feet, she reported that she had landed on the bottom—the deepest point in this part of the lake. Though there was no reason for her to mention it, she must have realized—as we all did—that she was the first human being ever to be there.
For several minutes, there was no word from Sylvia. Then her voice came over the radio saying, “I am at fifteen hundred and ten feet. There’s a sloping thing here—it looks like snow. Interior temperature seventy-six point five. Oh-two percentage, twenty-one point two. Battery voltage, twelve point two. Visibility, fifteen feet.” From reports she gave over the next few minutes, the group on the boat understood that she was moving the vehicle both laterally and vertically upward, along what she described as a sort of overhanging cliff. She said, “There are rocks here, still covered heavily with what looks like snow.” A few minutes later, she said, “There are things growing on rocks at eleven hundred feet. Some kind of periphyton.” Still later, she reported, “A vertical face—I found something that looks like moss.” For fairly long stretches, there was little or no communication between the submersible and the boat, and at times there was only the eerily opaque sound of Deep Rover’s pinger.
After two and a half hours, during much of which Sylvia kept the support team informed of what she was seeing, of her instrument readings, and of how she was maneuvering the vehicle, she reported that she was bringing it back toward the surface. For a very long minute, everyone kept an eye on the horizon, looking for the craft, which might appear in any direction. Then, about a hundred yards to the east, Deep Rover—the head of a glittering lake monster—bobbed into view. Two scuba divers began swimming toward the craft, and on reaching it they grasped its framework and began guiding it toward the barge. In a few more minutes, Deep Rover was back under the barge’s opening, where several men reattached the ropes and began winching it upward. Meanwhile, Sylvia sat inside the sphere reading instruments, consulting her log, and making notations. When Deep Rover had reached its stowed position, two men opened its hemispheres, and Sylvia gathered her working materials and stepped out onto the barge, smiling.
One of the first things Sylvia did was retrieve the moss she had brought back in her left manipulator. The moss was brownish and mushy-looking—totally unimpressive to my eyes—and while most of it would go to other members of the scientific team for analysis, Sylvia said that she intended to keep a small portion of it to study in her laboratory at home. This type of plant had never before been found at the freshwater depths where she had found it. (The exploration of Crater Lake went on for about three more weeks, at the end of which strong evidence—but no proof—had been found indicating that there are thermal vents on its bottom. Further exploration is planned for this summer.) With the day’s diving done, the men released ropes that lashed the barge against the boat and let it swing behind the boat, connected by one long line. Then the boat began towing the barge, with its gleaming cargo, to Wizard Island, a conical protuberance near the lake’s western rim, which was serving as the expedition’s base camp. After we had endured two more boat rides, a long climb up the winding trail to the lake’s rim, and a drive down several miles of twisting roads, Sylvia—who still seemed charged with energy—telephoned a colleague in California and urged him to join the team at Crater Lake, saying, “Diving in a volcanic crater that’s a mile in the sky—it’s just like going to the moon!”
As Sylvia prepared to leave Alaska in April, she was in a much more sombre mood than she had been at Crater Lake. On Monday afternoon—the day after she and Chuck Jurasz had collected herring roe within sight of the Exxon Valdez—I accompanied her on the plane back to San Francisco. During our flight, she sat next to the window, with a plastic cooler (too big to fit under the seat ahead of her) tucked under her feet. In jars inside the cooler—packed in snow and ice—were some of the herring roe and also some of the krill she had gathered near the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Terminal. Most of the specimens had been turned over to a scientific team in Valdez, but she had kept these samples for her own studies, which she and her son-in-law, Ed Miller, expected to carry out at the Steinhart Aquarium. As we talked, I asked Sylvia to sum up some of her feelings about the devastation we had just seen, and about its consequences in both environmental and human terms.
For a moment she was silent. Then she said, “How do you weigh the forever cost of this catastrophe? There has never been anything before of quite this magnitude—at least, not in an area so remote, with such cold waters, and so difficult to manage. I have to say I’m impressed with the dedication of all those people up there, and yet, in a way, much of what they’re doing may not bring great results. Sometimes our efforts to help are as bad as the problem itself. We know that the most serious effect on the environment may be going on beneath the surface of the ocean, often in ways that we don’t know enough about to comprehend. And anything we do will make a difference. For instance, Admiral Yost says that he intends to use steam-cleaning on the beaches, and some of the scientists favor that, too, but I’m opposed to it in most cases. It may make things look better in the most obvious places, but it’s bound to kill off practically everything that’s still alive there. Flushing with cold seawater would certainly be sounder, ecologically. I could go on, but what may be of most concern, ultimately, is those things that are not obvious, and often not visible. It’s not just the otters, or the birds, or the herring, or the magical beauty of Prince William Sound. It’s the countless invertebrates that live in the ocean and on the shores, it’s the diatoms, the phytoplankton and zooplankton, the amphipods, the mollusks and crustaceans, the little fish, the bigger fish that eat them, and on and on through the food chain. It’s the system.
“I think we should be very careful in drawing conclusions. Still, all in all, I believe that the whole Valdez situation is both better and worse than people imagine right now. It’s better in the sense that some of the beaches—like the one we were walking on yesterday—are not totally covered with oil. And life will go on. But it’s worse than people imagine in other ways. Take the otters: Even though some will survive, their community has been destroyed forever—that’s a very significant thing. I mean, if you take one of those traumatized otters and are able to nurse it back to health, then what do you do? Put it back into the water, I suppose. But where? An otter does not live as a lone being—sea otters are very tactile, very social creatures. Then, it won’t be long before the whales arrive in the area, and they will begin to suffer from the contamination, too. And, of course, in so many invisible ways the ecological balance in those waters has been changed forever. The sheen, and the mousse, and the blobs of asphaltlike material that form when the volatile components of the oil evaporate—all the contamination is not going to go away, even if it disappears from sight. It’s modified chemistry that worries me the most, in so many of the things that we continue to allow to happen on the earth.
“We haven’t yet understood—in the comprehensive way that some of us are just agonizing to make the world understand—that this is the system, this is the planet, on which we are all utterly dependent. Many of the people in Valdez and Cordova and the other communities up there are confused and angry now. They are undergoing enormous hardships that are economic and social and personal. I think they are terribly disillusioned with the oil companies, and possibly with the government, and it may be years—if ever—before they are able to reëstablish their way of life. But wherever on the planet we may live, this is a bite out of ourhide, too. Sometimes I wonder just how many more shocks the environment can take before something goes remarkably, irreversibly sour. Because once something is gone from this planet—any creature, any species, any system—no matter how many billions of dollars we throw at it, we will never be able to bring it back.”
Where once the prawn cocktail was a staple of the restaurant starter menu, calamari has now become a diner’s favourite. Stewed, fried, in salad or dried with coconut milk, squid has spread its tentacles across the menu of many high street restaurant chains.
Its rise in popularity has led the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) to increase the number of squid ratings in the latest version of its sustainable seafood advice.
Squid from Japan gets the green light but you should treat calamari from other fisheries with caution.
Squid stocks are thought to be as much affected by environmental pressures as fishing pressure, but fisheries still need to be well managed. Landings of squid worldwide have been increasing in recent years, and the MCS says that despite squids’ high growth rates, short lifespan and other favourable fishery characteristics, some precautionary management is needed.
“Japanese flying squid gets a score of a 2 which means it’s on our ‘Fish to Eat’ list’, says Bernadette Clarke, MCS Good Fish Guide Manager. “This is generally due to the highly selective and low impact fishing method known as jigging used in the fishery and the fact that stock assessment has been carried out. There’s also a low vulnerability score for the species, and management measures are applied in the fishery.”
Homboldt squid jigged in the East Central Pacific is not as sustainable and should be eaten only very, very occasionally.
This species is one of the most heavily fished squid species in the world and because fisheries occur on the high seas and are accessed by several countries their management is complicated by the occurrence of Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing.
Squid are caught using light attraction from glow in the dark jigs to high wattage surface lights. It’s still not clear why squid are attracted to the lights, but the light pollution from large-scale industrial squid fisheries is such that the glow from a single fishing fleet can apparently be seen from space
MCS says its advice is to choose squid from fisheries using low impact methods like small-scale jigging. “There’s one such fishery in Sennen Cove, Cornwall, where fishermen go out in small punts and fish for squid using jigs, “ says Bernadette Clarke. “Fisheries in UK waters tend to be small, seasonal and non-targeted.”
Squid – Good to Eat?
Argentine short fin squid, Illex argentinus
Argentine shortfin squid is a short-lived and fast growing species, yet it is a very valuable predator and prey for a wide range of species including: fishes, seabirds, sharks and marine mammals. The fishery is the second largest squid fishery in the world with catches ranging between 500,000 and a million tonnes. The vast majority of the catch is taken by large (over 50m) jigging vessels from several countries. As a result, coordinated international management is needed to manage the fishery sustainably, but this has been lacking since an international agreement between the Falkland Islands and Argentina broke down in 2005. This has led to overfishing in recent years.
This squid is likely to have significant environmental issues associated with its production – avoid.
Atlantic or European Squid, Loligo vulgaris, Loligo forbesi
Depending on how and where it’s caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. This is fine to eat when caught by small, local fisheries.
Japanese flying Squid, Todarodes pacificus
This is sustainabily caught and fine to eat. They are caught in the Northwest Pacific – East China Sea, Yellow Sea, Bo Hai Sea, Korea Bay – using jigs.
Homboldt or Jumbo Squid, Dosidicus gigas
Depending on how and where it’s caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Check individual options to make the best choice.
Indian Squid, Loligo duvauceli
This squid is caught at sea by pelagic trawl. Sustainability is yet to be assessed.
One of the most prevalent beliefs in recreational diving is that nitrox is used to dive deeper and stay longer. The reality is nitrox is a relatively shallow-water gas that can be used to extend bottom time at moderate depths, but can become toxic at deeper depths. As Divers Alert Network states:
"Today, nitrox mixes are readily available and prepared across a range of concentrations. It has a lot to offer divers, but it isn't magic; rather, it's a useful tool that provides benefits if used correctly. When diving according to air tables or using the air setting on a dive computer, nitrox can reduce decompression stress on a diver. When used with an equivalent air depth, this safety margin is lost, but bottom time can be extended.
"Nitrox is becoming more popular and accessible to recreational divers all the time, but it is not something to be taken lightly. It requires special training to be used properly and safely, so before you dive with it, be sure to get the necessary training and gain the appropriate certification."
Lionfish are one of the most spectacular fish you can encounter on your dives – and one of the fish that you need to treat with respect and maintain your distance… you don’t want to get stung by one.
The name lionfish does not just relate to their similarity in appearance to a lion with a wonderful mane, but also from their hunting tactics. The lionfish has enormous pectoral fins and this, together with it’s colorful stripes makes it an imposing underwater predator. Innocent prey is sought out and surrounded by the pack who then pounce when there is no escape.
Fishermen and divers can access a new, online interactive guide to learn more about the 64 artificial reefs in North Carolina. These underwater sites enhance fisheries that the coastal economy and culture rely on. Now, local scientists are involved in ongoing research to determine the best way to maximize fish production at artificial reefs.
The coast of North Carolina is known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic, where hundreds of ships have run aground or sunk to the depths of the sea. Can you imagine also that old train cars, aircraft, demolished bridges and construction waste lay on the ocean floor? It’s not a dump site. These manmade structures make up a collection of artificial reefs that serve as important habitat for fish and invertebrates. Divers are drawn to these sites where colorful sponges and coral grow on the repurposed material. Anglers frequent these fish oasis because of the variety and abundance of sea life they attract.
Who here isn’t familiar with that warm and wonderful sensation you get just a second after urinating in your wetsuit. That magical moment when you forget about the cold water around you and everything feels pleasant and fuzzy…
Probably only half of you will admit knowing that feeling, since the diving world is divided in two: Those who pee in their wetsuit with pride and those who will never admit doing it, or just never tried. Which half are you on?
Avoiding heart explosion
Let start with this – You pee in your wetsuit because you have no choice! This is backed up by very good physiological reasons. When our body is immersed in water, the blood volume increases. Luckily, our body has mechanisms to balance that out and keep our blood volume normal, so more blood will flow towards our kidneys and by releasing more liquid from the body, the blood volume will remain normal!
To make a long story short – you pee to prevent your heart from exploding. That reason alone is enough for me… But let’s continue anyway
August 22, 2016 July 15, 1942. America had been in World War II for less than a year, but the fight was coming to the nation’s shores. That day, off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, the German U-boat U-576 sank the Nicaraguan-flagged freighter SS Bluefields. But it came at a steep price – the merchant ship convoy and its U.S. military escorts fought back, sinking the U-boat within minutes as U.S. Navy air cover bombed the sub while the merchant ship Unicoi attacked it with its deck gun.
The freighter SS Bluefields was sunk by the German submarine U-576 in July 1942. The wrecks of the two ships were discovered in 2014 off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, only 240 yards apart.
NOAA and its partners will visit what remains of the two ships, documenting World War II’s “Battle of the Atlantic,” which pitted U-boats of the German navy against combined Canadian, British, and American forces defending Allied merchant ships.
A recent study found that 90 percent of seabirds have eaten plastic, and a lot of that plastic comes from the rings that hold together six-packs of beer, soda and other beverages. The marine life that lives in the oceans ingest plastics, too. These toxic plastics harm the health of our sea life, often killing them.
Saltwater Brewery in Florida created a six-pack ring that feeds animals instead of killing them. Many six-pack rings from beer end up in the ocean, so the brewery took barley and wheat remnants from the brewing process and turned them into an edible, compostable, biodegradable product that holds together a six-pack but doesn't harm birds or sea life if it ends up in the ocean. It's also strong enough to handle the weight of a six-pack.
This is the first time a 100 percent edible and biodegradable packaging has been implemented in the beer industry. The manufacturing cost of the edible six-pack ring raises the price of the beer, but the narrator of the video points out that if most breweries implemented this safe and sustainable product, the cost would be competitive with the plastic six-pack rings. Hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved.
Why has no one thought of this before? In addition to being impressed by this product, I'm wondering how quickly I can put together a business plan, get funding and partner with Saltwater Brewery to open up a plant that can produce edible six-pack rings for all breweries.
I bet there's money to be made from this smart, responsible idea.
Sharks never cease to captivate our imaginations. Strange, scary, beautiful, powerful, unique, special ... the long list of descriptors would dwarf a whale shark! Sharks have had hundreds of millions of years to evolve and dominate the sea as perfectly honed predators. The more we study them, the more surprises they reveal. Here are just a few fascinating facts about sharks around the world.
An emergency ascent is the response of last resort to an adverse event or perceived threat during a dive. Divers are trained in standard emergency ascent procedures that, when performed successfully, mitigate the dangers. However, few people practice these skills, and when called to perform them in a crisis, a diver may be at risk for serious injury or even death.