Dive into an ocean photographer’s world | Thomas Peschak


As a kid, I used to dream about the ocean. It was this wild place
full of color and life, home to these alien-looking,
fantastical creatures. I pictured big sharks
ruling the food chain and saw graceful sea turtles
dancing across coral reefs. As a marine biologist turned photographer, I’ve spent most of my career
looking for places as magical as those I used
to dream about when I was little. As you can see, I began exploring bodies of water
at a fairly young age. But the first time
I truly went underwater, I was about 10 years old. And I can still vividly remember
furiously finning to reach this old, encrusted
cannon on a shallow coral reef. And when I finally managed
to grab hold of it, I looked up, and I was instantly
surrounded by fish in all colors of the rainbow. That was the day
I fell in love with the ocean. Thomas Peschak Conservation Photographer In my 40 years on this planet, I’ve had the great privilege to explore some of its most incredible seascapes for National Geographic Magazine and the Save Our Seas Foundation. I’ve photographed everything
from really, really big sharks to dainty ones that fit
in the palm of your hand. I’ve smelled the fishy, fishy breath
of humpback whales feeding just feet away from me in the cold seas off Canada’s
Great Bear Rainforest. And I’ve been privy to the mating rituals
of green sea turtles in the Mozambique Channel. Everyone on this planet affects
and is affected by the ocean. And the pristine seas
I used to dream of as a child are becoming harder and harder to find. They are becoming more compressed and more threatened. As we humans continue to maintain our role as the leading predator on earth, I’ve witnessed and photographed
many of these ripple effects firsthand. For a long time, I thought
I had to shock my audience out of their indifference
with disturbing images. And while this approach has merits, I have come full circle. I believe that the best way
for me to effect change is to sell love. I guess I’m a matchmaker of sorts and as a photographer, I have the rare opportunity to reveal animals and entire ecosystems that lie hidden beneath
the ocean’s surface. You can’t love something
and become a champion for it if you don’t know it exists. Uncovering this — that is the power
of conservation photography. (Music) I’ve visited hundreds of marine locations, but there are a handful of seascapes that have touched me incredibly deeply. The first time I experienced
that kind of high was about 10 years ago, off South Africa’s rugged, wild coast. And every June and July, enormous shoals of sardines
travel northwards in a mass migration
we call the Sardine Run. And boy, do those fish
have good reason to run. In hot pursuit are hoards
of hungry and agile predators. Common dolphins hunt together and they can separate some
of the sardines from the main shoal and they create bait balls. They drive and trap the fish upward
against the ocean surface and then they rush in to dine on this pulsating and movable feast. Close behind are sharks. Now, most people believe that sharks and dolphins
are these mortal enemies, but during the Sardine Run,
they actually coexist. In fact, dolphins actually
help sharks feed more effectively. Without dolphins, the bait balls
are more dispersed and sharks often end up
with what I call a sardine donut, or a mouth full of water. Now, while I’ve had a few spicy moments
with sharks on the sardine run, I know they don’t see me as prey. However, I get bumped and tail-slapped
just like any other guest at this rowdy, rowdy banquet. From the shores of Africa we travel east, across the vastness
that is the Indian Ocean to the Maldives, an archipelago
of coral islands. And during the stormy southwest monsoon, manta rays from all across the archipelago travel to a tiny speck
in Baa Atoll called Hanifaru. Armies of crustaceans, most no bigger than the size
of your pupils, are the mainstay of the manta ray’s diet. When plankton concentrations
become patchy, manta rays feed alone and they somersault themselves
backwards again and again, very much like a puppy
chasing its own tail. (Music) However, when plankton densities increase, the mantas line up head-to-tail
to form these long feeding chains, and any tasty morsel that escapes
the first or second manta in line is surely to be gobbled up
by the next or the one after. As plankton levels peak in the bay, the mantas swim closer and closer together in a unique behavior
we call cyclone feeding. And as they swirl in tight formation, this multi-step column of mantas creates its own vortex, sucking in
and delivering the plankton right into the mantas’ cavernous mouths. The experience of diving
amongst such masses of hundreds of rays is truly unforgettable. (Music) When I first photographed Hanifaru, the site enjoyed no protection and was threatened by development. And working with NGOs
like the Manta Trust, my images eventually helped Hanifaru become a marine-protected area. Now, fisherman from neighboring islands, they once hunted these manta rays to make traditional drums
from their skins. Today, they are the most ardent
conservation champions and manta rays earn the Maldivian economy in excess of 8 million dollars
every single year. I have always wanted
to travel back in time to an era where maps were mostly blank or they read, “There be dragons.” And today, the closest I’ve come
is visiting remote atolls in the western Indian Ocean. Far, far away from shipping lanes
and fishing fleets, diving into these waters
is a poignant reminder of what our oceans once looked like. Very few people have heard
of Bassas da India, a tiny speck of coral
in the Mozambique Channel. Its reef forms a protective outer barrier and the inner lagoon is a nursery ground for Galapagos sharks. These sharks are anything but shy,
even during the day. I had a bit of a hunch
that they’d be even bolder and more abundant at night. (Music) Never before have I encountered so many sharks on a single coral outcrop. Capturing and sharing moments like this — that reminds me why I chose my path. Earlier this year, I was on assignment
for National Geographic Magazine in Baja California. And about halfway down the peninsula
on the Pacific side lies San Ignacio Lagoon, a critical calving ground for gray whales. For 100 years, this coast was the scene
of a wholesale slaughter, where more than 20,000
gray whales were killed, leaving only a few hundred survivors. Today the descendents of these same whales nudge their youngsters to the surface to play and even interact with us. (Music) This species truly has made
a remarkable comeback. Now, on the other side
of the peninsula lies Cabo Pulmo, a sleepy fishing village. Decades of overfishing
had brought them close to collapse. In 1995, local fisherman
convinced the authorities to proclaim their waters a marine reserve. But what happened next
was nothing short of miraculous. In 2005, after only
a single decade of protection, scientists measured the largest
recovery of fish ever recorded. But don’t take my word
for it — come with me. On a single breath, swim with me in deep, into one of the largest
and densest schools of fish I have ever encountered. (Music) We all have the ability
to be creators of hope. And through my photography, I want to pass on the message
that it is not too late for our oceans. And particularly, I want to focus
on nature’s resilience in the face of 7.3 billion people. My hope is that in the future, I will have to search much, much harder to make photographs like this, while creating images that showcase our respectful coexistence with the ocean. Those will hopefully become
an everyday occurrence for me. To thrive and survive in my profession, you really have to be a hopeless optimist. And I always operate on the assumption that the next great picture
that will effect change is right around the corner, behind the next coral head, inside the next lagoon or possibly, in the one after it. (Music)

100 Replies to “Dive into an ocean photographer’s world | Thomas Peschak”

  1. TED is starting to drown in videos about the ocean, something is a bit fishy about this. I think they're a thirsty for ideas, please don't drink in this comment and get salty.

  2. Now this is different. Instead of an audience, someone actually tells you about their living by being surrounded by it. Nice.

  3. The ocean scares the absolute s**t out of me so I am glad there are people like this in the world. In the mean time I will stay on dry land and share this video.

  4. Really awesome layout! This different way of expressing a theme worked really well to pass the message, I liked it!

  5. ck how much Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Dynasty is polluting ocean and air, not mentioning overtaking fish, etc.

  6. Anyone know of jobs or careers that let you travel all over the world, even remote places. Where you go somewhere, study the land, the environment, the animals, and the people too, like their culture or religion. I really have a passion to explore Earth's greatest phenomenons. I guess I want to be some sort of explorer. Any advice, like what education to receive, or companies that offer something like this, or even military experience or pilot training or whatever? I want to explore, I want to know. Please and thank you! ☺️

  7. Thank you, Thomas. I too have dived with Mantas and sharks etc. but nothing compared to what you've shown us. Your images are amazing. I wish you could visit Australia where ill-advised governments are making policies that are not friendly to our greatest natural treasure, the Great Barrier Reef. I'm positive your insightful eye could change hearts and minds

  8. how is this on par with talks on cultural marxism and bullshit "social justice". this is what we want to see not your leftist agenda.

  9. One of the first things I wanted to be as a child was a underwater photographer. I have no idea why. I don't remember ever seeing any inspiring video or photos but I just remember feeling it. So very cool to see the insights of what its like. Very beautiful.

  10. Definitely the most intriguing TED video i've seen! What an inspirational journey Thomas has taken me on! Thank you!

  11. this one was beautiful.. he's wise and truly humble in his words and actions.. I want to be his friend.. he's inspiring me to be a better person – a human.. I bless him for the ripples he is creating..

  12. People with a passion this strong in their work is awing. They must live such fulfilled lives, I'm grateful we have people like him, his images are amazing

  13. This is absolutely incredible. We must protect our wild and marine life. Imagine how boring planet earth will be with only humans on board!

  14. Wow, simply wow !!
    Respect to this man for all his work and showing the world how beautiful our planet is and how important it is to save our Mother Earth.
    Thank You Sir 🙂

  15. I am 100% with you Dude !! COEXISTING with Nature, not decimating it, if we help them thrive, than we will thrive, and sometimes that means hands off, and sometimes they need help, if we as a people of Earth, let any part of this Beautiful World die, come on, a piece of us dies with it, it's up to us, who's with me !? Peace

  16. The oceans are wonderful. The best way to protect them is to create awareness of the life in this amazing habitat. As scubadivers we think that marine parks and liveaboard diving adventures such as on www.liveaboard.com are helping to get up close, experience the ocean life and eventually protect the oceans from over-fishing and from pollution.

  17. I came to watch this video after he came to my university NTU to give a National Geog talk. I am really inspired by his talk though I am majoring in chemistry;(

  18. I feel really keen to learn more about your work. Great presentation and images. Congratulations,too, on your excellent English.

  19. amazing ,really i like it ,What does the sentence mean? that lie* hidden beneath the ocean's surface. or you want to say that lay

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