Dive Briefs

The peo­ple, places and events mak­ing head­lines un­der­wa­ter Why this cli­mat­e­change cru­sader has hope for coral reefs

Sport Diver - - Contents - BY B ROOKE MORTON

The doc­u­men­tary Chas­ing Coral rocked our world — meet the di­rec­tor who found the per­fect bal­ance mak­ing the film. Plus, how we divers are af­fected by be­ing un­der pres­sure, and learn about the Pavarot­tis of the sea, hump­back whales.

Rare is the film­maker who tells a story that’s heart­break­ing enough to doc­u­ment dev­as­ta­tion, yet hope­ful enough to in­spire au­di­ences.

Jeff Or­lowski, di­rec­tor of the 2017 Net­flix doc­u­men­tary Chas­ing Coral, knows how to build this bal­ance, in part be­cause it mir­rors his own dis­cov­er­ies of the ocean after a 13-year ab­sence. Or­lowski was scuba cer­ti­fied in 2004, but fo­cused his en­er­gies else­where, in­clud­ing trekking across the Arc­tic to doc­u­ment glacial melt­ing for the 2012 film Chas­ing Ice.

“I knew very lit­tle about the ocean,” he says of his life be­fore re­ceiv­ing the call from Richard Vev­ers, founder of the Ocean Agency, ask­ing him to come on

board. “I had two big re­al­iza­tions: One, things are a lot worse than most peo­ple think, and two, things are a lot bet­ter than peo­ple think.

“It’s hard for peo­ple to un­der­stand what they’re look­ing at when they see coral bleach­ing. Peo­ple are so used to see­ing white coral,” he says, point­ing out that peo­ple of­ten dis­play dead, white corals on the cof­fee ta­bles of their beach homes.

Pho­tos alone weren’t enough to alert non­divers to the prob­lem. His team knew that time-lapse footage would help view­ers see and un­der­stand how quickly corals bleach and die. But cap­tur­ing that footage proved far more chal­leng­ing than ex­pected.

When cam­eras mounted near corals failed to cap­ture in-fo­cus footage, Or­lowski and his team chose to man­u­ally shoot 25 lo­ca­tions ev­ery day, then splice them to­gether to cre­ate the same time-lapse ef­fect.

“It was an ex­tremely te­dious ef­fort,” he says. “Divers have a sense of how chal­leng­ing that is.”

But harder than that was the emo­tional strug­gle, the heart­break of re­al­iz­ing so much work had been in vain, and find­ing the grit to keep go­ing.

“We felt like we had to — we felt a re­spon­si­bil­ity,” he says.

The mass-bleach­ing event his team was shoot­ing was tied to El Niño, and they didn’t want to have to wait un­til the next El Niño event to doc­u­ment it.

“You can’t eas­ily pre­dict the next El Niño,” he says.

And so they pushed on. They met with suc­cess, but of course, rec­og­nized that their suc­cess in doc­u­ment­ing tragedy isn’t some­thing to cel­e­brate. Rather, they hope it be­comes a call to ac­tion. The web­site chas­ing­co­ral.com spells out ex­actly how view­ers can help. The site is meant to in­cite view­ers to ask ques­tions, but the one ques­tion Or­lowski doesn’t want you to ask your­self is, “What can I do to change this?”

“That ques­tion frus­trated me for a num­ber of rea­sons,” he says. “It im­plies that this is a prob­lem that a sin­gle per­son can solve. We need to be ask­ing, ‘ What can we do? What can my com­mu­nity do?’”

This is where Or­lowski feels op­ti­mistic.

“The so­lu­tion in­cludes clean-en­ergy so­lu­tions, which are chang­ing so fast and be­com­ing so much bet­ter than I thought,” he says. He hopes com­mu­ni­ties, be they cities or states, band to­gether, com­mit­ting to clean en­ergy and clean jobs. “Get in­volved with the city coun­cil and ask, ‘ What is our pol­icy?’ and ‘ How are we build­ing sus­tain­abil­ity?’” he says.

Those who view the film could ex­pe­ri­ence a sim­i­lar shift in at­ti­tude as Or­lowski did when mak­ing the film.

“Now, I get why the dive com­mu­nity is there, and I get why they do it. I want to spend more time in the wa­ter,” he says. “Re­ally, this ex­pe­ri­ence for me … I didn’t ex­pect to fall in love.”

Or­lowski saw coral bleach­ing in real time, es­pe­cially on the Great Bar­rier Reef, while film­ing Chas­ing Coral.

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