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8 Questions for Sylvia Earle

OCEAN CHAMPION Marine biologist Sylvia Earle describes the ocean as “the blue heart of the planet.” MONICA SCHIPPER—GETTY IMAGES FOR TORY BURCH FOUNDATION

Sylvia Earle is a marine biologist. She’s one of the ocean’s biggest defenders. TIME’s Aryn Baker spoke to her about protecting the seas and Earle’s dream of access to submersibles for all.

1. You’ve written several books about the ocean. Why this one—National Geographic Ocean: A Global Odyssey—and why now?

This book is my attempt to sum up what we know about the ocean. If you’ve got 10 minutes, you can sit down and learn something, with beautiful images.

2. Why is the ocean so important?

The ocean is where the action is. If I were an evil alien wishing to alter life on Earth, I would change the temperature of the ocean. That is what we are doing. The ocean is becoming more acidic.

3. What is the single most important thing we can do for the oceans today?

We’ve got to get over the idea that wildlife from the ocean is essential to food security. The more fish we take out of the sea, the more carbon dioxide carbon dioxide WILATLAK VILLETTE—GETTY IMAGES a gas that traps heat in Earth’s atmosphere and contributes to climate change (noun) Trees absorb carbon dioxide. gets released into the atmosphere.

4. What is the biggest threat to the ocean right now?

Deep-sea mining.

5. We’ve seen major losses of coral reefs. What gives you hope?

Yes, half the coral reefs are gone or in a state of sharp decline. But we’ve still got half of them left. We can reverse, to a very large extent, the harm we’ve imposed. Knowledge is the superpower of the 21st century. Even the smartest people alive when I was born did not know what 10-year-olds today have available to them. That’s truly cause for hope.

6. Ocean advocates have set a goal to protect 30% of the ocean by 2030. Can we achieve that?

COVID-19 showed us that we can change quickly when our lives are threatened. Climate is no different. Our existence is on the line. Thirty percent by 2030 is a good start. But I say half, as soon as we can.

7. What do you say to those experiencing climate anxiety?

It’s only hopeless when you give up. Change happens because of people who team up to inspire others.

8. What’s next for you?

I’ve committed to providing access to the sea with little submersibles submersible GREMLIN—GETTY IMAGES a small vehicle used underwater for deep-sea research (noun) The submersible helped the scientist make a discovery about sharks. . They will enable teachers, kids, librarians—anybody—to experience what only a few of us have been able to. I want them to dive down safely, come back, and spread the word about how glorious life is down below.

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