The Time for Ocean Hope is Now

February 17, 2015


If timing is everything, then my two most recent documentary films, IMAX® “Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Secret Ocean 3D” and “Swains Island- One of the Last Jewels of the Planet” share a story of both the fragility and hope for our oceans amidst the despairing news from the recent mainstream headlines; “Ocean Life Faces Mass Extinction, Broad Study Says” from the New York Times science section on January 15th and “Scientists: Human activity has pushed Earth beyond four of nine planetary boundaries,” Washington Post- January 15th.


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For most of my life, I have been roaming, exploring, and playing in the sea. Since the age of seven, I observed the world through a unique window- the faceplate of a dive mask. Where those around me could see only the surface of a vast and seemingly infinite ocean, together with my late brother, we became the world’s first children scuba divers. Under the surface, I experienced a world as a completely alien planet and I became a visitor among strange and wonderful creatures.

Since those early days, I have had the good fortunate of traveling extensively and witnessing first hand the spectacular beauty and immense importance that the oceans play in our lives. My experiences have shown me the critical connections between the health of the oceans and the quality of people’s lives. Today, only sixty-nine years after my initial exploration of the aquatic world, I now witness our oceans, and all of its fascinating creatures, facing increasing pressures from our growing human impacts.

In my opinion the fundamental issue in protecting ocean health and vitality is lack of public understanding about the basic processes of the ocean: their value to humans, why oceans are vulnerable to human impact, and how oceans can be managed sustainably. I am convinced that if, in our minds, we understood the critical value of oceans, their inhabitants, and the work they do in keeping our life support system functioning, we would, in our hearts, feel very differently about how we interact with and use our ocean resources. As I often say, “To make real change, you must reach people’s hearts - everybody has one.”

And that is my hope - that my films will engage each and every one of our hearts to appreciate the fragility, vulnerability and urgency to protect the oceans. My newest film, produced by my non-profit Ocean Futures Society and with Francois and Jean-Jacques Mantello of 3D Entertainment Films, "Jean-Michel Cousteau's Secret Ocean 3D" provides a compelling, breakthrough look at a secret world within the ocean that is perhaps the biggest story of all -- that the smallest life in the sea is the mightiest force on which we all depend. With my dive buddy, marine biologist Holly Lohuis, I invite audiences to dive into this whole new world that will leave viewers in awe of the beauty and diversity of the oceans - the source of all life on our planet - and inspire an even stronger desire to protect what they have either seen for the first time, or perhaps re-discovered.

Filmed using newly developed 3D camera technology, “Secret Ocean 3D” is an opportunity to engage audiences of all ages to experience the ocean as never seen before. With breathtaking underwater sequences, we introduce over 30 species and document behaviors never before captured on underwater 3D technology, including the ability to shoot in 3D slow motion, close up, macro and with motion control - allowing each moment to be an intimate experience with the natural world. Our journey takes us from the Bahamas to Bimini and then across the Pacific Ocean to the Fijian islands, where we share the stories of the oceans inhabitants that enchant, inspire and educate viewers about our blue ocean home.

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“Secret Ocean 3D” is narrated by oceanographer, diving pioneer, and longtime friend Dr. Sylvia Earle, along with longtime friends and colleagues, Emmy- nominated writer Pamela Stacy, and developed under the supervision of marine ecologist and Chief Scientific Advisor Dr. Richard Murphy and filmed by Gavin McKinney. As a filmmaker for nearly 50 years, I am always excited to work with longtime friends and colleagues who bring not only their exceptional expertise, but also their years of hopeful enthusiasm and love for what they do - which shines through the film as bright as the ocean creatures themselves.

"I am delighted to be narrating the first documentary for IMAX® and digital 3D cinemas directed by my longtime friend and fellow ocean explorer, Jean-Michel Cousteau," said Dr. Earle. "Since I began diving over 60 years ago, I've had the frustration of knowing that there was always more beyond what I could see, but technology is key to being able to see the ocean with new eyes. This extraordinary giant screen experience is so spectacular, audiences won't simply watch the film; they'll live it. 'Secret Ocean' allows us all to better understand life in the sea, the heart of our planet, and perhaps develop a desire to protect it. With knowing comes caring, but first we need to know."

What we do know is that up to 80 percent of all life on the planet is found in the ocean and the majority of this diversity is found in the water column in the form of drifting plankton. They are the “soup” of the sea, comprised of microscopic organisms - largely made up of tiny plants, but also including animals and other forms of life. These drifters follow the current of the sea, completely at its mercy. Though they are some of the smallest creatures, they are the base of the ocean food web and the mightiest force providing a critical source of food to the larger species - the whales, fish, and sharks - we have come to admire.

In nature there is no waste and an empty hole, created by a Christmas tree worm or other burrowing animal, now becomes a perfect condo for a Goby.<br />
Photo Credit © Carrie Vonderhaar, Ocean Futures Society

With an understanding about the role of plankton as crucial pieces to the entire ocean ecosystem, we realize that all aspects of the ocean - and ultimately the planet - are intrinsically connected to one another. While the ocean is a strong force, it is not indestructible from human disturbance. There is a lot we now know about the ways we are harming the planet: overfishing, pollution, habitat destruction, climate change - the list goes on. Yet, we also know that the ocean is resilient. It can recover when we give it space to breathe: we remove fishing pressures, stop destructive development, and allow the system to regenerate on its own.

In my film, “Swains Island - One of the Last Jewels of the Planet,” I travel with co-producer and filmmaker Jim Knowlton and Director of the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, Dan Basta, as we join a group of researchers to a tiny remote island located 200 miles north of American Samoa that has recently been added to the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa. Far away from major human populations and now protected by law, Swains Island remains a pristine, vibrant coral reef ecosystem filled with a diversity of life. In the midst of coral loss occurring worldwide, Swains Island is a hopeful reminder that the ocean can persevere when we don’t interrupt its natural processes of resilience.

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My hope comes from producing films like “Secret Ocean 3D” and “Swains Island” and sharing with audiences around the world these stories of hope and inspiration about the ocean. Through these films, I wish to garner curiously, wonder, and awe for the ocean that translates the knowledge learned through our minds into a deep connection we can feel in our hearts.

If timing is truly everything, then I must emphasize this - the time to be most hopeful is now. We are at a critical point in human history and as a human species we have the conscious choice to not disappear. We know the issues and we know the solutions. We must all be hopeful we will choose the actions that lead us to protecting our life-support system and all the wonderful creatures it contains.

Warm regards,

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Jean-Michel Cousteau
President, Ocean Futures Society

First Photo: Poster for "Secret Ocean 3D"

Second Photo:In nature there is no waste and an empty hole, created by a Christmas tree worm or other burrowing animal, now becomes a perfect condo for a Goby. ©Carrie Vonderhaar, Ocean Futures Society

Third Photo: Human activity and climate change have left about 75% of the world's coral reefs threatened, putting the livelihoods of many countries that depend on the ocean ecosystems at risk. ©Richard Murphy, PhD, Ocean Futures Society

Fourth Photo: Swains Island is a hopeful reminder that the ocean can persevere when we don’t interrupt its natural processes of resilience. ©Jim Knowlton, Ocean Futures Society