Cristina Mittermeier founded SeaLegacy to bring awareness to vibrant life in the ocean and the threats it faces. Now, she discusses the importance of oceans and what we must all do to protect them.
As a professional photographer, how has your career shaped your relationship with the ocean? Has it given you a stronger connection with nature?
I have always loved the ocean, the mystery of the wild creatures that inhabit it. I have had a lifelong suspicion, now confirmed, that without a living ocean there simply cannot be life on Earth and that we humans have inflicted tremendous, almost irreparable damage on this life-giving ecosystem.
Gaining the skills to be a capable diver and a strong swimmer were the lengthy, yet necessary first steps to fulfill my dream of becoming an underwater photographer – someone capable of communicating its importance and beauty, and the urgency to protect it. The possibility of drowning or getting carried away by strong currents is always on my mind as I try to find elusive marine creatures to be my subject and then focus on exposure, composition, and story. The effort is always worthwhile, and it has changed my relationship with the ocean to the point that I often find myself happier and more comfortable when I am in the silent womb of the sea than when I am on land.
What has been the most rewarding experience founding SeaLegacy?
Many months, even years, went into the crafting of our mission. How do you marry photography and the ocean if your purpose is to have impact? Images alone cannot change anything; great stories without an audience cannot change anything, either. Recognizing that it was our imagery and stories that inspired people to follow us and what allowed us to build our own distribution channel through social media was a big revelation.
Calling on that audience, 15 million followers strong and growing, to support our initiatives and to help us win, has been the most rewarding experience. It has shown me that there is enormous power in the combined voice of millions of people demanding change, and that yes, there are millions of people who care, who feel empowered by the possibility of creating a better planet. It was through photography that they found an entry point into the environmental movement.
What is the biggest issue facing our oceans today?
It sounds clichéd, but it is a combination of ignorance and apathy. The fate of Earth’s marine resources, for too long, has been given to the very people interested in exploiting it; therefore far more investment has been made in devising tools for exploitation than tools for conservation. Recognizing that the ocean is a living thing, and that as we continue to mine its living resources and dump our waste in it, we might actually kill it, is the first step. We then must grapple with this terrifying thought: if the ocean dies, life on earth as we know it will die too, ourselves included.
The management of the ocean must be seen as a planetary survival imperative and a global priority. Once we recognize that this is an ocean planet and we are all ocean creatures, we will recognize that we all need to be educated and engaged in understanding and protecting the ecosystem that allows us to live on Earth.
What can our readers do to take part in protecting our oceans?
Becoming better ocean citizens means addressing some of our selfish ways: we must be fully accountable for the things we eat, the number of children we have, the amount of energy we consume, the amount of stuff we use and discard, and the environmental values of the people we elect to govern us.
Becoming a better ocean citizen also means aligning our values with our resources. Of the 410 billion dollars Americans donate to charity every year, over 30 percent goes to religious causes, but less than 3 percent goes to the environment. If we are serious about protecting nature, saving species from extinction, and solving the climate crisis, we all will need to dedicate more resources to safeguarding our own future on this planet. The best thing we all can do is to choose an environmental charity and put our full support behind it. Praying simply will not be enough.