The Climate Change Issue

Watching Frontline’s latest segment, “Climate of Doubt” I was once again reminded of the failure from the science and conservation communities in reaching out to the public.

Back in my early days, I used to be an agent for photographers and painters. From the talents I represented, it was clear to me that there were two categories of artists. The ones who believed that work would come to them and the ones who knew they had to go and get the jobs themselves. This reality also led me to understand one thing. The world is filled with talent and someone who might have less of it, but possesses great skills at promoting himself will fare better than the prodigy who is incapable of reaching beyond his studio. It is not always the ones with the greatest talent who become famous, but the ones who know how to promote their work. The moral of the story I concluded was that it didn’t matter what you had, it didn’t matter if you were the best, it didn’t matter if you held the truth, it didn’t matter what you meant to say. What mattered was how the world perceived you and how people understood you. It is not what you say, but what people hear. It is not what you do, but how people feel about it. And this is something the scientists and environmentalists – and by the same token, the democrats or liberals, have still failed to understand.

Communication, according to the dictionary, is “the imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium”. It is achieved when the receiving party processes the information with the same intent the emitter had when sending it. This means that if I say “Hello” to a friend, he or she will understand the polite gesture and therefore reciprocate with another “Hello”. This brief communication was a success since both agreed on the meaning of the word. If I say the same “Hello” to a total stranger walking down the street, my seemingly innocent gesture might be misinterpreted and suddenly the tone, what I wear, the location, the time of the day, my age, all will have an affect on how my simple salutation is going to be interpreted.

Communication is one of the most complex and difficult tasks in the world. Why? Because it is filled with innuendoes, interpretations, opinions and emotions. Add body language, culture, and religion to this, and you quickly find yourself with complete “miscommunication”. The US conservatives (Republicans or climate change deniers) realised a long time ago how to communicate efficiently. They have understood that the public doesn’t care about scientific facts. What people care about are jobs, the economy and security, in others words, their own priorities and personal values. Science is not this unbreakable knowledge. Some facts might be obvious but their interpretation varies extremely. But the scientists believe that simply giving people the facts will be enough not only to understand, but also to change the behaviour of an individual. In “Climate of Doubt” John Kerry (minute 33 in video) blames the loss of momentum in public perception about climate change because of a lack of money and lies:

“… as the campaign of fear built up people began to retreat they spent huge sums of money in a campaign of major dis-information that had a impact, a profound impact, and it has now made many people in public life very gun-shy because they are afraid of having those amount of money spent against them…” 

His view is not only wrong but also reinforces the evidence of total lack of understanding of the dynamics of communication.

For most people, climate change is an overwhelming and extremely confusing topic. In a post I wrote earlier this year, “Climate Change: A Pointless Debate, I argue that:

“Instead of attacking the source of the problem, our lifestyle, our values, our system and its obvious, concrete, and irrefutable consequences – pollution, ocean acidification, disappearance of fish stocks, total destruction of the environment – so obvious in fact that no one can argue about them, we have had to focus our attention and debate on something so conceptual and evolutionarily insignificant as the rise in temperatures on a global scale….it is also moving the most pressing issues away.”

The issue has a lot to do about perception. Climate change will be good for some, a great opportunity for others, bad for many and tragic for numerous. It all depends on which side you stand.

Polarising the debate has also been part of the problem. For many, there are only two parties – the ones accepting climate change and the ones who don’t. But in reality, there is a broad range of opinions in between. Through media and other campaigns, the debacle now insinuates that if you don’t support climate change, you are against nature and don’t care about the future of our children. If you do agree with climate change then you don’t care about jobs and the economy. Both statements are preposterous and extreme.

The strategy of the environmentalists and the Al Gore team has been to use the “Cane of Guilt” – meaning to bash people over their heads on how bad they have been and give them an ultimatum on how fast they need to change. Anyone with a little bit of education will tell you that fear is not a good way to inspire people. After a while, people are simply tired of the negative narrative. This year’s article in the Washington Post “Young Americans less interested in the environment than previous generations” is no surprise:

“…Mark Potosnak, an environmental science professor at DePaul University in Chicago, has noticed an increase in skepticism — or confusion — about climate change among his students as the national debate has heightened. That leads to fatigue, he said.

“It’s not so much that they don’t think it’s important. They’re just worn out,” Potosnak said. “It’s like poverty in a foreign country. You see the picture so many times, you become inured to it.”

A lot of young people also simply don’t spend that much time exploring nature, said Beth Christensen, a professor who heads the environmental studies department at Adelphi University on Long Island in New York…”

Going back to communication. It is not the two words “climate change” that people have now come to avoid. It is what they mean to them and what they insinuate. It is because of how they have been presented to the public, that the world is simply fed up of the topic. It is not a question of money, but a failure of understanding the core of the problem. The “pro climate change camp” keeps telling the world that the issue is about saving the world. This egotistical view is greatly limited. Over time, planet earth has been subject to worse catastrophes than climate change and is likely to see worse in the future. Changes in temperatures have come and gone over billions of years. Of course we are participating in, and accelerating the current trend. Of course there will be dramatic consequences, but they are small compared to the garbage choking our waters, the acid killing the oceans, the relentless plundering of the planet’s resources, and a total lack of respect of the consequences of what we do and create. As with disease, the western culture has always been more concerned about the symptoms than the causes. Obesity is not just a question of exercising and eating more vegetables, it is about our total relationship with food and about consumerism. Our problem is our absolute pretentious and arrogant approach to the world around us which is simply unsustainable.

It is important to watch “Climate of Doubt” to understand why the momentum on climate change failed. Fred Singer, Myron Ebell, Rep. James Sensenbrenner and Lord Monckton are not stupid, nor bad people. I don’t agree with neither of them, nor should you. But they have been successful at communicating their message, whether it is the truth or not. I have said it before, science is NOT and should NOT be the horse we ride on. Conservationists and scientists need desperately to understand that.

Philanthropy & Sponsorship

John D. Rockefeller was a controversial man who swam in scandals. Despite the fact that he was cruel in business and bullied his way to become the richest person in history, he also got to be remembered as one of the most important philanthropists the world has seen. Andrew Carnegie, another man who certainly had his share of controversies while amassing his fortune, gave all his money away – close to 5 billion in today’s value. Wal-Mart, which makes money on spreading global grand scale consumerism all around the world, gave close to 350 million dollars in 2011 alone. Ray Kroc who started the fast food company McDonald supported research and treatment of alcoholism, diabetes, and other diseases. His third wife, Joan donated 225 million to National Public Radio. In 2011 J.P.Morgan gave 203 million, 10% more than in the previous year while Exxon gave 233 million, an increase of 17%. Margaret A. Cargill, from the Cargill family, known for their numerous scandals over environmental issues, contamination, and human rights abuses, gave away more than $200 million to the American Red Cross, the Nature Conservancy, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian and others while she was alive. After her death, all of her assets were liquidated and transformed into a 6 billion charitable trust and foundation. Khalid bin Sultan, the deputy minister of Defense and a member of the House of Saud of Saudi Arabia, who was involved in the Yemen bombing of 2009, is also using his personal yacht and fortune for coral reef research through his Living Oceans Foundation. Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, who has had his share of public scandals, was a critical founding member of WWF. More recently, John Paulson, a New Yorker infamous for his investments and losses, gave the Central Park Conservancy 100 million.

Nobody gets to build a fortune by being a gentle person. You don’t amass billions by being friendly and by playing by the rules. No one does. Philanthropy and sponsorship are products of the capitalist system. In social democratic countries like the one I grew up in, Canada, or in Europe, people pay a lot of taxes and it is the government that funds. There is a reason why the United States of America is a hotbed for innovation, technology, arts, and education. Elsewhere in the world, organizations and foundations struggle, entrepreneurship is tedious and extremely complicated, why? A lot has to do with the tax code, deductible donations and the psychology behind making money. Look at this list of the most notable philanthropists in the world and you will see that most are from the USA. No other country in the world gives as much as America. Yet no other country in the world consumes as much and has had as many involvements with wars than America.

Bob Marley once said, “Who are you to judge the life I live? I know I’m not perfect – and I don’t live to be – but before you start pointing fingers make sure your hands are clean!” Everybody has had their share of mistakes and has tasted the fruit of greed. No one can judge on the past, and certainly not when a person tries to leave a legacy that will benefit the lives of millions. Yes, maybe the desire for salvation might come through guilt, but so what! How many do you know who will walk that path of redemption? It takes a lot of courage to give money. Whether it is through fiscal loopholes, or to avoid taxes, donations are donations and they are the reason why so much good work is done at the other end.

Even we – explorers, conservationists, and environmentalists – have to deal with this reality. Our funds come from the same companies we often reprimand. Yet, it is the dance we all have to do, so that we can bring a balance. The companies know that and so do we.

I lift my hat to Paulson for donating such a large sum to Central Park. That money could have easily been kept in a secret account in a tax haven or invested in real estate. Instead, it will be put to the good of society.

“Man does not live by bread alone. I have known millionaires starving for lack of the nutriment, which alone can sustain all that, is human in man, and I know workmen, and many so-called poor men, who revel in luxuries beyond the power of those millionaires to reach. It is the mind that makes the body rich. There is no class so pitiably wretched as that which possesses money and nothing else. Money can only be the useful drudge of things immeasurably higher than itself. Exalted beyond this, as it sometimes is, it remains Caliban still and still plays the beast. My aspirations take a higher flight. Mine be it to have contributed to the enlightenment and the joys of the mind, to the things of the spirit, to all that tends to bring into the lives of the toilers of Pittsburgh sweetness and light. I hold this the noblest possible use of wealth.” Andrew Carnegie


Knowledge, our Achilles’ heel


“In your thirst for knowledge, be sure not to drown in all the information”. Anthony J. D’Angelo, founder of Collegiate Empowerment

It is hard today to hear a conversation that doesn’t involve the belief that our technology will be the key to solve our problems. We truly trust that our salvation lies in our ability to invent and create. We think that the issues we see do not reflect a problem that lies at the core of our values, but rather simply needs an adjustment in its application. At pretty much any conservation summit (The World Ocean in Singapore, BLUE in Monterey, etc) the message is always the same – the problem is only a question of bad management. If we could only find out the missing pieces of the puzzle, if we could only know more about the planet, nature, and its resources, then, only then, would we be able to act accordingly and “save” what is left. Our understanding is that the destruction of the planet and the abuses we have been responsible for, have occurred only because we lacked the know-how. So now we look at the present and the future and conclude that we must know more if we want to change. This, to my opinion is the root of the problem.

We consider ourselves to be the most intelligent species ever to populate the planet. We look at the past and compare ourselves to what was before. The fact is that all previous cultures once thought of themselves as omnipotent, powerful and of being capable of ruling the world. Each empire thought of itself as better than the one before. And each fell to its demise. We continue to understand our role as “stewards” of this planet. We think it is our duty to protect it. We continually see ourselves at the top of the pyramid looking down over our dominion. We don’t believe we are part of nature, but rather that we stand above it, separated from it, since we are better than it. We think of nature as this disconnected thing that exists outside of ourselves.

Our obsession for knowledge has turned us arrogant and immature. We are addicted to our brain and its capacities. We get high on what we can do. Our society lives in a constant sugar rush, drinking the technology & knowledge “Kool Aid” without any filter. We have kicked wisdom out of our lives, deeming it boring and against progress. But it is not because the chocolate cake is on the table that we have to eat it. We don’t think about the long-term consequences. We don’t think about the social impact of our discoveries. We only focus on the short-term gains. We only look for quick personal individual gratification. Frankenstein’s tale was precisely about that. When Mary Shelley wrote the horror story of the scientist and a monster, she did more than creating a new genre. Her novel was a premonition to what is in store for our world.

From within our cities, sitting behind computers or staring down at our “smart” phones, we claim our superiority and gaze at the world around us in a conceited way. Detached from any realities, we think of aging as a disease, that good parenting means monitoring our children every single second, that consuming green will fix our consumerism, that the idea of implanting a device in our brain to fix an imbalance is pure genius, that people who gamble our savings have a right to do so, that Facebook is real, that the web brings us closer, that food is only a recipe of carbs, proteins, sugars, and fats, and that nature is only a resource that demands to be quantified and managed. What Richard Louv wrote in his book “The Last Child in the Woods” can’t be measured so it is hardly considered. So we go the opposite way and go crazy with our quantification. We have to put a value on Planet Earth (5,000 trillion dollars according to astrophysicist Greg Laughlin) and on the oceans (check the Ocean Health Index for an orgy of numbers) to understand their importance. If it doesn’t have a number, we can’t understand it, or more, we don’ know how to value it. Knowledge is indeed important but it should not be the horse we ride on.

We have lost the ability to see the big picture. Because we are so good a looking at everything on an anatomical level we have become blind at grasping the bigger perspective. William R Catton does an amazing job at explaining why in his books Overshoot and Bottleneck. I strongly recommend you read the two.

Knowledge is not the reason why people change. If it was so, no one would smoke cigarettes, everybody would pay their credit cards on time, no one would break the law, everybody would follow the rules, there would be no economic crash and every politician would always make decisions for the good of society. The reality is that our life structure is based on values. And values differ. If we want to change, we will have to understand how people come to truly value things, and unfortunately, it is not through knowledge. No one that cherishes nature do so because of numbers, they all got to care and love nature by spending time in it. And here is the core of the argument.

For people to change, for children to develop the love and care for nature, we will have to literally reconnect our society with life and the planet. First, there needs to be direct correlation between our lifestyle and the state of the environment. We can talk about garbage littering our beaches and polluting our oceans as much as we want to and for many years, the fact remains that each and one of us is totally disconnected with the amount of garbage he or she produces and its impact. Everyone takes their garbage to the curb and says goodbye – out of sight, out of mind. There are absolutely no incentives whatsoever for people to produce less garbage and to understand the consequences of their consuming habits. Something they can’t physically feel is simply impossible to understand and care about. How can we make society care about the state of fishing stocks when subsidies create an illusion that masquerades the tragedy? How can they grasp the seriousness of the situation when the price of fish at the market has barely risen over the years. Even if they hear about the problems, the reality doesn’t touch them. Our world lives in a bubble detached from any consequences. We are sheltered from the impact our lifestyle creates. For our society to change, we will foremost have to accept the blame and consequences of our actions. We will have to be open to the idea that the fundamentals of our society are no longer valid with the current state of the planet. Until that day comes, all we will be doing is keep drowning in our own arrogance.

Daniel J. Boorstin, in his book “The Discoverers” said: ”The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents and the ocean was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge.” I think, today, it would be more accurate to say that “The greatest obstacle to living sustainably and in harmony with our environment is not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge”.

BLUE recap Final

Day 6 was a day of Leaders & Legends. Hosted my I-O Glass is Life, the lunch ceremony was to honour a group of exceptional individuals who have dedicated their lives for the conservation and care of the oceans. Barton Seaver, the master of ceremony, started the event by telling the audience about his own experience with the ocean, spending days fishing the Chesapeake Bay in Washington and discovering later in his life how pretty much everything he used to fish was no longer available. Seaver is a National Geographic Fellow and has now become an influential voice in the culinary world for his take on seafood and sustainability. In his first book, “For Cod and Country”, Seaver introduced an entirely new kind of cooking featuring seafood that hasn’t been overfished or harvested using destructive methods. He is also the host of National Geographic’s Web series “Cook-Wise”.

First to receive the honour was Robert Ballard. Ballard has been diving the depths of the oceans for more than 40 years and is mostly known for the discoveries of the wrecks of the RMS Titanic, the battleship Bismarck, the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown and the wreck of John F. Kennedy’s PT-109. In 1990, he received the Academy of Achievement’s Golden Plate Award. He was the recipient of the Kilby International Awards in 1994 and of the Caird Medal of the National Maritime Museum in 2002. In 2004, Ballard was appointed professor of oceanography, and currently serves as Director of the Institute for Archaeological Oceanography, at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography.

The second to come to the podium was Sylvia Earle. Commonly known as “Her Deepness”, Earle is a legend in the ocean community. Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society, leader of the Sustainable Seas Expeditions, council chair for the Harte Research Institute for the Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, founder and chairman of the Deep Search Foundation, and the chair of the Advisory Council for the Ocean in Google Earth, she was named  by Time Magazine as the first Hero for the Planet. She has led more than 60 expeditions worldwide with more than 7,000 hours underwater in connection to her research.

Next on the list was Marcus Erikson. Marcus, a Gulf War veteran made a in promise to another marine in 2003: ‘If we survive this war, lets float down the Mississippi River.” Which he did, with “Bottle Rocket”, floating 2000 miles in 5 months on 232 plastic bottles to the Gulf of Mexico. In 2007, along with Anna Cummins, he built a raft using 15,000 plastic bottles, and called it JUNK. He then sailed the raft from Los Angeles to Hawaii. Since then they founded 5 Gyres  an organisation dedicated to science, education and adventure, and sailed 25,000 miles into the 5 subtropical gyres to document the global distribution of plastic pollution.

Graham Kelleher became the first Chairman and CEO of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. He worked with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and became the first Vice-Chairman, Marine of its World Commission on Protected Areas. He has designed systems of marine protected areas in several countries and is at present a member of the Scientific Council for MPAs in West Africa. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Science and Engineering, of the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand and of the Institution of Engineers, Australia. He was awarded Officer of the Order of Australia, Fred M Packard International Parks Merit Award, the Centenary Medal and investiture into the Hall of Fame, Institution of Engineers, Australia.

Wallace Nichols is known for his relentless work on turtles and for giving away blue marbles. He has done extensive work on proving the neurological benefits of the ocean, the colour blue and the positive power of giving. He is a Research Associate at California Academy of Sciences and founder/co-director of OceanRevolution. He has authored and co-authored more than 50 scientific papers and reports and his work has been broadcast on NPR, BBC, PBS, National Geographic and Animal Planet and featured in Time, Newsweek, GQ, Outside Magazine, Fast Company, Scientific American and New Scientist, among others. He is also the founder of BLUEMiND: The Mind + Ocean, an initiative, merging the fields of cognitive science and ocean exploration. Nichols took the stage and before thanking the audience went on to honour one of his most important mentors – Graham Kelleher. The moment totally took Kelleher by surprise and obviously touched him tremendously. The two embraced and reminded everyone one the importance of the work we do and the affect it has on younger generations. Make sure to read Wallace’s interview in Outside magazine.

The final honouree was Louie Psihoyos, producer of the movie The Cove. His first documentary has won over 70 awards globally including the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 2009. In 1980, at the age of twenty-three, he was hired by National Geographic and remained with the magazine for seventeen years. He has since received multiple awards for his photography, including first place in the World Press Contest and the Hearst Award. He has worked with magazines such as Smithsonian, Discover, GEO, Time, Newsweek, New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine, and Sports Illustrated.

Now that lunch was over, it was time for everyone to prepare themselves for the BLUE Carpet Awards ceremony and gala. Taking place at the Golden State theatre. The event felt more like an oceanic Oscar night, with photographers everywhere snapping shots of celebrities and of the directors/producers of more than 100 films. The big winner of the night was “The Island President”, but make sure to click here to see the list of winners. The BLUE Ocean Film Festival & Conservation Summit was a huge success this year and I think I can speak on behalf of everyone when I say that we are looking forward to the next one…. in Monaco maybe, 2013? We surely hope so. Stay tuned!

BLUE festival Day 4 and 5


Although I had a full agenda – planning on seeing many talks, films and people, I had to put everything on hold for two days as I became the only photographer allowed to photograph one of the festival’s most prestigious guests, HSH Prince Albert of Monaco. The task, fairly easy, and on behalf of BLUE, was to follow the Prince during his two-day visit and capture on film key moments. Laura Orthwein, co-founder of BLUE, and Dan Laffoley from IUCN, were the two people from the festival and conservation summit, responsible to accompany him and manage his stay. The three of us quickly became best buddies as we manoeuvred our way through an exhausting 48 hours.

After the official introductions, the first stop was at the Monterey Bay Aquarium where Julie Packard, Executive Director and Vice Chairman of the Aquarium’s Board of Trustees and Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator were waiting to give the group a private tour.

Built in 1984 and located on the site of a former sardine cannery, the Monterey Bay Aquarium exhibits some of the most stunning marine installations in the world. The Kelp Forest exhibit, a 28-foot (8.5 m) tall 333,000-US-gallon (1,260,000 l) tank is an impressive reproduction of the typical California Coast environment where shoals of pacific sardines mingle with leopard sharks, garibaldis and California sheepheads. The real long giant kelp in the tank grow an average of about four inches a day and require weekly underwater gardening by scuba divers. The Open Sea exhibit features a 1,000,000-US-gallon (3,800,000 l) tank with a 15-foot high and 90-foot across window that is simply breathtaking. Blue fin tuna, green sea turtles, ocean sunfish, dolphinfish, Pacific bonito, pelagic rays, sandbar and scalloped hammerhead sharks all swim in perfect harmony while a shoal of Pacific sardines moves around the tank in unison, often forming a giant hypnotising ball.

The visit was splendid. Besides the regular exhibits opened to the public, we were also shown the “behind the scenes”, the installations responsible for making this “Tour de Force” possible – what a treat is was! We even had the privilege of having one of the onsite scientists telling us more about the famous sea otter. For the occasion, one specimen was under anaesthesia so that we could have a first look at the marvellous creature.

With a sleepy sea otter

The visit was followed by the BLUE Ocean Film Festival and Conservation Summit. HSH Prince Albert was scheduled to appear on a panel discussion alongside Celine Cousteau, Dr Sylvia Earle, Dr. Greg Stone and Dr. Jane Lubchenco and discuss the issue of ocean sustainability. The Prince also took the occasion to visit some of the featured exhibitors. His first stop was at the Google Liquid Galaxy display where Jenifer Foulkes gave a wonderful presentation. Then famous National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry, who had his work exhibited, told the Prince the story behind some of his shots. The team at Catlin Sea Survey followed by showing him the technology responsible for creating some of these incredible panoramic underwater shots seen earlier at the Google Liquid Galaxy.

At the Google Liquid Galaxy with Catlin Sea Survey imagery

Meanwhile, on the floor at BLUE, plenty of action was happening! The day started with a keynote presentation of Dr.Sylvia Earle. At lunch time, Carl Safina’s movie “Saving the Ocean” played on the big screen. Legendary filmmaker Doug Allan talked to a captivated audience about his numerous adventures across the oceans and on both poles. If that was not enough, the International League of Conservation Photographer closed the day by holding their cocktail reception. Michele Westmoreland, Brian Skerry and Octavio Aburto were there to represent the organization. The event was called “12 SHOTS”, named after the number of photographs publications will generally allow to tell a story.


HSH Prince Albert started the day with an inspirational keynote speech. One of his main points was about the people who are in the position to influence the markets, whether they be celebrities, royalties, or corporate CEOs. They have a responsibility to do more so that the system can correct itself. The danger he said was that if they don’t use their privilege situation for the common good, nobody else will. Politicians certainly won’t!

The rest of the morning was filled with insightful presentations. Dr.Ingrid Vesser showed her film “The Woman Who Swims with Killer Whales” and reminded people to support her latest project – FreeMorgan, a tragic story of an orca recently sold to a private park in the Canaries. Google hosted a wonderful lunch at the Sardine Factory. Sea Rex 3D played on the big screen. The movie, produced by Pascal Vuong and Francois Mantello went up to won in the festival’s “Best 3D” category. One of the highlights of the day came right after lunch. Hosted by O-I Glass is Life, the panel, composed of Amber Valleta, Celine Cousteau, and Edward James Olmos, looked at how to leverage the power of celebrities for good causes. Also on stage were Patrick Ramage of Global Whale Programme, who works with Amber on various campaign, and Casey Ingle From Glass if Life, who reached out to Celine to become their ambassador. Olmos presented is latest involvement with the “Thank You Ocean” campaign. His public service announcement went on to win in the festival’s “Best PSA” category.

Later in the afternoon was the screening of Great Barrier Reef: Nature’s Miracle. Produced by James Brickell at BBC, the documentary is absolutely amazing. The host Monty Halls does a great job at delivering the material. It is always refreshing to see a host that is not self absorbed like so many currently out there. It is hard to pick my favourite part of the movie, but I suggest you read Halls’ interview in the Daily Mail to find what it was like to swim with minke whales and be on the beach when thousands of green see turtles marched up the beach to lay their eggs. The film went on to win in the festival “Best Presenter Lead” category

The evening was to be a grand night – the BLUE Legacy Awards! Hosted at the Monterey Aquarium, the evening was indeed nothing short of grandiose! First were the Awards. This year, Captain Don Walsh and James Cameron were the recipients of the BLUE Lifetime Achievement Award, in exploration and filmmaking respectively. Anatoly Sagalevich did the honour of giving Walsh his award while Dr.Sylvia Earle was full of wit celebrating her really good friend Cameron. Mike DeGruy, who unfortunately passed away in a tragic helicopter accident earlier this year in Australia, also was honoured. His wife Mimi, received on his behalf, the 2012 Dr.Sylvia Earle Award.

Capt. Walsh, Cameron & Dr. Earle

For the dinner, first the guests had to make their way pass the Jellyfish exhibit, displaying with a blue background, astonishing and fascinating species. Above the bar, anchovies swam in circle feeding on minuscule particles, their little jaws un-proportionally huge filtering the water. The dinner was set right in front of the Open Sea tank, only a few feet away from blue fin tuna swimming like giant bullets through the dark blue water. The scene was absolutely surreal. It was as if we were all dining in a giant glass submarine, in the middle of the open ocean, surrounded by stunning creatures. I was sitting next to Dan Basta director of the office of National Marine Sanctuaries at NOAA, and Dan Laffoley. On several occasions, our conversation got interrupted by a green sea turtle swimming by. Looking at us from across the glass, floating motionless, with its imposing size, as big as the table, it reminded us on how fortunate and privilege we were. Needless to say, the night was a huge success!

Dr.Sylvia Earle and myself discussing the ocean – copyright Jenifer Foukles

Bruce Robison, Dr. Earle, Chris Welsh, Capt. Walsh, Phil Nuytten, Anatoly, Cameron, Emory Kristof

BLUE Recap Day 1 to 3

The dust has settled and people have finally been able to catch their breath. It is a week now since the Blue Ocean Film Festival & Conservation Summit ended. 2012 will be remembered as the year where everything changed for the production team behind the event. With a line up of ocean celebrities, European Royalties, Hollywood power, and a long list of incredible movies, BLUE has set a benchmark for what is to come in the future. Lets go back and recap what happened.


Even if the official start was on Monday September 24th, there was plenty of action already happening the day before, on Sunday. Familiar faces started to roll into the hotel while submersibles from the Waitt Foundation, Ocean Gate, Virgin Oceanic and Hawkes Ocean Technologies appeared in the lobby. While the people from the Google Liquid Galaxy, Ocean Futures Society, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Ocean Footage, 5 Gyres and many more were busy settling down their booth, Surfrider and Congressman Sam Farr were entertaining and helping a group of children cleaning the beach of trash. Armed with a bag and gloves, everyone picked up a fair amount of cigarette butts, plastic bags, cans, plastic debris, empty bottles, and even a shoe. Even though it was great to see such enthusiasm for collecting people’s left overs, I couldn’t stop thinking about how our relationship with nature has changed. When I grew up, nature was a place to have fun, to explore, to play hide and seek, to get lost, to experiment, to wander – and through this, one came to develop the love and care it so deserves. Now, nature has become a debate, an ideology, a place where we ask children to go and clean up our mess. We tell them it is their duty to do so. Personally I question the long term effect for this strategy. Already surveys are coming out pointing to the next generation and discovering that their care for the environment and nature is at a record low. But this issue is for another time. Right now, looking at these kids roaming the sand searching for things that don’t belong there, I was just happy that there were out and not inside somewhere, watching television or on the computer.

Towards the end the afternoon, I met with documentary filmmaker and adjunct professor of Science and Natural History Filmmaking at Montana State University, Gianna Savoie. We talked for quite a while about the difficulties and challenges of transforming the scientific narrative into a story that people can connect with. Competing for attention, our world is no more forced to listen or watch – the internet and the democratization of knowledge and information have changed the way people learn. They don’t want to simply be told the facts, what matters is the personal story behind it. The human element. The emotions. For the scientific community, this reality and necessity is a complicate task to understand. Their funding often now depends on reaching out to places and people who don’t want to read through hundreds of pages of data, but instead they want to feel the emotional connection.

In the evening, the press was invited at Peter B’s Brewpub for a long night of food and home brewed beer tasting. Quite a feast!

I started the day by having breakfast with legendary Captain Don Walsh. Our mutual friend Josh Bernstein has suggested we meet and thank god he did. Walsh, a retiree Navy Captain, is an oceanographer and expert in marine policy. He was the first to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench on January 23, 1960, aboard the submersible Trieste together with Jacques Piccard. He was also the last one to say goodbye and the first one to say welcome back to James Cameron on his personal breaking record visit to the deepest point of the world’s oceans (DeepSea Challenger). The Captain was here not only as part of the Ocean Elders but also to receive a Life Achievement Award. At one point, Jean Michel Cousteau passed by our table and the two of them entered a long chat, remembering many past friends. When Walsh told Cousteau that the Chinese had already been down in the Mariana Trench three times since Cameron, collecting many samples and specimens, he simply couldn’t believe that no one knew about this. How was it that no one had heard about this? He asked.

Following our conversation from the day before, Gianna Savoie was now part of a panel, along with Alyson Barrat from Living Oceans Foundation, Blair Palese from Antarctic Ocean, Charlotte Vick from Google Ocean & Mission Blue, Annelore Reisewitz from Strategic Ocean Solutions and Kathleen Flood from Cascade Game Foundry. The title of the discussion was “Communicating Science: Mastering Science Storytelling”. During her presentation, Alyson put up on screen a live “Skype” conversation with Captain Philip G. Renaud, aboard the Foundation’s boat in the French Polynesia. Palese talked about their incredible campaign they have going on right now in anticipation of CCAMLR’s meeting on the faith of conservation for the Antarctic Ocean. Called “I’m Watching”, the strategy maximises the current technologies and social media. Charlotte Vick talked about the impact Google Earth has and how one little entry can generate millions of views. Finally Gianna presented to the crowd the amazing Pacific Voyager project. Combining culture, science and indigenous heritage, the expedition is a marvel, bridging historical knowledge and practises with today’s need to connect to something deeper.

At the same time at the theatre, Louie Psihoyos was presenting for the Encore Series, his 2009 Academy Award movie The Cove. Also in other rooms, Craig Eastman talked about the importance of music in storytelling while Craig Adkins showed us the incredible capacities of the GoPro and how this tiny camera has changed the way we see the world.

The evening was marked by the official opening event. On stage, taking turns, Congressman Sam Farr, BLUE Founder Debbie Kinder, Jean-Michel Cousteau and Dr. Sylvia Earle each welcome the crowd. While most talked about the importance of educating and breaching outside of the ocean community, Jean-Michel spent much of his speech talking about the very sad episode of Morgan, an orca that was recently captured and is now in captivity in a private park in the Canaries. Dan Basta, director of the office of National Marine Sanctuaries at NOAA, surprised everyone by honouring the work of Debbie and her daughter Sara. The evening was followed by the screening of Otter 501 and ended with a light buffet. The tone was set and tomorrow was going to be another incredible day!

The day began with a series of really interesting classes and presentations. Emmy Award winning wildlife cinematographer Andy Brandy Casagrande IV treated the audience with absolutely stunning footage taken with the Phantom camera. Andy showed the power of slow motion and how it can be carefully integrated in a strong documentary narrative. The lively Chris Palmer taught in his class what was needed to raise money for cinematographic nature projects. Palmer could’t be more qualified. He has been a pivotal figure in several multi-million dollar projects and is now president of the One World One Ocean Foundation. While Corinne Bourdeau and Mary Elizabeth Murphy from 360˚ Communications talked about the whole distribution aspect of documentaries, a discussion around the use of laws and lawsuits to solve the biggest plastic pollution problems was taking place on the main stage. Lisa Boyle from the Huffington Post, Christopher Chin from the Centre for Oceanic Awareness, Research, and Education, Rachel Doughty, Attorney, Leila Monroe from the Natural Resources Defence Council, and Saskia VanGendt, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) looked at how legislations and regulations were either helping conservation efforts or not, and what could be done to fix the process.

Running in between sessions, my next stop was Fabien Cousteau’s talk – an insightful presentation of what it meant to be brought up in an ocean family legacy. That legacy continued right after with Fabien’s father, Jean Michel, as he presented the screening of his documentary “My Father the Captain: Jacques Yves Cousteau”. Revisiting the adventures and the legacy of Captain Cousteau through intimate stories from his family, Jean-Michel also gave a voice to the people whose lives were influenced by the famous “Commandant”. Also present was Celine, Fabien’s sister, with her new baby – the next generation of Cousteau!

While Captain Don Walsh talked about his career on the main stage in a conversation with John Racanelli, CEO at National Aquarium, I met with Marine Vice Chair for IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas Dan Laffoley. Laffoley is also an advisor for my E.P.I.C. expedition. Together we joined Dr.Sylvia Earle and her team for the Mission Blue cocktail reception. Ocean Elder Graham Kelleher made the crowd laugh with his incredible wit and unforgiving australian accent. Blair from Antarctic Ocean reminded everyone of what was at stake down south, and Anatoly Sagalevich, deep sea legend and dear friend of Sylvia, delighted the audience with some of his personal stories.

The day ended in style with a screening of Finding Nemo in 3D, hosted by Walt Disney Studios. Paul Baribault, VP of marketing greeted the audience and explained the complicated process of turning a simple animated 2D movie into a unforgettable 3D experience. He also took the occasion to announce Disney Nature’s next project “Bears”, coming to theatre in 2014. The movie, directed by Keith Scholey (African Cats) and Alastair Fothergill (Earth, Chimpanzee), was shot in Alaska in the Katmai National Park and followed the “day-to-day lives” of the brown bears.

The rest of the days coming later this week!