Science

Oceans in science: a tribute to great marine scientists & explorers

We know more about space than we do about our oceans. Isn't that a mind-blowing fact? What we do know about the oceans is all thanks to science and the amazing people behind each discovery. We salute those who have and continue to explore the sea, dedicating their lives to helping us understand the secrets of the deep. This week, we’re shining the spotlight on a couple of well-known and some perhaps less obvious ocean lovers who we’re sure you’ll be inspired by!

DR. ROGER ARLINER YOUNG

Let’s start by introducing a true source of inspiration who broke both ground and glass ceilings. Dr. Roger Arliner Young (1899-1964) was an American scientist of zoology, biology and marine biology. She began her undergraduate studies at Howard University and then moved on to the University of Chicago to earn her master’s degree. While there, she was invited to join scientific research society Sigma Xi, an honor that was very unusual for a master’s student. In 1924, Young’s first article was published in the science journal, making her the first African American woman to research and publish in the field. 

Young didn’t stop at breaking that glass ceiling. She went on to be the first African American woman to earn her Ph.D. in Zoology at the University of Pennsylvania in 1940. To emphasize the importance of Young’s work even more, it must be mentioned that in 2005, she was recognized in a Congressional Resolution, along with four other black women“who have broken through many barriers to achieve greatness in science” - talk about leaving a mark! Today, she is remembered by the Roger Arliner Young Marine Conservation Diversity Fellowship, supporting young African Americans who want to become involved in marine environmental conservation. 

Dr. Roger Arliner Young

Dr. Roger Arliner Young

Captain Jacques Cousteau

Captain Jacques Cousteau

CAPTAIN JACQUES COUSTEAU

The most obvious name in the history of oceanic explorers is perhaps that of Jack-Yves Cousteau (1910-1997). A renaissance man in the 20th century, his impressive resume includes naval officer, explorer, filmmaker, photographer, author, conservationist, scientist and researcher. Together with Émile Gagnan, Cousteau invented the Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA) which made it possible for divers to swim deeper into the aquatic unknown. On the former mine sweeper ship Calypso, Cousteau and his team explored the ocean for four decades, documenting previously unknown flora and fauna, as well as the devastating effects of pollution and the over-exploitation of our seas. His legacy includes more than 115 television films and 50 books in addition to The Cousteau Society environmental protection foundation.

DR. SYLVIA EARLE

You may recognize this name from the recent Seaspiracy documentary. Dr. Sylvia Earle: oceanographer, lecturer, marine biologist, author, founder of Mission Blue and explorer-in residence at the National Geographic. No list of ocean scientists is complete without Earl and, as huge fans, we want to give a shout-out to her accomplishments. Earle has been swimming with whale sharks, lived underwater for 20 days, was the first person to complete an untethered walk across the seafloor at a depth of 1,250 feet(!), and has been fighting for decades to create more protected areas of marine reserves.

Take a moment and listen to Earle talk at one of our favorite ocean organizations – Parley– and get inspired by her knowledge and drive for the change our oceans need.

”To take care of the whole living world, as if our lives depend on it, because they do” - Sylvia Earle

DR. AYANA ELIZABETH JOHNSON

If you have ever been passionate about parrotfish, you need to know about Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. Her TED talk about these spectacular fish is a must-see. She is a marine biologist, policy expert and conservation strategist, and her take on how healthy oceans are vital to fighting climate change is profoundly important. Today, Dr. Johnson is co-creating policies like the Blue New Deal, a roadmap for including the ocean in climate policy. She also serves as CEO at her consulting firm for conservation solutions, Ocean Collectiv, and runs Urban Ocean Lab, a think tank founded by Johnson advocating for conservation efforts in coastal cities. Give this ocean lover a follow on Instagram, we promise you won’t regret it.

Charles Darwin

Perhaps best known for his evolutionary “survival of the fittest” theory, Charles Darwin was a great naturalist, biologist and geologist who based a large part of his work on findings from the ocean. When offered the position of Naturalist on the HMS Beagle, Darwin couldn’t pass on the opportunity, thus embarking on a 5-year survey trip around the world. The voyage took him from the tip of South Africa to the coast of Australia to the jungles of the Galapagos Islands and beyond. Along the way, Darwin collected hundreds of natural specimens: from birds, to plants and fossils. He also closely observed coral reefs along the way. These rocky formations were a major concern of the era as they were often the cause of shipwrecks, so any insights into their whereabouts were highly valued. Darwin learned why different reefs formed where they did, whether alongside the coast or some distance out to sea. Apparently, he didn’t actually like to get his feet wet and used a long pole to observe the reefs from dry land. 

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

Brain Coral

Brain Coral

Robert Ballard

As far as deep-sea exploration goes, Robert Ballard is the token spokesperson. As far back as the 1970s, Ballard has had a hand in the development of submersibles. These far-reaching vessels have traveled to depths as low as 13,000 feet – and counting. The marine geologist and oceanographer has played a major role in exploring the Mid-Atlantic Ridge mountain range in the Atlantic Ocean; uncovering the thermal vents in the Galapagos Rift; and, most notably, discovering the site of Titanic’s shipwreck. The Titanic mission – which was led by Ballard himself – took place in 1985 and used cutting-edge technology designed by Ballard that allowed a remote controlled camera to transmit live imagery from the bottom of the ocean to a monitor above sea level. Ballard is currently a faculty member at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography, but still makes time to explore shipwrecks. We’re excited to see what he’ll uncover next.

Seeing the ocean through the eyes of these incredible ocean explorers offers both inspiration as well as the realization that there is so much we still don’t know about what lies beneath. Many aspects of this underwater world are a great mystery to us above-the-surface dwellers – and maybe it will always be that way. In fact, as exciting as it is to learn more about this foreign world, in a way, we hope there will always be just a bit of mystery left. Something to ponder, to wonder, to let our imaginations take hold and run wild with. To these great ocean heroes: thank you. To future ocean heroes: we look forward to what discoveries you have yet to uncover. And to the ocean: may a few of your mysteries remain unsolved.