Mission Blue Gets You Hip On the Future of Oceans

I first went vegan because I wanted to live a life dictated by both compassion and environmentalism. I stopped eating fish as a result, but didn't exactly find myself becoming a voice for them, either.

Illustration by Elizabeth Stilwell of The Note Passer.

Illustration by Elizabeth Stilwell of The Note Passer.

Mission Blue is a documentary centered around the life and work of Dr. Sylvia Earle - American marine biologist, explorer and activist. Though it is biographical, it's also deeply educational about climate change, human folly, and the future of our oceans. If you're looking for something to light a fire under you about marine life and their plight, this film is for you.

And, if you still need a little extra nudge, check out how three fellow Ethical Writers Coalition members felt about the powerful film:

Elizabeth Stilwell of The Note Passer

Sylvia Earle, a woman I previously knew nothing about, has become one of my heroes. Throughout Mission Blue, she exemplifies grace as she passionately advocates for marine life and conservation. Sylvia discusses the demise of our oceans with the tolerance of a kindergarten teacher, patiently explaining to interviewers, the UN, and conference goers the disastrous effects of pollution, oil drilling, and overfishing. One of the most memorable scenes for me was her visit to Tokyo’s fish market. I tried to imagine her thoughts as she wandered the rows of dead tuna and tanks of live octopuses, aghast at the volume and casual treatment of the fish. Read an insightful interview with Sylvia, including her thoughts on eating seafood, here

Sometimes called "Her Deepness," Sylvia earned her Ph.D. in 1966 and was doing exceptional work in marine biology at a time when women were not always welcomed or respected in the field. Sexism is constant throughout the documentary, from demeaning headlines and remarks about her work, to partners intimidated by her intelligence and success. Sylvia seems to take it all in stride, however, never making apologies for her passionate pursuits. 

Despite all the bad news oceanic life — dwindling fish populations, acidification, dead spots, oil spills — Sylvia remains optimistic. Her blend of education, hope, and passion seem to strike the right balance for action and her optimism is contagious. Tireless advocacy has led to the development of what she calls Hope Spots, which are like underwater wildlife sanctuaries. This network of preservation is slowly growing and Hope Spots are flourishing.

Towards the end of the film, when she’s walking alone along the beach taking photos, I reflected on my own love of the ocean, swimming, and environmentalism. I took marine biology courses in high school and went to the Florida Keys on an expedition, but ultimately went another way in my studies. I wonder if, perhaps, I missed my opportunity to become another Sylvia.


Annie Zhu of AnnieZhu.com:

At 80 years old, Sylvia Earle looks like an awestruck kid when she’s underwater. The ocean is her one true love, and her love is infectious. The filmmakers were smart. Instead of making a depressing film about how messed up our oceans have become, they made us empathize with Sylvia by focusing on her life story. When she’s at the Japanese fish market looking at all the dead fish, I feel her sadness. When she swimming among the dead coral reefs, I also mourn for what the ocean used to be.

I’m not a good swimmer, but I came away wanting to do some deep-sea diving myself. I’m not a vegan, but now I’m definitely going to limit my consumption of seafood and fish products. Overfishing is unnecessary, especially when a lot of the fish are going to waste. The shark fin industry is deplorable. They catch the sharks, cut off their fins and throw them back into the water. As Sylvia says, if you eat fish you should really do so with great respect.

Yes, some of the facts about our dying oceans will definitely depress you. Instead of reacting with outrage, Sylvia campaigns with great calm. She’s not didactic and never positions herself as a victim. She can point fingers, but in a graceful, straightforward manner. A great example is her Ted Talk. She just makes us want to be on her side.

The ending touched on Hope Spots, places where oceans are being protected. Less than 3% of the ocean is now protected, and they strive to get to 20% by 2020. That’s fantastic. We can support the mission in 3 ways.


Catherine Harper of Walking with Cake:

I found Mission Blue incredibly insightful and inspiring. As one of the first women in the field of marine biology during the 1950s and 60s, Dr. Earle struggled to establish her place among a world dominated by men. Her determination paid off, and Dr. Earle has become a respected teacher and author on the subject of the world’s diminishing oceans. Her first love is the ocean, and this is literally reflected in everything she does. Today, at 80 years old, Dr. Earle continues to travel and raise awareness for Mission Blue, her foundation that actively works to create marine protected areas, called “Hope Spots,” across the world.

Dr. Earle is an avid scuba diver and her film takes us deep into the oceans, allowing viewers to see the death and desolation she witnesses every time she dives. It’s disheartening, and I was especially disturbed by her characterization of the Gulf Coast as the “sewer” of the United States. This is the body of water closest to my home, where my family vacations each summer, and massive amounts of pollution flow south to the Gulf of Mexico, essentially killing it slowly over time.

The world’s oceans sustain life, not just for their creatures and plants, but for us as well. If we ignore this fact and let our oceans die, Dr. Earle explains, our planet will eventually look very much like Mars. That’s a sobering thought, and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Mission Blue has helped to create 50 Hope Spots across the world, and as more are created, they will eventually link together, restoring the oceans to their former glory. It’s an enormous job that can’t be accomplished by one single person, and Dr. Earle is calling upon everyone to find a way to contribute. To learn more, visit her site, Mission Blue.

Catch Mission Blue on Netflix. Watch the documentary trailer here