Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Photographing the impacts of overfishing

Contributed by expedition photographer Brian Skerry

I have spent the last three days living a boyhood dream--exploring the ocean in a submersible. I have been SCUBA diving for over thirty years and taking pictures underwater for nearly as long, but I have never been inside a true submersible until now. It is everything I thought it would be and more!

This trip is the beginnin
g of the Seamounts story that Greg Stone and I are producing for National Geographic Magazine. My goal as the story photographer is to produce images of seamounts that illustrate the immense value these places have as biodiversity hotspots in the sea; some of the last remaining hotspots in our world's oceans.

The seamount we've been exploring here in the Sea of Cortez is El Bajo, once a lush and wild place, famous for massive schools of hammerhead sharks and a wealth of other marine life. Today however, it is a shadow of its former self due to decades of over fishing. I had hoped that with the deep submersible dives we would find that the devastation was limited to only shallow waters, but it does not appear to be the case.

While we have seen some beautiful animals, there are very few and the evidence of destruction is clearly present. I have shifted my photographic focus to using El Bajo as an example of what can go wrong without protection of these jewels of the sea. I have been photographing lost fishing gear, especially massive fishing nets that have been lost on the bottom here. These trawler and seiner nets are dr
aped over the reef and boulders of the seamount, a testimony to the severe pressure this site has received over the years.

I have been shooting with a newly designed deep-sea camera system developed by National Geographic Magazine for this project. With the superb maneuvering by the sub pilots I have been able to get very close to my subjects and make pictures. I've also made a few dives and made pictures the old fashioned way too--with a camera and underwater housing.

Brian Skerry (right) emerges from the DEEPSEE submarine after a dive.
In the photo above left Skerry photographs the ship for National Geographic story about the expedition.

Diving in the sub is fantastic! Just the sensation of slowly descending below the waves, then seeing the colors of blue morph into darker shades, then into shades of green is mesmerizing. I find that I have to shake myself out of a sleepy trance-like feeling and concentrate on the job at hand. It feels strange to me, seeing fish and gliding over rocks without being wet.

Although this component is short, only four days, it has already been extremely valuable from several perspectives, especially in regards to the learning curve of such a complex project. The next trip for this project/story will show the other side, the magnificent wildlife that live around seamounts and will explore places never been seen. I simply cannot wait!

-Brian Skerry

Facebook Comments


Post a Comment