Mission Blue is a new documentary about the life of Dr. Sylvia Earle, a scientist and expert diver who has been studying the oceans for over 50 years. The story spans her career, following her professional and personal challenges as one of the early female researchers in a male-dominated field.
The film also tells another important story: the changes humans have caused in the oceans over the past century. These two threads weave together through the documentary, bearing witness to Earle’s life’s work to protect the oceans.
“I went to Clearwater high school when Clearwater had clear water,” Earle told TreeHugger. “It’s not that way anymore. I watched it turn.”
Mission Blue is directed by Fisher Stevens (The Cove) and Robert Nixon (Gorillas in the Mist), and has been filmed over the course of the past four years. Stevens and Nixon said that they didn’t originally intend to tell Earle’s life story, but that her biography serves as an emotional hook. “We really used the biography to tell the story of the ocean,” said Stevens.
“To explain to people, and get people to feel what was happening, we thought it was really important to see that through Sylvia’s eyes,” said Nixon.
Through the lens of Earle’s life, the film covers many of the environmental problems threatening the oceans, including overfishing, climate change, oil spills and dead zones. For Earle, the film is about sharing her findings with a greater audience. “As a scientist, you see it and you have to tell people,” she said.
These findings also offer solutions. Her current work, through the Mission Blue Sylvia Earle Alliance, is to create “Hope Spots”—protected marine areas. The film shows how these protected areas can help restore some of the damage that's occurred in the ocean. “We have to restore what we can, and protect what still remains in pretty good shape,” said Earle. “We have a chance now. If we wait another 50 years we’ll have lost the best chance we’ll ever have. It’s not going to get better.”
However, there’s reason for hope. “I think the best news of all is that there are still sharks in the ocean,” said Earle. “I just came back from Palau, where some of the most beautiful intact reefs still exist.”
“I’m a scientist,” said Earle. “My job is to observe carefully and report honestly what I see. That’s what a scientist basically does, and that’s what this film tries to do.”
Misson Blue will be released on Netflix on August 15, and in theaters in New York City and Los Angeles.