Marine biologist Sylvia Earle when younger. At 82, she is still diving.
Photo by Al Giddings courtesy of Library of Congress

  Water Closet for June 15, 2018

For over half a century TV nature and news shows have featured marine biologist and diver Silvia Earle.  This spunky octogenarian has inspired hundreds to study our oceans.  Oceans are now made up in part of plastics from the size of missing boats to microscopic particles.  Rivers in parts of the world are choked with plastic containers which are forming strata in their floodplains.  Much plastic flows freely in water and air to the sea to join ocean currents and great gyres within them. *  The good news here is that our Ipswich River was found almost free of plastic by the IRWA volunteers on its annual cleanup Saturday, June 2.  Middleton Stream Teamers found very little debris along Middleton’s nine miles of river.  The report of Earle’s lecture below to Maine college students isn’t about plastics but rather the importance of learning about the still largely unknown oceans, dumps for centuries.  This article appeared in the June 2018 issue of The Working Waterfront published by Island Institute in Rockland, Maine. –  Middleton Stream Team

Legendary sea explorer Earle calls for respect for underwater life:  Speaking at UMaine she urges students to see the ocean as a new frontier  –   By Tom Groening

     Marine botanist Sylvia Earle opened her April 30 lecture at the University of Maine with a simple, but stunning fact – the surface of Mars, she said, is better mapped than the floor of the world’s oceans.

     Earle herself is stunning.  She has spent 7,000 hours under water, has lived under the sea for weeks at a time, taken an untethered walk at a depth of 1,250 feet, and in1998 was named Time magazine’s first “hero of the planet.” In the 1990s she was chief scientist of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

     At 82, she remains awed by the underwater world. She urged the several hundred students in attendance to think about that world as the most exciting frontier of scientific enquiry.  About 10 percent of the ocean floor has been mapped, Earle said, and questions about how it functions and what it contains abound.  “We have seen so little of the oceans, measured so little,” she said.  One example of the many important questions that should be answered by scientists is how deep does photosynthesis occur in plant life.  It has been found to occur at 278 meters (912 feet).  The question is important because as much as 70 percent of oxygen in the atmosphere comes from the ocean, and 20 percent from diatoms and only discovered in the 1980s, said Earle.  “Take a breath, thank the ocean.”  She said and added that the seas also capture carbon pollution.

     A dozen or so new species can be discovered each hour during explorations at 300 feet, she said.

     “How do we make peace with nature?  That is the challenge of our times,” she asserted, putting the scientific and technological advances of recent decades within the span of her own career.

     “Ocean acidification was certainly not on my agenda when I began exploring the ocean in the 1950s,” she said, yet now it is a threat to the health of shellfish and other creatures.  “Each generation is better informed than the last, but public policy does not reflect that advance just as the knowledge of the health threat of cigarettes came well before politics aimed at curtailing their use.”

     “I think I’m really lucky, but I think you’re even luckier,” she told the mostly teen and early 20s audience, because innovations have made exploring deep waters easier.  “Right now, it’s like the earlier days of aviation,” Earle said.  And just as weather prediction took leaps forward with flight, weather balloons, and satellites, she said, those same advances are needed in the sea.

     Earlier in her career, the oceans were studied by killing sea creatures, which Earle compared to aliens dropping nets and hooks into cities to pull up dead people to study the Earth.  That approach is changing.

     “We are blessed with a new era, new tools, a new respect,” she said.  Respect for the life in the oceans has become a theme.  “We came to respect the whales, eagles, songbirds, owls,” she said, and the same respect must come for the sharks.  “We are not their menu; they are on our menus with millions killed each year for their fins in making soup.  We’ve got to stop killing sharks.”

     I love kelp, and you here in Maine are blessed with quite a few variations,” she said, and described, with awe, the kelp forest that can be found on Cashes Ledge in the Gulf of Maine.  “It is an amazing habitat,” she said.  Its underwater environment as beautiful as Acadia National park.  “I want poets to explore the deep sea, and fishermen to meet the fish they catch, not just those for the corporate, military, and science worlds.”           

     Yet along with her continuing awe and wonder Earle sees serious threats, such as deep-sea mining.  People used to think “the ocean is just too big to fail,” she said, but new problems like plastic pollution are akin to large oil spills.*

     “Must we mine the deep sea now?  Shouldn’t we be exploring it first?” Showing a photo of an excavator-like piece of equipment, Earle said, “These are the teeth I worry about,” not those of sharks.

Note: In recent years, Earle founded Mission Blue, an organization working to call attention to threatened areas of the ocean.

*See June 2018 National Geographic with several articles about plastic pollution worldwide.




  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  Mar April May  June  
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 4.65 4.53 4,06   3.95  
   2018 Central Watershed Actual  5.09 5.31 2.9   1.2

 Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):

 For June 8, 2018   Normal . . . 38 CFS              Current Rate  . . .28.1 CFS

*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru April.


** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for May and June.

Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.

 THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: or          <>