Road to Ocean: Ocean Conservation

The best time to act is now

Among our beleaguered blue planet’s many defenders, three tireless personalities stand out – a scientist, a filmmaker, and an activist… Sylvia Earle, Louie Psihoyos, and Joel Reynolds each fight efficiently for ocean causes globally. Their remarkable work demonstrates the close connection between knowing, loving and protecting. Joachim Hellinger, Executive Producer and Creative Director of the International OCEAN FILM TOUR, spoke with the three prominent conservationists about rallying the masses to know, love and defend the marine environment.

During these alarming conversations, which took place at the BLUE Ocean Film Festival in Monaco, all three underscored that our oceans are in grave danger. Although they insisted that there is still hope, the primary stress factors impacting our largest ecosystem and greatest resource demand immediate action. Each of us can contribute to protect our oceans, and even small changes can make a big difference.

The best and most galvanizing time to act is . . . now!

The International OCEAN FILM TOUR not only revels in the beauties of our blue planet. This  carefully curated film program for surfers, sailors, divers, and all ocean lovers also brings diverse environmental issues to a broader audience in Europe and the US.

Sylvia Earle: The scientist

©Todd Brown

Marine biologist Sylvia Earle is the “grande dame” of the oceans. For more than 40 years she has been at the forefront of deep ocean exploration. Her foundation Mission Blue is currently creating the largest network of marine protected areas. As a dedicated advocate of the underwater world, her serious concerns about its ecological balance are heightened by intense exposure to evidence.

“We’re at a pivotal time in history. Now, maybe over the next ten years, we’ll have more impact on the future and where we are going than in the next ten thousand years.”

The current and continually increasing rate of pollution is threatening our natural habitats—on land and in the sea. “The ocean was relatively unaffected by man until the latter part of the 20th century. But now we’re disrupting the nature of the ocean on a scale that is unprecedented.”

As a citizen of the 21st century with deep roots in the 20th, Sylvia has no greater wish than to reverse this destructive trend. “We have to stabilize the loss of diversity and reduce the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that is driving warming and ocean acidification as well as human heath issues.” For us to turn the corner, she believes that everyone can use their individual talent in their individual framework.

“We have to understand that we have to power to change. We have to protect what remains of the natural system that keeps us alive and restore places that have been degraded.”

For all the beauty she has witnessed during the thousands of hours she has spent exploring the oceans, Earle feels an urgent need to give something back. She wonders what will become of our planet and what the future holds for her grandchildren if our generation does not take care of it. We have to make changes. “The smartest people who have ever lived didn’t have access to the knowledge that is at our fingertips.” It is the power of understanding that enables us to make the right decisions for a long and prosperous future. “Humans are the only creatures that have that power. We can look back in time. We can look in the future and know where we are and know where we want to be…and have some hope getting there based on your actions.”

Louie Psihoyos: The filmmaker
Racing Extinction Director Louie Psihoyos.

Racing Extinction Director Louie Psihoyos.

Over the last ten years, National Geographic photographer Louie Psihoyos has made his mark as a filmmaker. In 2010, his first movie “The Cove” shed light on the brutal methods of Japanese dolphin hunters and won an Academy Award in the category “Best Documentary”. His second movie “Racing Extinction” (2015) examines the ongoing mass extinction of wildlife around the globe. He is convinced that “only our generation can affect the massive amount of changes we need that will not only affect the next generation but generations for hundreds of thousands if not million of years from now. When we look back at the human experience from the industrial revolution to the year 2100, World War II will be a footnote in comparison to the damage that this generation has done to the planet.”

“It could be the biggest catastrophe since the comet hit the Earth 65 million years ago and wiped out the big dinosaurs.”

Psihoyos is painting the future in dark colors. “Right now we’re losing the coral reefs because of ocean acidification. Scientists say that, by 2050 at the current rate, all coral reefs will be in the state of dissolving, by 2100 they will be gone. And there are a billion people who rely on coral reefs for food and recreation. How can you reconcile our generation’s need for cheap energy with the long term environmental degradation for generations going forward?”

But even for Psihoyos there is still hope.

“The interesting thing is that the changes we need to make are all upgrades. Using alternative energy is an upgrade. Electricity is actually cheaper. And it is cleaner. Of course the oil companies—and the politicians who are being bought by them—try to convince the public that the world is going to collapse without fossil fuels. But it is just the opposite. Maybe life for oil companies and politicians will get a bit difficult, but for society as a whole it’s way better.” Without oil, and without—or at least with less—meat.

“The single most important thing anybody can do to change the world is to change their diet. Reduce their meat, egg, and cheese consumption. Raising meat for human consumption causes more greenhouse gases than all the emissions from the entire transportation sector. That means a vegan driving a Hummer uses less energy than a meat eater on a bicycle.”

Psihoyos doesn’t ask for the impossible. For him it’s all about taking one step after another:

“I’m not saying that you need to become a vegan. Just reduce your consumption. It’s healthier for you, it’s healthier for the animals, and it’s way healthier for the environment. Future generations will be impacted and thank us later for it.”

Joel Reynolds: The activist


For 35 years, environmental lawyer Joel Reynolds has pursued and prosecuted polluters. Since 1990 he has been working with the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). His current focus is on ocean noise pollution. As the Executive Producer of “Sonic Sea”, a documentary that is part of the International OCEAN FILM TOUR Volume 3, he has raised awareness for this relatively unknown issue. The film reveals that Low Frequency Active Sonar’s disorienting influence on whales causes mass strandings all over the world.

“We’re trying to force the US Navy to be more environmentally responsible in its testing and training with sonar.”

For him protecting the biggest marine mammal is just one piece of a much larger puzzle. “I think the most important environmental issue is protecting the Earth for future generations.” Results from the most recent United Nations Climate Change Conference give some hope, but ultimately conservation depends on every single person.

“Over the next five years we need to get serious about remedying climate change. We had a very good start in Paris in December 2015. Now we need to make sure that the commitments that were made there are achieved and improved upon, so that carbon reductions that are actually obtained around the globe will keep us below the 1.5°C threshold at the end of the century. If we continue to ignore climate change, if we allow the destruction of our cities, if we allow corporations to continue to destroy irreplaceable natural resources, if we allow our water to become polluted and our children to be poisoned – that’s the nightmare scenario. And it’s not out of the question. The decisions we make today will determine whether that’s the world we end up with. In 30 years I hope to see a stable planet, a stable climate, clean air, clean water for everyone, and diverse wildlife that’s protected—no more killing of whales for profit, a place where the natural world is at the highest level of protection from society. We have to protect this planet. It’s the only one we have.”

Joachim Hellinger met Sylvia Earle and Louie Psihoyos at the Blue Ocean Film Festival Monaco. Joel Reynolds was interviewed at the premiere of the International OCEAN FILM TOUR Volume 3 in Hamburg.