This is an interview from a mag in California.
1) Where are you from?
Toronto, but I spent a lot of time growing up in the Caribbean and Florida.
2) Have you always loved the oceans and the water?
Yes. My parents got me a pet goldfish when I was about 1, and from that point on I was hooked. The oceans were the lost world, the last unknown realm full of creatures, monsters, and fantastic adventure.
3) You have always loved sharks since childhood, what caused the affinity?
I read every book on the ocean, fish, reptiles, dinosaurs. As a kid, sharks were the last dragons and dinosaurs we have on the planet. People knew so little about them, were afraid of them and as a little boy that furthered my fascination.
4) Did your love for sharks diminish after the makings of movies such as Jaws?
Jaws created a charge within me. I loved the ocean so much, but was afraid when I thought about sharks and engaged my brain in the thought around the fear. When I wasn’t thinking about it the oceans were beautiful and engaging. When I heard that jaws theme song, the ocean became terrifying. I had to overcome the fear to stay in the realm that I loved the most. Discovering that sharks weren’t mindless predators out to get me was liberating and life changing.
5) During childhood, did you have any inclination that you would be where you are today?
Yes. I knew my life would have to be deeply involved with the ocean. I thought I’d become a marine biologist, but quickly became disinterested in beakers and labs. Then I became a scuba instructor, and found myself spending too much time in pools and classrooms. I have loved photography since my parents gave me my first underwater camera when I was 13. I photographed my pets, any animals I could find. I figured with 6 billion people on the planet, someone has to be an underwater photographer, and I went for it with everything I had. I could have never anticipated the 5 year adventure that became Sharkwater, but I always knew my life would be interesting.
5) You seem to have an impeccable knowledge of sharks, did you study sharks intensively in school?
Yes. After studying zoology and animal behavior in Canada, I studied sharks at universities in Kenya and Jamaica. I also read every book on sharks and the oceans (and most other animals) as a child and try to keep up to date as an adult!
6) How long have you been diving for?
16 years. I was certified when I was 13 (the minimum age at the time) but actually convinced people to take me diving when I was 11 in mexico.
7) At what point in your life did you decide to take such a leap of faith and create this movie?
I had spent 8 months working with print media trying to get the word out that sharks were being wiped out. I had set up a fund with the Charles Darwin Research Station in the Galapagos so that people reading the articles could donate directly to put patrol boats in the Galapagos to protect against poaching. We received very few donations, and I realized that people didn’t care that sharks were being wiped out because they were afraid of them. I figured if I could make a film that gave people a new view of sharks, counter to Jaws, then perhaps they’d want to fight for their protection as they would for pandas, elephants and bears. I thought I’d be in it for 3-6 months, and get to choose at the end wether I’d like to be a photographer or a filmmaker….. after 5 years and numerous near deaths, I’ve learned more than I could have ever imagined, and am more energized than ever about making films that change our perception of the natural world. I want to make conservation cool.
8) Within the 5 years of filming Sharkwater, did you notice any significant changes in our oceans due to global warming and overfishing?
Yes. It’s absolutely amazing how small the oceans become when you start to recognize the same animals year after year. Some areas that once had abundant fish populations and healthy reefs, now have very little life. Much of the world’s mandate is to extract as efficiently as possible. Profit is king, and there are no long term thoughts regarding the sustainability of the fishery. Reef bombing for example, uses bombs created with diesel fuel and fertilizer. They immobilize and kill the fish, but also flatten the reef and destroy the whole ecosystem. This happens all over the world, and so few people know about it because what happens in the oceans is out of sigh and out of mind. The most important issue facing the oceans is changing that. If the world knew that we waste 54 billion pounds of fish each year while 8 million people die of starvation; that every fishery will have collapsed by 2048; that 90% of all ocean going large predators are gone, everything could change in an instant just as it has changed for whales, and for holes in our ozone layer.
9) How do you feel about our earth changing so drastically? & do you think the overfishing and finning of sharks has a significant part in these changes?
I think we’re impacting the world in ways far beyond our ability to comprehend. The earth and human’s presence on it is the result of billions of years of evolutionary complexity that by chance, culminated in a species with the power to wipe themselves off the planet, or learn to live in balance. We can’t possibly comprehend the ecosystems, the layers, and the impacts of our presence here…. so often shown by disasters such as the holes in the ozone layer, ddt, global warming, etc. What we’re not really taking into account is the importance of LIFE. The reason there is life on land is because there was and is life in the oceans to support it. One billion years ago the planet held an incredibly hot carbon filled atmosphere, with no life on land. Because of the miracle of life, plants evolved in the ocean, and started sequestering carbon dioxide, and releasing oxygen. The new atmosphere caused the planet to cool, and life made the move to land. This relationship still exists today. 70% of the oxygen we breathe comes from life in the oceans which sits below sharks in the food chain. That very same life consumes more carbon dioxide (global warming gas) than anything else on earth. We know relatively little about the removal of large predators from ecosystems as we’ve traditionally eaten animals at lower levels – the herbivores.
One example is the sea otter, which was hunted virtually to extinction off the west coast of North America for the fur trade. The otter’s food population, sea urchins, exploded in numbers. Those urchins ate all the Pacific kelp (huge seaweed that form an underwater forest). Without the kelp, the Pacific herring (sardine like fish) had no breeding grounds, and without the herring, there were no sharks, sea lions, salmon, tuna, dolphins or whales. The ecosystems collapsed all from removing the sea otter, which as a species has only been shaping ecosystems for 7 million years.
What we’re doing with sharks now is removing an animal that has been sitting atop of oceanic ecosystems for over 400 million years, and the ecosystems that will be affected include our own.
10) What advice do you have for first time divers and conservationists who want to follow your footsteps and make a difference in this world?
Take the first step. Get out there and make a difference any way you know how. Everyone has the power to change the world. History has been shaped by passionate individuals, and this movement even more so requires individuals to take a stand. There are innumerable ways to help, and most conservation groups and movements are understaffed and underfunded (ourselves included!). People should use their talents to effect change. If you’re good at web design, design websites to engage and interlink conservationists. If you’re a filmmaker, make films. etc.
Its easy to get involved, it feels good, and it brings people together. There’s a certain majesty in our time right now. We’re a generation that’s seen such huge advances in technology and what’s possible for humans. We’re also the generation that WILL decide to come together, change priorities, and step up like never before to ensure our own species survival. We’ve spent a couple thousand years building economies, industry and systems at the expense of the natural world, and inevitably ourselves. We have 6 billion people on the planet that if working together, could accomplish anything. It’s my hope and mission that they unite to ensure our own survival on this planet. A planet so special that it’s the only one amongst billions that holds life. That life is worth fighting for.