BES 5th Anniversary Celebration

Saving Gaia – Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

An opening address by Prof Matthias Roth, deputy director of the Bachelor of Environmental Studies, poised the Bachelor of Environmental Studies (BES) as a multidisciplinary course that was built with the understanding that the world’s environmental problems are increasingly complex, with various stakeholders required to build, study and enjoy nature. He then briefly introduced the environmental giant that was about to take the stage in a few moments, oceanographer Dr. Sylvia A. Earle, iterating that “Prof Earle’s principles (on the environment) are in line with BES”.

As required of this legendary environmental influence of the past few decades, an extended and proper introduction was still needed, and our own BES lecturer, Dr. Joanna Coleman, took up the stage to give a great delivery of the background and involvements of Dr. Earle. Dr. Earle received more than a 100 honours for her contributions to marine science and conservation, being declared a living legend by the Library of Congress, and others such as the Time’s Magazine first Hero for the Planet. With Ted Prize that Dr. Earle received in 2009, she founded Mission Blue, a non-profit that aims to get public support to create Hope Spots, special areas that seeks to protect the health of the oceans by providing a global network of marine protected areas, which has seen 50 such spots. Dr. Earle has also clocked more than 7000 hours of diving, and set a world record for being the first person to descend to 1,250 feet (381m) in a JIM suit.

Much as Dr. Coleman’s delivery was well-rehearsed and smooth, there were times where words seemed to be caught up in her throat, and for very good reason. While studying birds of prey for her Master’s degree in the early 2000s, there were strong gender biases in the field of raptor biology, which might see a lot of discouragement for a young female scientist. Dr. Sylvia Earle, was one of her biggest heroine, having smashed one barrier after another in a field much more male dominated that hers (there was once Dr. Sylvia applied to join the Tektite Project which was an installation 50 feet below the surface of the sea, but was rejected as the directors were apprehensive about males co-habiting with females, even though Dr. Sylvia has clocked more underwater research hours than any other applicant). The breakthroughs and trail that Dr. Sylvia left behind give Dr. Coleman the strength to forge ahead in her career as a female scientist.

With such a great introduction, the crowd welcomed the first speaker of the Conference on Attaining the Sustainable Development Goals – Environmental Law, Policy & Management, 2016. She was the in the pink of health at 81 years of age, standing firmly behind the podium with a cardigan a mellow shade of blue, befitting her life’s work in the oceans. As she opened with her respect and salute of the efforts and good work of the BES program and its students, her voice rang deep and strong, reverberating through the auditorium, a possible hallmark of all that have lead strong, healthy lives in the great outdoors.

Dr. Earle started by iterating that humankind have always consumed nature to increase our prosperity, and for the most part of history, it has always worked. From hunter-gatherers to the first forms of organised civilisations, agriculture, and the recent industrialisation and advancement of technology, we have always depended on nature for our resources. However, it might have been sustainable 10,000 years ago, 1,000 years ago, even a hundred years ago. But fast forward to the 1930s where had two 2 billion people, 1980s where we had 4billion and to the present day of 7 billion mouths. The resources that we are taking from the Earth are simply not able to replenish itself as fast as we are taking them, and we might very well be “undermining the nature of nature”.

Written by Ng Zhi Sheng, Year 2 BES student (Biology Specialisation)



“The world is still a beautiful place, but if that is true in the future will depend on us.”

Liang LeiYear 1 BES student (Geography Specialisation)

“The interaction with Dr Earle was nothing short of inspirational. The fight to save the environment is a challenging and draining one at times and a strong-willed role model can be highly motivating. Dr Earle has smashed through so many seemingly insurmountable obstacles throughout the illustrious decades of her career. Her passion for the environment is infectious and fills me with determination to continue the path of making an impact in the future.”

CHIA Jia Min, Sandra, Year 2 BES student (Geography specialisation)

“It’s been my greatest honor to meet and accompany Dr. Sylvia Earle for the first day of the conference on attaining the sustainable development goals. As one of the most famous female scientists in the world, she gave us a lecture on marine conservation and climate change and I believe this lecture has inspired all the participants to do something about our blue oceans. Surprisingly she is already 81. If I did not know her age, I would probably this would be a passionate, influential, and charismatic public figure in her 60s. Yeah, I was very fortunate to be able to have the opportunity to talk with her during the day. I gained so much from the conversations we had. We talked about all sorts of things including the environment, politics, and religions. Every time I asked her a question, she would answer me patiently and insightfully. But she did ask me a question that I could not answer. Dr. Sylvia mentioned she had visited China for several times and she was so amazed by the rapid development there. In the 1990s, cars replaced all the bicycles on the streets in Beijing. “But the rapid development has brought horrible environmental pollution. I mean, look at the sky in Beijing.” I commented. “Yeah, which one do you prefer? Bicycles with a blue sky, or cars with a gray sky (if you were the decision maker in the 1970s)?” She asked. Honestly, this question is too hard for me. But perhaps that’s why sustainability matters so much today.”

Wei ZiyiYear 2 BES student (Biology Specialisation)
Copyright - envstudies