Nature, Life & Technology

“All of the biggest technological inventions created by man – the airplane, the automobile, the computer – says little about his intelligence, but speaks volumes about his laziness.”  Mark Kennedy 

My work is about nature and our intricate connection to it, so why am I here in Munich attending for the second year DLD (Digital Lifestyle Design), a conference that focuses on promoting the benefits of living in a world of data and technology? As much as I would prefer being in the wilderness, by a creek, camera in hand and quietly observing a bear passing by, attending these kind of events is also important. One cannot truly understand the world we live in without seeing where it is going. One cannot understand the challenges we face in our attempt of finding mindfulness without knowing what those challenges are and why they are so enticing. Having a deeper connection to nature and life sounds wonderful but in reality,  things are little bit more complicated. Every one at this conference is trying to make the world a better place. The sense of creativity and ingenuity fueling all these amazing people is breathtaking and commendable. But as much as we love our computers and smart phones, we need to remember that there is more to life than data and technology.

Last year, in my post Concept vs Reality, a Cautionary Tale, I wrote about my worries of a world disconnected physically from reality, entrenched in a culture of concepts.

“From behind our television and our computers, it has become too easy to conceptualize the world, life, ourselves, our issues and our challenges… The beauty of our lives – of Life – does not find its root in numbers, codes and algorithms. Following a recipe to the letter doesn’t mean it will create the perfect dish. It is the human touch that brings the real value.”

In Our Salvation in God Technologius, my concerns were more about our faith in believing that technology would bring salvation, that we were now seeing humans has flawed and replaceable and that we seek spiritual and religious meaningfulness through our iPhones and other devices.

“…We need to take time to ask ourselves: “Is perfection something we should strive for? Or is imperfection the key for happiness?” Are we just a society in denial, buried in work, blinding ourselves with our capacity for the grandiose only to avoid our sickness? Any psychologist or therapist would say so. I do not believe that the key to our happiness and humanity is in our ability to go faster and embrace technology. I do not believe in fast food, diet pills, fake meat and running on the treadmill with glasses that projects a virtual trail. Instead I believe in opening a bottle of wine, inviting friends for a meal, slow cooking a nice roast and planning the next sailing trip… 

… this utopian belief that we will be able to control, for the greater good of humankind, all technology to come, that all the past mishaps will not apply to the future because we are smarter and know better. This naive and false sense of control is troubling. We are simply drunk with our own god complex… 

… Life is not about perfection. It is not about the shortest point between two points. Ask anyone who travels – not for business trips, but to discover new places, new cultures, new experiences – and the most wonderful moments are the unexpected ones, the ones where you get lost and explore the unknown.” 

At DLD this year, I was really happy to see three speakers who were there precisely to talk about the same issues that I have been writing about.

Evgeny Morozov a writer and researcher of Belarusian origin who studies political and social implications of technology, talked about Solutionism and our tendency to expect too much from technology.

Arianna Huffington, who has been busy promoting a new way to defining success (Third Metric) and Paulo Coelho, who wrote the famous book The Alchemist, talked about mindfulness and being able to disconnect.

None of us are promoting the idea that technology is bad or that data is irrelevant. Instead we all want to have an honest and truthful dialogue, a discussion that delves deeper into the realities and consequences from giving our lives away to technology. In other words, we just want to find a certain balance and make decisions that honor our humanity instead of destroying and erasing it. As Oubai Elkerdi puts it so well in his article Rethinking the relationship between culture and technology: “The truth is: the current state of technology is both unsatisfactory and unsatisfying. In many ways it robs us of our humanity much more than it enhances it.”

Life is not about choosing the only things that bring you satisfaction and gratify you. Life is about discovery. It is about realizing that the things we cherish the most are the ones that can’t be quantify. Perfection is boring and beauty lies in the subtle, in the imperfect and in places we try so hard to avoid today. The idea that we are entering a world where people will prefer a relationship with an operating system or a software is deeply troubling. Movies like HER and games like LOVEPLUS are no more science fiction. They are reality! And they bring with them the concept that relationships between humans is too hard, hurtful and complicated. Instead machines will bring us only pleasure, support and love.

“Manaka is the only — could I say person? … She’s the only person that actually supports me in bad times,” says Josh Martinez, a 19-year-old engineering student in Mexico City. He plays LovePlus at least once a day for 20 minutes and considers Manaka his girlfriend of 18 months. “When I feel down or I have a bad day, I always come home and turn on the game and play with Manaka,” Martinez says. “I know she always has something to make me feel better.”

The time I spend in nature teaches me about what is important in life. Through my stories like TIME, DREAMS, DISRUPTION, WAIT &  STRIPPED  I try to communicate and illustrate how the POWER OF NATURE RESTORES THE HUMAN SPIRIT – how through a better understanding of life and what nature is, one can find mindfulness. The goal is not to strip away the hardships of life but rather finding peace in the process.

As our lives become more dependent and intertwined with technology, we have to make a conscious effort not to loose sight on what is it that makes us humans. There is more to life than technology and data. Like any species, we are not flawed. We are nature and we are in constant evolution. We are a species that has mastered adaptation. We rise and hope even in the worst of moments. We create, sing, paint and write. We love and sympathize. We are complex entities that result from our upbringing and ancestry. What we are not, is just a series of zeros and ones.

“…You may think that I am the future. But you’re wrong. You are. If I had a wish, I wish to be human. To know how it feels to feel, to hope, to despair, to wonder, to love. I can achieve immortality by not wearing out. You can achieve immortality simply by doing one great thing…”

“… thank you for teaching us that falling only makes stronger…”

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

DAY 4

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.

DAY 5

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.

DAY 1

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!

DAY 2
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!

DAY 3
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!

Blue everywhere & Antarctica Ocean’s I’M WATCHING campaign

The Blue Ocean Film Festival is just around the corner, only a week away! Today the winner for the “How Do I See the Ocean” Google contest was announced. The chosen video is from Ben and Teresa of “Sailing Simplicity & the Pursuit of Happiness“.  The timing could have not been more perfect for them as they will also celebrate their honeymoon, after tying the knot last August.

On another note, besides being published on the EPIC blog, my posts from reporting live during the festival will appear on the SeaMonster Blog and the Speak Up for the Blue website. Make sure to follow my twitter handle EPIConservation for live updates.

Finally, for Antarctica Ocean Alliance‘s campaign, I’M WATCHING, I will be teaming up with AOA’s Communication Director Blair Palese to photograph the festival’s attendees and make them “Watchers”. The campaign is an attempt to influence the anticipated and much debated CCAMLR meeting which will decide on some crucial conservation issues for Antarctica and its surrounding ocean.

The campaign is fantastic in the way that it goes beyond the simple and outdated process of a petition. Teaming up with Instagram, and using our society’s best friend, the smart phone, people all over the world are invited to snap a photo of themselves either with a pair of binoculars or making a circle over the eye. The message is simple – telling the parties involved with CCAMRL that the world is watching. Make sure to join the watch! (#JoinTheWatch)

Blue Ocean Film Festival

Nothing better to kick off the return to work than attending the Blue Ocean Film Festival in Monterey, coming up on September 24th. As previously done with the International Polar Year 2012, I will be reporting and keeping you in the loop as the festival goes on. This year will certainly be incredible with an amazing long list of “Ocean Stars” – Prince Albert of Monaco, James Cameron, Bob Talbot, Doug Allan, Robert Ballard, Andy Brandy Casagrande IV, Celine Cousteau, Fabien Cousteau, Jean Michel Cousteau, Sylvia Earle, Don Walsh and so many others. Make sure to tune in as tweets, photos and daily updates will be featured on this blog.

In the meantime, watch below my video statement done specifically for the festival “How do you see the ocean” contest.

Day 3 at IPY 2012

Day 3 at the IPY 2012 started with a mini tornado called Dr. Louis Fortier. This morning’s keynote speaker was ArcticNet’s Scientific Director, Canada Research Chair on the Response of Arctic Marine Ecosystems to Climate Change and a Professor at Université Laval since 1989. His first words at the microphone were: “I will not waste any time cause I have a lot to say” and he then proceeded and unleashed his presentation. His speech was really interesting and was on the spot with several issues concerning the ecosystems of the North. His remarks on the differences between the Southerners and the Northerners and their relationship with nature was extremely accurate. But the pace at which he delivered his lines felt like a triple shot of espresso. To such a point that shortly after he started, someone from the desk of translation went up to him and told him to slow down because none of the translators where able to follow, and our Russians, French and Inuit fellow listeners where left in the dust. The request didn’t really stick and Fortier carried on his unstoppable march.

The Inuit knowledge was again part of the main theme in Louis’s speech: “The Inuit know very well their relationship with the environment and animal world, they are not above or separated from it, but right in the middle of it!” he said. The other point that he talked about and seemed to stick with everyone in the room was his analogy of ivory towers. Scientists from all fields, each live (symbolically) in their own respective ivory tower. Ivory Towers, looking up Wikipedia for the definition, if defined as the following:

“A term used to describe an entity of “reason, rationality and rigid structures that colonizes the world of lived experience. This imagined academic community creates an essence of exclusivity and superiority. It is a group that functions like an exclusive club whose membership is tightly controlled by what might be called a ‘dominant frame.’ In an academic sense, this leads to an “overwhelming and disproportionate dominance” of the United States and the Western world. The ivory tower can be dangerous in its inherent privatization of knowledge and intellect. Academics who are seeking “legitimacy for their narratives from the heart end up echoing the sanitized tone of the Master Narrative.” This becomes a cyclical process as intellects collectively defend the “imaginary ivory tower.”

Therefore much effort will be required from the science world to share their information and participate in the dialogue. Most importantly, what it means is that, traditional knowledge is a necessity to complete their study. Not only must they engage and communicate with the indigenous communities but they must also value their knowledge as important or even more important then theirs.

Beside his ricochet speech, Dr. Fortier was in for a surprise. Following his talk was the presentation of Weston Family Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Northern Research. The prize honors a northern researcher who has significantly increased the understanding of Canada’s northern environment. Awarded by the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, the prize is administered by the Association of Canadian Universities for Northern Studies. And this year’s recipient was Dr. Louis Fortier himself. Congratulations Dr. Fortier!!

My lunch was spent with Permanent Representative to the U.N and Ambassador of the Republic of Seychelles to the USA, Mr. Ronny Jumeau. We talked about the plight of many tropical islands, challenges that go beyond the common assumption of disappearing with the rise of sea levels. When I asked him why we didn’t hear more about these problems that are often related to the island’s local collapsing economy, he said that because people didn’t care for these kinds of problems, that it was not dramatic enough. But an island that disappears under the water will for sure attract the necessary attention.

Next stop was the Action Forum – Creating the Conditions for Arctic Offshore Oil and Gas Development. As expected, it was a full house. Many people wanted to hear from Chevron and Shell about their position and strategies in regards to the Arctic. Present at the table were: Mr. Robert J Blaauw – Senior Advisor Global Arctic Theme, Shell International, Mr. Rod Maier – Vice President Frontier Development, Chevron Canada, Mr. Nils Andreas Masvie – Vice President, Det Norske Veritas, Mr. James Stotts – President, Inuit Circumpolar Council Alaska, and Dr. Peter Wadhams – Professor of Ocean Physics, Cambridge University.

When it comes to oil it is always a sensitive subject. Everybody is always so quick to demonize the oil companies but at the same time, everybody can’t stand when the oil at the gas pump goes up a few cents. Oil companies are stuck between the tree and the bark, having to answer to a constant growing demand while at the same time having to find resources for that demand from more remote and hard-to-reach places. Mr. Blaauw reaffirmed that Shell was committed to exploit the North in a safe and mindful way, involving the local communities. He stated that every company didn’t want to be another Exxon or BP and that it was in the benefit for all to do things the right way. Oil spills are possible and Shell is putting them as a top priority, investing to find safety and cleaning measures.

Mr. Stotts from the Inuit Circumpolar Council Alaska followed by saying that the Inuit of Alaska were stuck right in the middle a new oil rush, which was not always a good thing! His people are not necessarily against it but rather against unsustainable practices. It is not that they only want to be consulted about what will happen, but that they want to be partner in the development and have their say in the ways to exploit their land. After some back and forth, it seemed that there was some kind of agreement on the assessment of the situation, which could be  summarized in two words: PREVENTION and COOPERATION.

Early afternoon was split between the students from Geoff Green’s Students on Ice who took the stage on the first level and told the audience how their experience visiting the Arctic has changed their lives, meetings with Sandra and Isabelle from the Polar Foundation, and Scott Highleyman, director for the International Arctic Program at PEW Environment Group.

Then it was time for the main panel: “Ecosystems: Science and Stewardship”, moderated by Mr. Ian Dunn, Board Member of Corporate Services at the British Antarctic Survey. Guest panelists were Dr. Mike Gill, Chair, Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Project, Mr. Paul Holthus, Executive Director, World Ocean Council, Mr. Mikael Thinghuus, CEO, Royal Greenland Group and Dr. Victoria Wadley, General Manager, Census of Antarctic Marine Life, Australian Antarctic Division.

The conclusion from the panel was that the private sector needs to be part of the solution, it needs to be involved and solicited. Also, scientists need to reach out to the people on the field. Fishermen are not evil, with the only purpose of emptying the oceans. The perception of scientists for the fishermen is that they don’t care about anything else but to prove their point, that they don’t care about the lives of people. People on the field have real knowledge and the scientific community must include them in their work. Right now, the people that should in theory be working together, are not.

Scientist must also be open to share their work and knowledge on new modern platforms. Dr. Victoria Wadley, General Manager from the Census of Antarctic Marine Life for the Australian Antarctic Division told us how a little pop up on Google Earth had generated 3 million views!

Finally, the United Kingdoms was hosting a cocktail reception to promote its work on the polar regions and all the opportunities for collaboration. Present at the event was Dr. Elizabeth White, Production Director for the Planet Frozen Series, who presented a few segments from the show, narrated by none others than Sir David Attenborough. Besides chatting with Dr. White about wolves and bisons fighting for survival, I caught up with the folks of the Scott Polar Institute in Cambridge, Dr. Jan Gunnar Winther of the Norwegian Polar Institute and Dr. Dick van der Kroef, Deputy Director of Earth and Life Sciences at Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research in Amsterdam.

See here for more photos.

IPY 2012 – Day Two

It was day two at the International Polar Year, and just like yesterday, it was filled with amazing discussions, great meetings and priceless new connections.

Now sitting with Moki Kokoris of the Arctic Institute, we were ready for another intense working day.

Peter Harrison, Chair of the IPY 2012, came on stage and started the day by presenting an amazing video about Polar Educators. On the giant screen, Geoff Green, from Students on Ice, along with many others from several educational and scientific institutions, including PEW, talked about the importance of reaching out to children, who’s lifestyle now is more and more secluded from nature, and presented hands-on teaching methods to excite the students about science and the poles.

Then, it was time for David Hayes, Deputy Secretary of the Interior in the Obama administration. The emphasis was quickly established, pointing that the Arctic was extremely important and that the USA were committed to being an important player. Hayes continued by reaffirming a theme that has been highly important and repeated at this conference: we must take into account the needs of the local indigenous communities and consider their knowledge – thousands of years of onsite information carried over generations – priceless. His next point was to stress how a cooperation must be reached between all the Arctic States, governments and involved communities, to develop Ecosystem Based Management templates. Finally, Hayes reiterated that science was great and that no one in this room needed to be convinced, but the challenge was to bridge science to the policy makers.

Today’s keynote speaker was Aqqualuk Lynge, President of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, former member of the Parliament of Greenland and one of the founders of the Greenlandic political party Inuit Ataqatigiit. Lynge reminded the audience that it was ok to be interested in the resources the Arctic had to offer, but that the North was primarily the place where they live and had lived for generations. Under an incredible slideshow of photos, Aqqaluke, a passionate Inuk, talked about how important it is to listen to his people. Although the Inuit Circumpolar Council and other indigenous organizations have been officially recognized and are present at the negotiation table, their voices are too often simply ignored. “You pretend to serve us but really, do you? You don’t know what WE know. You don’t believe in what WE believe” Lynge said, pointing to the obvious, of the need for the South to come and “fix” the North!

When Harrison came back to address the audience, it was to talk about the environmental aspect of the conference. “The ice cap is white, the ocean is blue, and the conference is green” he said. Through recycling, small publication format, carbon footprint sensitive actions and the paperless smartphone application, from GuideBook, that includes the program, maps, information on all sessions and so much more, the organization of the conference has done everything it could to lower its environmental impact.

Before heading to the Action Forum “Creating the conditions for safe shipping in polar waters”, I met with the Arctic Council Chair, Mr. Gustaf Lind and talked about how the Arctic scene had change over the last 5 years and what it will mean when the Chair moves to Canada. Although this conversation could have gone on for hours, he summarized it in one sentence: “One thing is for sure, much has happened already and much more will happen in a near future and the key to our adaptation will be “Cooperation”.

WWF’s Arctic Director Dr. Alex Shestakov was part of the morning panel at the Forum, along with Tschudi CEO Mr. Jon Edvard Sundess, Professor of Geography & arctic Policy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Dr. Lawson W. Brigham, marine lawyer for Border Ladner Gervais Mr. Peter Pamel, Research Associate at the Arctic Institute of North America Dr. Emma Stewart and finally President & Co-Founder of Cruise North Expeditions Mr. Dugald G. Wells. I caught up with Shestakov after to talk about the challenges we face. Once again, the word cooperation was the key to address these challenges.

At lunch time, we were treated with a magnificent show – ArtCirq and the Dakhka Khwaan Dancers. The Dakhka is a traditional inland Tlingit dance group of Northern Canada that: “work to bring opportunity of cultural revitalization and social transformation within their communities by reclaiming their languages, traditional values through the traditional art form of song, drumming, dance, storytelling.” Marilyn Jensen, dance leader, enlightened me after with more stories and information about the dances they performed, costumed they wore and the history of their culture. It was simply fascinating! I will definitely be writing about that in the coming weeks!

ArtCirq was a hilarious performance! Started after a tragic event in 1998, Inuusiq (“Life” in Inuktitut) was created  to prevent suicide in small communities and help children in life. Their first mission was to produce, with the help of ISUMA productions, a television series about the youth’s life in the Canadian Arctic. The next project was the circus idea, intended to be an entertaining and fun alternative for the children. Today, Artcirq has evolved into a full community-based entertainment and multimedia company for northern and southern artists to bridge and meet in a meaningful and creative way.

The afternoon panel “Adaptation to Change” featured guests panelists Dr. Gustaf Lind – Chair of the Arctic Council, Mr. Jack Hebert – CEO of Cold Climate Housing Research Center, Mr. Duane Smith – President of the Inuit Circumpolar Council of Canada and finally Mr. Jon Edvard Sundress – CEO of Tschudi Shipping Company. Moderated by NY Times journalist and Senior Fellow at Pace University Mr. Andrew Revkin, each guest presented how their organizations had found success in adapting to unforeseen or foreseen challenges. “Adaptation for the Inuit is nothing new. We have lived for thousands of years, in harmony with one of the harshest  environments in the world” said Mr. Smith.

Next stop was a workshop given by the Royal Norwegian Canadian Embassy. The two countries have a long history of working together (Canadian’s top scientific icebreaker bears the name of Norwegian legendary explorer Amundsen), and this event was a strong message from Norway to extend its commitment and support to further develop and strengthen this partnership. My main reason to attend was to chat with Jan-Gunnar Winther, director of the Norwegian Polar Institute.

Events like the International Polar Year Conference, are so crucial for developing the necessary relationships to bridge the communities, the scientists, the corporations, the educators & the politicians.

If you are present at the conference, make sure not to miss the photo exhibit on the cultural Inuit history. The presence of the Inuit is strongly emphasized at the IPY 2012, and for a reason. It is their home, their land, and their right. 

More photos from today here and live Tweets here