Recently, I completed a manuscript on marine biology. The target audience is girls, therefore part of the book shares highlights of women in marine biology. From publishing books about women in aviation (Women Aviators) and women astronauts (Women in Space), I knew about the challenges women faced getting airborne. What surprised me in my research was that women have had an equally difficult time conquering ocean exploration.
Is some of it gender related? You bet. After the Mercury 13 were dumped from astronaut training, yet before Sally Ride made her historic flight, a marine biologist named Sylvia Earle applied for something called the Tektite project.
In the latter part of the 1960s, the government-sponsored Tektite project assigned teams of marine scientists to live and work in underwater habitats for periods of time. With a PhD from Duke University, Earle had already spent over ten years on scientific expeditions, including over 1,000 hours underwater. She was qualified. But she was turned down because the people in charge didn’t want men and women living together.
She didn’t give up. And in 1970, Dr. Earle led an all-female crew in the Tektite II project. For two weeks, five women lived underwater studying ocean life and the effects of living underwater. The project was a success.
Dr. Earle continues to be active in ocean conservation efforts. If you haven’t heard her TED talk, you can find it at www.ted.com or on YouTube.
There are many women doing amazing things in marine science today. I was privileged to talk to some of them—Lauren Mullineaux, Ashanti Johnson, and Natalie Arnoldi. Marine Biology: Cool Women Who Dive, part of the Girls in Science series by Nomad Press, is scheduled for release in September.
Interestingly, ocean exploration is like a toddler compared to space exploration. The ocean may not be as limitless as space, but it’s fairly huge. Surface area alone takes up two-thirds of Earth. Depths can extend up to several miles. Environmental changes and movement in the tectonic plates mean that the ocean is always changing.
Discovery of life is ongoing. More than 230,000 species of marine life have been discovered with estimates that millions more may live in our planet’s waters, from the smallest microbes to species that live on the sea floor.
When I think of the ocean’s vastness, I hear the preamble to Star Trek, but instead of “Space, the final frontier,” I now hear “Oceans, the final frontier…”