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Ocean Science Legend Sylvia Earle Visits Midway Atoll

Wyland and Dr. Sylvia Earle anticipate their first dive together at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge -- the 'window' into the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. (Image credit: Bonnie L. Campbell | USFWS photo)

Acclaimed oceanographer Sylvia Earle made an expedition to Hawaii's Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge last week to promote environmental education and spread awareness regarding the area's fragile marine ecosystem.

During her visit, Earle, who is the first woman to serve as chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and has led more than 60 marine expeditions worldwide, dove off the Midway Atoll's southern reefs. She videotaped and photographed footage of local wildlife, including green sea turtles, Laysan albatrosses and the recently reintroduced endangered Laysan ducks.

The expedition, called "Searching for Wisdom" included a guided viewing of Hawaiian monk seals. During a dive just outside the reef Jan. 7, Earle saw an 18-foot (5-meter) manta ray, colorful morwong fish and dozens of reef sharks. She described the experience as a "lifetime dive."

"We used to worry about man-eating sharks. Now we worry about man eating sharks," Earle said in reference to the large decline of the predators, which play a vital role in balancing ocean ecosystems.

Kriangkrai Sriprasert, Cindy McArthur, Ray Born, Dr. Sylvia Earle, Ann Bell, Wyland, Ann Meyer, and Michelle Jones celebrate the completion of Wyland's view through Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge's "window" into Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Charlie Barracks Wall -- Midway Atoll. (Image credit: Susan Middleton.)

During her visit Earle also helped renowned marine-life artist Wyland (who uses a single name) paint a large mural celebrating the area's local wildlife on the exterior wall of "Charlie Barracks," a former naval building located at the refuge.

The colorful mural portrays a couple of Laysan albatrosses, a Hawaiian monk seal and a green sea turtle. A time-lapse video of the mural's creation can be viewed here.

Known as the "window" to the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (PMNM) of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge is home to nearly three million birds, including the world's largest population of Laysan albatrosses.

"I like that description that Midway is a window for the PMNM," Wyland said. "Thanks for letting me look into it."

The expedition's goal was to bring attention to successful ecosystem-conservation efforts that have helped wildlife thrive in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. Earle called the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's management activities and accomplishments at Midway Atoll "a model for the world."

"Protecting nature is what we must do if we are to survive," Earle said in a statement.

You can follow LiveScience writer Remy Melina on Twitter @remymelina. Follow LiveScience for the latest in science news and discoveries on Twitter @livescience  and on Facebook.

Remy Melina was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication from Hofstra University where she graduated with honors.