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5 questions with… Mission Blue founder Sylvia Earle

Business Ownership
Written by
Elodie Behravan

From a young age, Dr Sylvia Earle has had a zeal for science that would inevitably lead her to the ocean. Driven by a fascination for the vast ecosystems that both enable and sustain our earthly existence, Earle has directed her efforts towards the protection of our oceans through Mission Blue. Sylvia EarlePhoto: Sylvia EarleOver the years, as a scientist, oceanographer and explorer, Dr Sylvia Earle has witnessed a critical transformation in society’s attitude towards and aptitude for helping the oceans. On the one hand, the vast accumulation and dissemination of knowledge has bridged a stronger connection between the world and its natural heritage, making humanity more aware of the important ecosystems that power life on earth. Yet, in the same breath, technological advancements have enabled humans to fish and extract materials on an unsustainable scale. Armed with technologies that have unparalleled extractive capabilities and which have allowed us to clear cut the majority of the ocean, this 90% drop in sea life has far-reaching consequences. 

With this in mind, SuperYacht Times spoke to Dr Sylvia Earle, who has partnered up with the British leisure marine company, Camper & Nicholsons, to find out how superyacht owners can come together and help conserve our depleting marine wildlife. Superyachts at Monaco Yacht Show 2019Photo: SuperYacht TimesTalk me through the reasons behind beginning the partnership between Mission Blue and Camper & Nicholsons.

Mission Blue was started ten years ago in a bid to enhance public awareness and support for the protection of our remaining marine wildlife. We implement communication campaigns that promote Hope Spots - areas that are critical to the health of the ocean - and encourage the development of new submersibles that can increase access to the sea, not just for learned scientists, but for people of all sorts working within deep ocean exploration and research. 

To enable the conservation of nature on an international level, we have decided to work with Camper & Nicholsons. Together with the company Esri - a GIS data gathering entity - we aim to develop a framework of data gathering that makes information more accessible so that people can track changes over time. The ultimate goal is to identify areas in the ocean that are either in great shape and should be protected and maintained that way, or to look at places like San Francisco Bay that have been greatly modified over time. There are now more than 130 places around the world with communities who are stepping up to protect and restore health to areas by working with local, state or national governments. By taking action now, we can make them better than they otherwise would be if we continue down the pathway of pollution and extraction. Sylvia EarlePhoto: Sylvia EarleYacht owners’ vessels have been used for research and for the exploration of our marine environment in order to better work out how to protect it. How else can superyacht owners help with the protection of marine life?

There are many contributions that yacht owners can make in terms of providing new information about the seafloor. With the resources that many yacht owners have, they can gather knowledge and add them to a greater database that can be shared. Some humans have more power than others to make choices. They can take us to a better place, and that’s where those who actually own and operate these wondrous vessels that can travel the world have the power to make a difference. 

We also work with an organisation called Deep Hope that builds little submersibles which can aid in the collection of data using Esri. This is also something that yacht owners can do: acquire small submersibles that can be submitted into this network. We can be part of the solution by acquiring, sharing knowledge and then strategically acting on the knowledge to provide protection for places that have enhanced value. It isn’t just about the protected areas: it’s about having an ethic of caring that fosters actions and policies that will lead to respect for the natural systems that keep us alive.Octopus yacht tender garage with submarinePhoto: Jan SiegAre there specific areas of the ocean that you believe to be the most vulnerable and how can people identify areas in need of protection? 

The Hope Spots provide a starting point. These are places that people have nominated. But I would ask the yachting community to take stock of places themselves that they know need protection and which they care about. Of course, I could say the whole ocean - and you should be looking at the ocean in its entirety because all of it matters - but we can begin by pinpointing specific areas. This way, bit by bit, a network of hope develops which is not just hope, but action. Hope that leads to commitments that will make a difference.

I think I appeal to the yachting community because I have seen a great deal of life under the ocean, but they have travelled the surface of the ocean and seen things that most people never get to see. I encourage these people to use that knowledge and to realise that they have the power to make a difference.Sylvia EarlePhoto: Sylvia EarleSo far, have you been able to take advantage of any superyachts for the exploration work?

I have seen it happening among some of those who have big ships like Paul Allen. I think the potential of what Paul Allen acquired with his use of Octopus, his ten-passenger submarine, and his remotely operated vehicle that enabled the exploration of places that we scientists never get to go is immense. He was a pioneer in some respects and has amassed a great library of data that gradually is being brought into scientific use and access. Octopus yacht by Lürssen in MonacoPhoto: Charl van Rooy / SuperYacht TimesThere is also a Norwegian yacht owner who is deliberately engaging scientists to explore and share their findings. And there is SeaKeepers - the organisation that has been encouraging the yachting community for decades to take on board instrumentation and gather data as they go to places that official government agencies or scientific expeditions rarely access. Knowing the ocean, knowing how it’s changing and being a part of making a difference is vital for the conservation of its wildlife. Octopus yachtWhat are your aspirations for Mission Blue over the next decade?

We are starting to see a change through communities, champions and flock leaders around the world who are using their power to make a difference. We just need to scale it up. I hope that within the next ten years - the timeframe within which climate scientists are saying we need to act, otherwise we will face severe consequences - we can pull together. We can’t stop the direction of the changes that we have initiated, but we can make things better than they otherwise would be if we do not act. 

The gift of knowledge is powerful. It’s just a matter of using that knowledge to make a change. Once we have our fleet of little submersibles committed to not just sightseeing but also to systematically looking at places, we will be able to make a real difference. Everyone can contribute by reporting honestly what they see, and every yacht owner can be out there as a part of the action. They can get to know the nature of the planet in ways that we could not do prior to the present time. And what’s more exciting than that?

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