All of life began in the ocean, supposedly in a primordial stew created by deep-sea hydrothermal vents that were spewing mineral-rich water from the earth’s crust. It is the lungs of the earth, with phytoplankton that produces oxygen and recycles carbon dioxide.
For billions of years the ocean was governed by natural law that maintained the delicate equilibrium needed for the survival of life. But the ocean, covering 70 percent of the planet’s surface, is now under threat by a hostile army of superpredators—humans.
With over 100,000 ships crisscrossing the ocean to transport goods, the ocean becomes more vulnerable each day. Industrialization and population growth have led to the depletion of resources, overfishing, global warming and pollution.
Some 6.5 billion kilograms of plastic waste are thrown into the ocean each year, entering the oceans at a staggering speed of 206 kg/second. There is today a “plastic continent” in the Pacific Ocean, about five times the size of France.
But it’s not just plastic. A total of 114,000 tons of nuclear waste have likewise been dumped in the oceans, before the practice was banned in 1982.
“You cannot look at the earth without doing anything. You cannot live in your planet like a stranger. We must all be activists. Every day I am trying to be less stupid by reading. I want to give sense to my work and my life,” said the acclaimed French photographer and filmmaker Yann Arthus-Bertrand, who was in the country recently to talk about his new documentary film, “Planet Ocean.”
Directed by Arthus-Bertrand with Michael Pitiot, the docu tells the story of life, of the important role the ocean plays in preserving everything we hold dear. A drop of water, for instance, takes 1,000 years to cycle the earth. It may sound irrelevant, but this cycle is critical to maintaining the planet’s temperate climate.
There’s a “conveyor belt” in the ocean that allows water to travel from the warm temperatures in the South to the cool atmosphere in the North, sinking to the depths of the ocean to cool down, and rising back up to warm up again.
This cycle has been broken, so that now we face each year with stronger supertyphoons and storms.
“You have to understand that when I was born, the world population was 2 billion. In my lifetime the population has tripled. Why is it so impossible to change our way of life? If we continue on this path it would be suicide,” the 68-year-old César-nominated documentarist said.
Arthus-Bertrand is also the goodwill ambassador of the United Nations Environment Program and president of GoodPlanet Foundation. As part of his advocacy, “Planet Ocean” is without copyrights, so it can be shown and shared for free by everyone. The full version of the film will be posted on YouTube this month.
Fifty-percent of the images in the film, in fact, are from various sources, donated by people who believed the docu can make a difference, he said. An exhibit by Arthus-Bertrand with underwater photojournalist Brian Skerry is also ongoing at The Gardens, Greenbelt 5, until April 11.
Swiss luxury watchmaker Omega produced “Planet Ocean” for just over 2 million Swiss francs. It takes viewers from Shark Bay, Australia, all the way to the coasts of Africa, South America and Antarctica. Interestingly, there is no product placement in the entire film.
Sharing makes you richer
“Omega has a link with the ocean for almost 100 years. We produce watches for divers. But one key to success is the ability to share. Sharing makes you richer. Doing something important that is not commercially linked, in fact, makes you richer,” said Jean-Pascal Perret, VP for communications of Omega.
The local media, together with the international press from Japan and China, viewed the film in Pangalusian Resort in El Nido, Palawan. El Nido serves as an apt backdrop to “Planet Ocean’s” strong environmental message. The limestone islets are coral and dead plankton deposits formed 250 million years ago, and many of the town’s shores are lined with thick mangroves, like soldiers that quietly march across the sea.
“The mangrove is the dark horse of the marine ecosystem. They make sure the coral reefs are protected, as well as the land that’s situated behind it. Worse effects of storms are always in areas without mangroves,” said biologist Mariglo Laririt, director of sustainability, El Nido Foundation.
Laririt added that mangroves provide nursery for fishes, crabs and shrimps, who seek shelter in their roots to hide from bigger predators. They’re also the best filters there is, protecting the coral reefs from land soil during erosion.
Today, however, more than 20 percent of the world’s mangrove swamps have been destroyed, either used as firewood or for construction, said Cédric Javanaud, marine biologist and GoodPlanet Foundation ocean project manager.
“We work with the local community to restore mangroves. You can’t do a conservation program without the local community. When we restore the mangroves, we also restore the local fisheries,” Javanaud said.
Seventy percent of commercial fish species have already been harvested beyond their reproductive capacity. Five out of eight species of tuna are endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The dwindling number of large predators—swordfish, cod and shark populations have decreased by 90 percent—threatens the balance of the ecosystem.
Globalization has made it possible for us to eat a plate of Chilean sea bass or enjoy a good serving of oysters from France on a whim. But at what price?
It takes four kilos of fish to produce a kilo of farm fish. The farm fish, such as salmon and sea bass, are luxury resources. And despite the odds against producing them, big industry players continue to farm them. A 300 kg top-quality fish can sell for 500,000 euros.
A 269-kg red tuna was once purchased by a Japanese restaurateur for 571,800 euros. At this rate, tuna will be extinct within a few years, according to the documentary film.
“The biomass of the vertebrae of the planet, with biomass as the weight of all species, is 98 percent people and domestic animals. We are so strong and clever that there’s only us. There’s no room for other animals—and that is very bad,” Arthus-Bertrand said.