marine science

Oceanographer Sylvia Earle to young scientists: Don’t stay quiet about what concerns you

Jee Y. Geronimo

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Oceanographer Sylvia Earle to young scientists: Don’t stay quiet about what concerns you

YOUNG LEADERS. The 9th Our Ocean Conference in Athens, Greece, opens with a youth leadership summit on April 15, 2024.

Jee Y. Geronimo

At a conference in Athens, Earle also says countries must abide by the precautionary principle to conserve and protect the world's oceans

ATHENS, Greece – Who better to address a room full of young ocean advocates than another advocate who has spent decades shining the spotlight on the world’s oceans?

Renowned marine biologist, oceanographer, and Mission Blue founder Sylvia Earle received a rockstar welcome on Monday, April 15, during the Youth Leadership Summit at the ninth Our Ocean Conference in Athens.

Among her extraordinary achievements, Earle, 88, holds the record for the deepest untethered walk along the seafloor and was the first female chief scientist of the United States’ National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

On Monday, Earle was asked what she would tell young scientists who are trying to have neutral approaches to marine conservation because they’re often told in science “to be very neutral.”

“Just tell the truth. That’s what science is trying to do. But the truth sounds radical, in a way, because we know things now that no one could know even when I was a child. We have new ways of understanding. It’s based on evidence. It’s based on knowledge. It’s not…we’re not making this up. The scientists just shared what they know,” Earle answered.

She urged the young people to “not exaggerate” because there’s no need to – not with the amount of decline the world has already seen in this lifetime. For instance, “widespread and rapid changes” have already occurred in the ocean, according to the sixth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“It’s unprecedented…. We have seen on the land the loss of forests, the loss of wildlife, the changes in the atmosphere, the changes in freshwater, the changes in the ocean. But the ocean has been less obvious. You could say, overall, that about half of the coral reefs are gone. This is true. You’re not making this up. That’s not radical…. It is radical, but it’s the truth,” she explained.

“You’re not telling a story. You’re telling something that concerns you. Why should you stay quiet about things that concern your future? You must just do what you have to do to protect what you love, which is your life.”

The conference happening in Athens aims to contribute “thematically, politically, and through its commitments,” to the third United Nations Ocean Conference happening in June 2025 in Nice, France.

When asked about what countries must commit for the world’s oceans, Earle said there is a need to abide by the precautionary principle.

“Because we do not have all of the answers. What we do know, or should know, and should respect, is the magnitude of our ignorance,” she added. –

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Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.