Contributed by Tim Watters
For the last few years, I've traveled around the world as a photographer and videographer for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a marine conservation group most known for their role in defending and protecting the whales of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in Antarctica. The anti-whaling campaign is what Sea Shepherd is most known for, and people are often surprised to hear that Sea Shepherd actually operates all over the world, running various campaigns to protect something that we all share and rely upon—The Ocean.
My role with Sea Shepherd was to document and communicate two things: I needed to show the world the beauty of the Ocean and the life within it, and the threats these places are facing, and I needed to show what Sea Shepherd was doing to save these environments and it inhabitants.
In the last 4 years I've worked both above and below the Ocean in such places as James Price Point in Western Australia, home to the worlds largest Humpback Whale Nursery, the Galapagos Islands, where the bio-diversity of life and the importance of the marine ecosystem has afforded the region the highest level of protection, and the big one - Antarctica - where; although protected, Whales still face the threat of a harpoon exploding into their back.
To visit such places was a dream come true for a keen and relatively new photographer, and on all of these trips I've made sure not to pass up the opportunity to check out what lies below, so I've always brought my Ikelite gear along with me. From all of my dives, two stand out above the rest.
In 2011, I took a number of dives around the Galapagos Islands in search of sharks. I was there to make a documentary on Sea Shepherds work in assisting the local authorities in upholding and enforcing the laws of the Galapagos Marine Reserve - a place where thousands of sharks are illegally killed each year for the brutal and destructive shark fin trade. Prior to a dive around the famous Kicker Rock, we stopped by a shoreline, and those new to diving submerged for the first time, testing their gear. Seeing a playful group of Sea Lions, I decided to jump in with my camera and see if they were up for a play, and they sure were! Over the next 40 minutes I ducked and dived as multiple Sea Lions approached me, playing with me, projecting past me, and one even stopping to offer me a recently caught (and definitely dead) fish. I'm not a fan of seafood, so I kindly declined. Only when the Captain of the boat yelled out to me did I leave my new friends. It was probably the most fun I've had underwater.
My most interesting dive took place in Antarctica, over the Southern summer of 2013/2014. For over 100 days I sailed deep into the Ross Sea and the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary aboard the Sea Shepherd vessel, the 'Steve Irwin', as one of two official photographers. We were there to defend and protect the thousands of whales that journey South over the summer to fatten up on krill, but in doing so, face the risk of a long and brutal death at the hands of the Japanese Whaling Fleet. In January, whilst searching for the fleet, we passed a large iceberg on a sunny day, and I took the opportunity to head out on one of our small boats and dive under the ice. Just as my friend and I submerged, the ocean picked up, throwing us around and between the relatively large chunks of ice that had broken off the iceberg. It was pretty violent, and whilst not all of my dive gear survived, my Ikelite housing did, allowing me to briefly get below and take some shots of the sun glistening through the pavement of ice closing in around our heads.
It's been an honor, and in a way, a challenge, to capture the true beauty and scale of some of the places that I have had the privilege to travel to. Through my photography, I have tried my best to visually communicate the beauty and importance of these places and the animals that live within them. I believe that it is difficult to protect something unless you feel something for it, and I think that photography allows us to connect to these places, no matter how far away they may be.