Sea of Life– Written, Directed and Produced by Julia Barnes
“The ocean produces most of the oxygen in the air we breathe. It’s home to 80% of all life on Earth. And it is in big trouble.”
- – Julia Barnes
“We have half the number of animals on this planet than we did 50 years ago. And now we’re set to lose half the species on the planet by 2100 at the current rate. We’re not going to be able to save everything. But what we can do is alert people that this is going on and motivate them, inspire them to save what’s left.”
– Louie Psihoyo, The Cove, Racing Extinction
It is time to open our eyes to what is happening to our oceans and the impact it will have on life around the globe. The attention grabbing quote from filmmaker Julia Barnes is on the top of her website for the film Sea of Life. Not far below it a viewer can read,
“50% of the coral reefs are gone. 90% of the fish have been taken from the ocean. 40% of the plankton that produce the oxygen we breathe have been taken out.”
This information sets the stage for what we as the human race need to become aware of, soak in, realize, and hopefully act on very soon. Julia Barnes did not intend to become a filmmaker. She was 16 when she learned how many of the world’s ecosystems were in jeopardy. Like many of us in the field, she felt compelled to take action. These problems will not fix themselves, yet become worse and potentially catastrophic in our lifetime if people do not do something about it. This starts with educating the world on what is happening. Barnes bought a couple cameras, learned to dive, and set out on a mission to expose the reality of the world’s oceans in this 84-minute documentary.
In the beginning of the film we learn about these dire straights but also of the power and amazing discovery under the ocean surface. In the first interview with Louie Psihoyo, the creator of The Cove and Racing Extinction, he describes exploring under the surface as space travel with creatures from another world. In similar degrees of inspiration Barnes gained motivation from Rob Stewart’s Revolution documentary to create one of her own. One of the first major subjects the film covers is coral reefs, their bleaching, and predicted extinction. Our contributor Stacey Hollis wrote a wonderful article on coral bleaching, which you can check out in the link. Corals have been on the planet for at least 250 million years, with a wide biodiversity. Reefs are vital to ocean ecosystems as they harbor one third of all life in the ocean at some stage in their life cycle. Their absence will have a devastating effect on ocean life.
Ocean acidification is the next major idea the viewer comes across. This is the process of carbon dioxide dissolving into the ocean, reacting with water, which creates carbonic acid. Carbonic acid then reacts with water further making the oceans 30% more acidic. Estimates from the current annual rate of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere predict that coral reefs will completely disappear by the mid century, losing 25% of all life in the ocean.
The film then explains how ocean acidification affects far more than just coral reefs. All life on the planet depends on plankton. They are small microscopic organisms that create 2 out of every 3 breaths of air we take in. Plankton and numerous other creatures are disappearing as a result of this acidification. Experts agree the only way to substantially help stop acidification is to drastically cut CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. This means changing a way of life we have become very comfortable with. But at what cost do we try to maintain this comfort? Continuing down this path will inevitably lead to devastating consequences for future, and present, life on this planet. Yet what will you do, knowing this, with the power of ‘now’ in your hands?
After covering a climate rally in New York City, Barnes returns the audience back to the ocean to learn about bycatch in a variety of fisheries. Bycatch is the term for species caught by fishing that are not the intended targets. An example of how wasteful our fishing practices in the ocean can be is exemplified in the shrimp industry. Trawl nets for shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico fill up with about 80% of bycatch, meaning only 20% with shrimp. The rest typically dies in the nets and is thrown back into the ocean. Blue fin tuna are nearing extinction with the population down 96%. They take 15 years to reach maturity and start reproducing, which doesn’t help their future existence at the rate humans fish them. All large fish in the ocean have been depleted by an average of 90%. And more than 95% of the sea turtles are gone from the planet. What do these numbers make you feel and tell you about our current way of life?
A mass extinction is when about half or more of the species on the planet disappear. The planet has gone through 5 in recorded history and is going through a sixth one right now.
“ At least 4, probably 5 of the last mass extinctions in the last 500 million years have been caused by changes in ocean chemistry, ocean acidification. We’re now causing oceans to go acidic faster than most of those extinctions. So we’re bringing on a mass extinction in the oceans that’s something that will change everything on our planet.”
– Rob Stewart, Sharkwater, Revolution
In a chilling pause to the footage a black screen comes up that simply reads, “200 species go extinct every day.” This really summarizes the previous section of the film as it explains the current status of life in the natural world. Translating into the next section of the film interviewees describe our viewpoint and relation to the natural world. Many people do not view nature with regard to how we connect to it. They are separated from it, viewing how they may use it for their lives. A world filled with people having this disconnect is only one branch of the major problem.
Human population growth is the stem of many, if not all, of these ecological problems the world faces today, as the film explains. The human population has gone up 6 fold since the 19th century, but our consumption of resources has gone up 2 or 3 times that amount. Very interesting to consider are that in isolated events where humans have consumed their resources to such an extent as we are headed to now, they have ended up fighting over what is left. However, as Rob Stewart points out, this is our first time where we can see the inevitable outcome we’re creating and we have this power to change our path.
“If we slow down climate change, we’re still going to consume most of the fish, most of the forests, most of the food. We have to tackle this as a whole. One big problem, which is too many people, consuming too much, and that’s built on a lot of the systems we’ve created.”
– Rob Stewart
This summarization of our predicament gives a brief reality check on how this is one overlaying issue, which is how we live on this planet and coexist with the natural world we depend on, especially with the growing number of people. Solving only one issue will not be enough to create a sustainable future. As others have said before me, we need to fight the issues on all fronts, for the sake of our future generations and our continued existence on this earth. Dr. Charlie Veron points out the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is not close to any period since the mass extinction 65 million years ago. The earth has experienced higher carbon dioxide levels, yet a key difference is they were built up over a much longer time, so organisms now have no time to adapt to this change. There has been no such rapid rate of change in the atmosphere as we’re causing today throughout recorded history.
Stewart describes an idea that is vital to our existence, which is our connection to the natural world. We come from nature, we depend on nature, and we are destroying nature at a rate which it has never suffered before. This simple statement should lead everyone to the obvious conclusion that our current way of existing cannot continue. Major drastic changes need to occur. In many places of the developed world we have distanced ourselves from nature, and therefore have lost a connection that is key to life. We need to gain a better understanding of that connection, of our dependence on nature, and develop a more beneficial relationship.
Nearing the hour mark of this engaging film starts one of, if not the most important discussion, in reference to our connection with the natural world. Our consumption of meat is the leading cause of much of the degradation, such as species extinction, rainforest destruction, ocean dead zones, ocean pollution, global warming and many more (learn more on this pressing topic, read last week’s film review, Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret). Between 38-40% of the fish caught in the oceans is not fed to humans. It goes to cats, pigs, chicken, and others. Pigs are eating more fish than many predators in the oceans, which is evidence of a forced system that cannot possibly lead to a sustainable way of life.
Barnes travels to Paris for COP21, the largest gathering of world leaders to discuss the current environmental crisis. Compelling footage shows the series of rallies and people coming together to persuade leaders to make vital decisions. Emily Hunter, an environmental activist, presents a very interesting perspective on the talks, protests, and a new form of activism. She points out 20 years of protesting resulted in the COP21 outcome of limiting the global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, which is not a success as some of the world may think.
The changes won’t be drastic enough to save things like coral reefs, which can’t survive in temperatures above a warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Hunter describes how governments won’t provide what we need, protesting won’t bring about what we need, so changes on a personal level, our actions in life, how we live as individuals needs to change. Consuming differently, not eating meat, using energy more efficiently, and making more conscious decisions on an individual and community level will be a form of activism that will bring about change.
“I set out to make a movie because I believe if people knew what was going on, they would do something about it. We have an opportunity, right now, to rise to the challenge and tackle the biggest problem the world has ever faced. And I think we’re going to do it.”
– Julia Barnes
How is this type of information not on the top of everyone’s mind? How do people hear this information but continue to ignore it? How do we get this information to resonate with people during their busy, hyper-focused daily lives? Will we continue to use these destructive systems even though they are inevitably running us toward and off the ‘cliff edge’?
How will we as a human race take this information we are now aware of, the power that rests in the generations alive today, to influence our existence and the future of this planet? Then ask yourself what your passion is. Discover what your talents are to save the things you cherish most. And then find the courage to pursue your passion. We still have time to do something about it. You should do something about it. You need to do something. Start with sharing this article and information; education is the first step towards action.
This film brings us through an educational course on the status of the oceans, how rapidly the world is changing, and our planet’s fate. It is not inevitable, because we still have the power to change things. There is still so much worth saving, but it needs action, from each one of us, on an individual scale, on a daily basis, in minor to major ways. One person has the power of the world in their hands with each day and each choice. No one is perfect, nor do they have to be.
Becoming aware, sharing that information with the next person, and starting to make little changes in our daily lives will change the world. Eat less meat, eat more plant products, consume less, use less resources, connect with the natural world, consider where things come from, what went into making them, support media like this educating the world, pass on the knowledge, and try to incorporate these thoughts into your daily routine. Also, figure out your passion and have the courage to pursue it. You can make a difference; you need to make a difference.
Learn more and watch the film at: Sea of Life
Tags: climate change, conservation, COP21, coral bleaching, endangered species, Julia Barnes, Louie Psihoyo, marine mammal conservation, Racing Extinction, Revolution Movie, Rob Stewart, Sea of Life Movie, Sharkwater, The Cove, wildlife conservation