Oceanographer Sylvia Earle made a splash with her groundbreaking underwater explorations and dedication to protecting the ocean.
Her passion to discover what lies on the ocean floor is immeasurable, which is why #SeeHer Story has chosen to look back at Earle’s life in this week’s episode. The goal of #SeeHer Story, a digital video series from Katie Couric Media and PEOPLE, is to recognize female trailblazers throughout the past 100 years and celebrate how they’ve helped to shape history and culture.
As this year marks the centennial anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, the series hopes to commemorate such an important time for women in history by recognizing fearless women who have made strides for others to follow in their footsteps.
Born in 1935, Earle felt drawn to the ocean from a young age.
“I was born in New Jersey. That’s where I first got knocked over by a wave. The ocean got my attention,” she said in the video.
Her love for marine life led her to study science and earn a Ph.D. from Duke University in 1966, where her advanced dissertation on algae caught the attention of many. Earle also learned to scuba dive — a skill she cherished throughout her entire life — during her college years.
In 1970, Earle broke gender barriers in science, leading the first all-female underwater research team, Tektite II, to study ocean life off the coast of St. John for two weeks.
She made history again in 1979 when diving 1,250 feet into the water without a tether — a record that remains unbroken today.
Still, Earle wanted to do more.
The explorer began making documentaries about all things ocean-related, including whale migration and sea turtles.
In 2009, Earle founded Mission Blue, an organization that aims to explore and protect the ocean as well as raise awareness about marine life.
The Library of Congress dubbed Earle a Living Legend and Time Magazine honored the explorer as a Hero for the Planet.
“There’s no excuse anymore for continuing to behave towards the ocean as if it is just a place to take stuff out and put things in,” she shared in the clip.
To date, Earle, now 84, has led over 100 expeditions and logged more than 6,500 hours underwater.
She continues her passion today as a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, determined to use her voice to protect the ocean.
“Nothing else will matter if we fail to protect the ocean,” she has said. “Our fate and the ocean are one.”
#SeeHer Story will also be a regular feature in PEOPLE’s print edition, the weekday morning newsletter Wake-Up Call with Katie Couric, on PeopleTV’s entertainment show PEOPLE Now as well as on PEOPLE Now Weekend.