The world-renowned oceanographer referred to as “Her Deepness” by The New York Times, speaking at Northeastern’s inaugural Sustaining Coastal Cities conference in May, said recent scientific strides make her hopeful that a sustainable planet is possible.

“We are living in the sweet spot,” said Sylvia Earle, addressing nearly 200 scientists and students from around the world. We are beginning to understand how our past has influenced our present, she said, and how we can use that information to steer ourselves toward a more sustainable future.

The conference—sponsored by the College of Science in alignment with the university’s Urban Coastal Sustainability Initiative—was itself an illustration of how far we have advanced in our knowledge of sustainability science.

>>By 2020, two-thirds of all Americans are expected to reside in coastal cities.
Earle, explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society, former chief scientist at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and the leader of more than 50 ocean expeditions, was part of an all-star cast of marine researchers featured at the event. Or, as Marine Science Center director Geoff Trussell put it, “people who are interested in walking the walk rather than just talking the talk.”

Nevertheless, the conference was an occasion for talk—and the overarching message was that, in a world where humans are living in ever-closer quarters with marine species, mankind’s fate is inexorably tied to that of the earth’s oceans.
>>About a billion people worldwide rely on fish as their main source of animal protein.
Speaking to the issue of overfishing, Larry Crowder, the director of Stanford University’s Center for Ocean Solutions, said “a sustainable marine system doesn’t just have more fish, but also a healthy human community and economy.”

And that healthy human community and economy cannot treat fish as merely a commodity, said Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the Global Change Institute and professor of marine science at the University of Queensland in Australia.
Threats to fish populations equal threats to the oceans, said Hoegh-Guldberg, and threats to the oceans mean bigger global environmental challenges for our children and grandchildren.

“Our destiny is intertwined with the oceans,” he said. “If they go down, we go down as well.”
>>The world’s oceans produce 50 percent of Earth’s oxygen and absorb 95 percent of its excess heat.