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Ocean Matters: The Blue Revolution | Brian Skerry

World Economic Forum

"“The Ocean is not a grocery store, we can’t continue to take like this without some serious results,” says Brian Skerry in this video for the World Economic Forum. Skerry, who was recently made a National Geographic Photography Fellow, is one of the world’s leading underwater photographers. He says: “98% of the biosphere is ocean. Half of the air that we breathe, every other breath that a human being takes comes from the sea. It’s in our own best interest to learn more about this watery world and to protect it.”

Click the video above to see Skerry’s work and listen to the full talk, or read quotes below

On sharks and slaughter
“The ocean is the greatest place I could work, because there’s no end to the amount of stories you can find there. A big part of my work is about getting close to animals and peeling back the layers of mystery. Animals like sharks, that are still painted as monsters. And they’re not that. They’re just one very important part of whatever ecosystem they happen to inhabit, and are critical to the health of the ocean.”

“I spent time looking at shark fishing. Right now, we’re still killing in excess of one hundred million sharks every year. We cannot kill one hundred million apex predators and expect any ecosystem to be healthy. I wrestled with how to take a photograph of a dead shark that will resonate with readers, because there’s still this conception that the only good shark is a dead shark.”

“It was one morning when I jumped in the water and found this thresher shark that had just recently died in a gillnet. And because it’s a pelagic animal that lives out in the open ocean, it had these big pectoral fins and its eye was still open. And as I framed it up in my viewfinder, it sort of struck me as a crucifixion. I thought that maybe this would give some empathy to that issue of one hundred million sharks. It ended up being the lead picture in our cover story on the global fishing crisis. And it’s been used by a number of NGO’s to raise attention about the need to cease this slaughter of sharks.”

On overfishing and the global fish crisis
“Throughout my career I had seen a lot of degradation. I saw fewer fish, less sharks in the places I used to see sharks. I also read a scientific paper that was published in the British journal “Nature”, that stated that 90% of the big fish in the ocean had disappeared in the last 60 years due to commercial overfishing.”

“I thought this was going to be be headline news, but it really didn’t get that much attention. So I proposed a story to the National Geographic, and it became a cover story. I spent about two years going around the world, and I wanted readers to get a grasp of what commercial fishing is all about. They’re using Star Wars equipment here, and the fish don’t have a chance.”

“These are absolute factories at sea. This is a picture of one of these ships. They’re 450 feet long, and they do everything at sea. They catch the fish, they process them, they package them, they freeze them and when they hit the dock, they immediately unload them. Less than 24 hours later and they’re back out at sea. I wanted to approach it, not like a typical underwater story, but more like war photography. I wanted readers to get a sense of what was happening to marine wildlife around the planet.”

On hope and resilience
“After the global fish story a few years ago, I wanted to do a story that talked about hope and showed the value of marine protected areas. I went to New Zealand because New Zealand had a variety of ecosystems that were quite progressive. Every part of the ecosystem seemed to be healthy.”

“I was having tea with an old time Kiwi diver and he told me that he believed that the marine life was better in Poor Knight’s Island today, than it was when he began diving in the 1950’s. So here was a place that was better today, simply because they protected it in the 1980’s. So the message is clear: the ocean is resilient and tolerant to a point, but we have to be wise about how we manage it.”

world economic forum, WEF, Davos

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