Everyone knows who Sylvia Earle is, right? Not so. Despite the fact that she's been at the forefront of marine science and ocean exploration for more than 40 years, she is not a household name. But she REALLY should be. She began diving with early SCUBA gear when she was in college and since then, has accumulated more than 7000 diving hours studying marine plants and animal life all over the world.
A turning point in her career came in 1970 when she led a team of woman Aquanauts in a two week research expedition in an underwater lab called Tektite. When the women emerged from their decompression chamber after living underwater for two weeks, the world embraced them as heroes. She was thrust into a spotlight as an ocean expert and pioneer of saturation diving and underwater research. Since then, she has continued to travel the globe and speak passionately and persuasively on ocean conservation.
We were thrilled to have a chance to meet Dr. Sylvia Earle and profile her on QUEST. Joan Johnson, the Associate Producer of the segment, was especially excited: Dr. Earle has been one of her idols since her former life as a marine biologist. Although I was also a burgeoning biologist at one point in my life, I had not heard of Dr. Earle until a couple of years ago when we featured her former husband and design partner, Graham Hawkes, in a earlier QUEST episode. We've wanted to feature her since then but she’s incredibly busy, traveling and speaking about ocean issues most of the year. In the two month window in which we wanted to film her, she was going to be on the road (in the air, under the water) no less than 50 days, with trips to Monaco, Rome, Mexico and the South Pacific.
Although I had envisioned a story where we actually get to know her, meet her family, spend time with her at her home in Oakland, cooking, playing with her dog on the beach; you know, find out what makes her "tick," I had to make due with three hours total in our KQED studio. So, Joan and I had to be VERY creative when figuring out the content of our story. Put another way, the only material that we shot of Sylvia Earle ourselves was a 2 hours interview. All the other footage in the story had to be researched, located, acquired and paid for. Thankfully, Sylvia Earle's life has been pretty well-documented in film and photography. But I know that if not for Joan's incredible resourcefulness and passion for the subject, this story would not have been possible. I had the easy part of the job: having a long conversation with an INCREDIBLE woman then writing about it. And I now have a new hero as well.