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Two reasons to watch the documentary “Mission Blue”

Translated by Lídia Paes Leme

In our first post in the Women's session “Old challenges for current women” we received a suggestion by Prof. Otto Muller P. Oliveira to post about the documentary “Mission Blue.” Indeed this documentary deserves a special mention in our blog because, aside from the excellent production, its content is simply inspiring.

The documentary “Mission Blue” was released in 2014 and tells the story of the incredible biologist Sylvia Alice Earle, explorer, author, mother, grandmother (amongst a thousand other possible titles) and her campaign to create a global coalition of marine protected areas, called “Hope Spots.”

When watching the movie, it is impossible not to fall in love with and be inspired by two “characters.” The first is the organization itself, also called Mission Blue (, which was created in response to the prize Sylvia Earle earned in 2009 at “TED PRIZE WISH” (watch the talk here). In that talk, Dr. Earle encourages the use of all possible media (movies, expeditions, internet, new submarines) in a campaign to inspire public awareness and support for a worldwide network of marine protected areas. If these “Hope Spots” are wide enough, it could be possible to save and restore the planet's blue heart! Today, Mission Blue is a coalition of over 100 groups, from multinational corporations to groups of scientists, concerned with matters of ocean conservation. Mission Blue's website brings an interesting but scary statistic: only 2% of the World’s ocean is protected, hence the importance of this kind of effort.

The second reason to fall in love with this film is the main character, Sylvia Earle, a woman that turned 80 in August 2015, who actively keeps studying, exploring, diving, and defending the ocean (learn more Sylvia completed high school at the age of 16, undergrad at 19 and her masters at 20. During her Doctorate, this rhythm slowed down, due to marriage and kids, but soon Sylvia returned to her frantic pace. In 1964, when her kids where only 2 and 4 she traveled for 6 weeks on an expedition in the Indian Ocean. According to Sylvia, she didn't know she'd be the only woman on board, for she was invited as the only botanist, not only woman. A reporter approached her in Mombassa, Kenya, from where the ship would depart, and Sylvia remembered being interested in talking about her work, but the reporter only wanted to know about what being on the ocean with so many men would be like. After all, the article was called “Sylvia sails away with 70 men, but she expects no problems.”

Despite everything appearing well, Sylvia implies in some interviews that her scientific expeditions may have lead to the end of her first marriage. This is a recurring difficulty faced in the scientific world; it is common to have campaigns where the scientists are away for weeks, sometimes months, without any communication with family. In 1966 Sylvia finished her Doctorate, and in 1968 she traveled 30m deep in the waters of the Bahamas in a submersible, 4 months pregnant with her 3rd child and in her second marriage.

In 1969 she signed up to participate in the project Tektite, where scientists lived weeks in a laboratory placed under the sea, at 15m depth. Despite her 1000+ hours of diving experience and her excellent written proposal, she was not allowed to live together with men underwater in Tektike I. The following year however, she was invited to lead the Tektite II project, with a women-only team. The success of this team was an important milestone for women in research, and it set a precedent for future aquatic and space expeditions to include women in their teams.

Picture: Bates Littlehales. Font

After her experience as a mermaid, Sylvia became a popular face in the media and her career took off (we'd say, all other qualities aside, she also has a lovely face). In 1979 Sylvia walked on the ocean floor at depths never before touched by any other human. This was done using what is called a JIM SUIT, and was used at a depth of almost 400m. This adventure resulted in the book “Exploring the Deep Frontier.”

Image: Dr. Sylvia Earle in Deep Rover Submarine. Font

In the 80's, together with the engineer Graham Hawkes, she started a company to create submersible vehicles, like Deep Rover. This partnership ultimately led to her third marriage, one where the offspring were the submarines created by them. One of her daughters currently works with her in her company.

When asked if she had problems reconciling family and career, Sylvia says yes, many, and that she tried to rearrange her life, having a laboratory and a library at home. For women that dream about following a scientific career, Sylvia advises “Try, you'll never know how it would be if you don't try.”

Other than the documentary itself, we recommend this short video:

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