Hometown: Oakland, California
Years Diving: 50
Why I’m a DAN Member: I have endless gratitude for DAN’s ongoing research, reporting, and educational efforts alongside the outstanding service network for divers wherever they may go. DAN membership provides meaningful support for divers of every skill level and discipline.
A conversation with Liz Taylor is a delightful discussion centered on the myriad passions that matter to her, from her four dogs to DOER Marine, the for-benefit business she has been running since 1994 with her husband, Ian Griffith, in Alameda, California. Taylor’s mother, famed oceanographer Sylvia Earle, started DOER (Deep Ocean Exploration and Research) Marine in 1992 to expand knowledge about the ocean and the challenges facing it.
A Unique Childhood
Born in Dunedin, Florida, in 1960, Taylor grew up on a farm on the state’s Gulf Coast. Earle was 20 when she married Taylor’s father, Jack, an invertebrate biologist. “Obviously, both parents being marine scientists helped me a lot [in learning to dive],” she said.
“We’d end up going out to the beach, getting on the boat, and interacting on the water,” she continued. “I enjoyed every opportunity to put on a mask and snorkel. When I was very young and we were in Florida a lot, it was incredible to float around in the seagrass beds. How could you drag yourself away from those big meadows? There was so much diversity in the intersection of the mangroves and seagrass. My dad was always dragging in the worms, clams, and oysters. I started to wonder about things like what happens to a little turtle that is so tiny now, but I know it will get so much bigger. It was just natural for me to be curious.”
As absorbing as her ocean education was, her formal schooling was disjointed. “We had a triangle of home bases — Florida, Boston, and California — and because of expeditions and other things that were going on, there were often inconsistencies in my schooling,” Taylor said. When she was 13 years old, she received formal dive training at UNEXSO in the Bahamas. “I felt like I was getting Navy SEAL training. It was very rigorous — two weeks, eight hours a day.”
As a teenager, she volunteered at the Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco and started a dive club in high school to raise awareness about the ocean. After graduation, she took some community college courses. “I got some core courses out of the way, but I was also able to say, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m making a seven-week expedition to count whales.’”
In 1981 she started classes at the University of California, Davis, where she studied marine ornithology. After a call to come home to help with some family matters, she transferred to the University of California, Berkeley, where she was permitted to create an independent major that incorporated courses in English, communications, natural sciences, and natural history. After graduation in 1985, she worked on projects that allowed her to pull together all her passions — diving, natural history, and natural sciences.
DOER Marine’s Mission
Taylor and Griffith have grown DOER Marine from a consulting and field services firm to a full-service engineering solutions company, occupying historic Hangar 41 on the former Alameda Naval Air Station, now known as Alameda Point. Taylor and the DOER team have worked on several critical projects, such as supporting the BBC production Blue Planet II, assisting James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenger expedition to the Mariana Trench, and performing critical infrastructure inspections of dams and bridges.
“I am an active listener, and I can help people’s needs by being a problem-solver. We are doers,” Taylor said with a smile. “The company is really about solving problems for people.”
The company is also working to improve the sharing of critical marine data. “For so many years we have seen data hoarding,” Taylor said. “If you’re looking at change over time, much of the data is locked away or deteriorating, and that data will be lost. It’s infuriating, and it’s sad. You see places, particularly big research institutions, that are doing great work but embargo the data for years. We don’t have time. We have to figure out ways to incentivize this data.”
She is justifiably proud of a project with Google and the U.S. Navy to bring the ocean into Google Earth. “Google said that it shouldn’t be so hard, but they hadn’t designed the software to go below sea level,” Taylor said. “Google had to rewrite the entire program. We went to the Navy for the bathymetric data we needed to map the bottom in 3-D, but we had so much disparate types of data — paper charts, microfiche, DVDs, CDs, and tapes — that we hired several retired bathymetric naval specialists who could make sense of it and convert it into a format that Google Earth’s platform could understand.” The project took three years to complete and launched in 2009.
Taylor assesses potential DOER projects to ensure that each endeavor increases global ocean awareness. “We need a healthy ocean if we are to be healthy,” she said. “The real mission is to make a difference. It might be helping a city with a horrific aqueduct issue that requires us to get inside to see what’s happening, or it could be helping scientists access particularly challenging environments, such as really deep water. We take the idea that’s in their head and produce something useful for them in the field.”
A 2023 inductee into the Women Divers Hall of Fame, Taylor hopes to get people to think about little things they can do every day that collectively can make a big difference. “Divers are so important because they are witnesses,” she said. “They see the marine trash and debris, the old fishing gear, and all this stuff. They can bring it back and say, ‘Look, what are we doing?’
“Time is short. You can be impactful. Speak up. Care about the Earth’s natural systems. That’s the power we all have.”
Learn about why the ocean matters in this video featuring Liz Taylor and her mother, Sylvia Earle.
© Alert Diver — Q1 2023