Welcome to our "Ocean Passion Series" where we are interviewing ordinary people doing extraordinary actions for the ocean. We believe learning from others can help our own life become more engaged and inspired. This week we have a talented lady from Canada that has created a captivating documentary called Sea Of Life and how she realized that film is a really powerful weapon to create change.
Hello Julia can you tell us about yourself and where you are in the world?
My name is Julia Barnes, I’m 21. I make documentaries to show people what’s happening in the ocean and inspire them to help protect it. I live in Canada, near Toronto.
You are definitely a person we want to speak to regarding the ocean. How long have you known your passion for the ocean and can you remember that day or situation that brought it to the surface and led you to start filming Sea of Life and putting on a wet-suit?
I’ve always been passionate about life in all forms. I grew up chasing frogs, snakes, and bugs in the forests and ponds near where I live. As a kid, I watched nature documentaries and was so in awe of the underwater world. But I never imagined I would go into the ocean. The idea of scuba diving terrified me.
Everything changed when I was 16 and I watched Rob Stewart’s documentary Revolution. Suddenly I was learning about ocean acidification, industrial fishing, and that we’re bringing on a mass extinction. Scientists in his film were predicting the end of coral reefs, rain forests and fisheries within my lifetime. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t known this was happening and I wanted to do everything I could to turn things around. I came out of the theater knowing my life would never be the same. There was only one thing I could do from that point onward and that was to fight for the world I love.
Rob was giving a talk the next day in Toronto, so I attended. I met Rob after his presentation and told him I was going to do something, I just didn’t know what yet.
When I got home I watched a lot of Rob’s talks and interviews online and I kept hearing the story of how he made Sharkwater – how he went out at 22, having never shot a video camera before and made a movie that changed the world for sharks. I realized that film is a really powerful weapon to create change. Documentaries allow you to combine facts, images, and music in a way that can impact people on an emotional level.
I wanted to show people how important the ocean is, how beautiful it is, and how much trouble it’s in. So I decided to make a movie. About a week after watching Revolution, I bought my first video camera and signed up for a scuba diving course.
I knew nothing about film-making. At the beginning I thought I could finish a movie in less than a year. I thought I could film for a few weeks underwater, interview a couple scientists and it would be done. But it ended up being a lot bigger. The movie took three years to make, it took me to 7 different countries, interviewing over 50 experts. It forced me to abandon fear and to do so many things I never thought I'd do. In the end, it was a really beautiful journey.
Wow that is beautiful! To remove fear and replace it with a journey of excitement and challenges that ultimately end with a wonderful piece of work. To literally buy a camera and get certified diving is such a thrill I am sure most of our readers would love to do as well. Absolutely inspiring Julia. So being the producer of Sea of Life, can you tell us the mission behind the film and what you would like to see happen?
Sea of Life is a call to action.
Given what’s at stake and given the fact that the problems are so urgent, I want people to join the battle. I want them to become heroes – whether it’s through art, music, film, writing, starting a conservation group, rallying, organizing, revolting, doing direct action, or something else. The ocean needs heroes right now. It needs people who are willing to do big things and dedicate their lives to this.
In the future, I want to see an ocean with 100% of the fish in it instead of 90% of the fish being wiped out. I want coral reefs to thrive. I want to live in a culture that’s sane enough not to destroy the world we depend on.
The changes our team has seen in the past decade shows us that heroes like yourself are coming in numbers now. All focused on the planet in some way and not themselves. Your call to action is exactly what we need to create that paradigm change and have the percentage of awareness tipped into our favor. Your film is very detailed and beautiful. You interviewed so many amazing people like Rob Stewart, Louie Psihoyos, Dr. Sylvia Earle, and so many more. Can you share a story about how you came about meeting them and how well they helped you relay your message in the film?
It was awesome, I got to meet and interview all of my heroes. Mostly I got in touch with them over email. I told them I was making a movie to save the oceans and they were happy to get involved.
A few meetings took place completely by coincidence – like Paul Watson. I was at COP21 and I just happened to go to the talk he was giving. I didn’t know he would be there. I just read the title of the talk and thought it sounded cool, so I walked into this room, set up my cameras and then Paul came in and sat down right in front of me. I couldn’t believe it.
"Individuals have power, not just to make changes in our own lives, but to influence the world around us – to challenge the systems that are destroying the planet and create a better world." ~Julia Barnes
The same thing happened with Felix Finkbeiner and Emily Hunter at COP – I just ran into them out of the blue, hadn’t even known that they would be there. And their interviews ended up being really important parts of the movie.
Rob helped me the most with this film. He was involved from the beginning. He taught me how to use a camera and helped me connect with some awesome people. He was always there to answer my questions and give advice and encouragement.
Rob was the one who suggested that I go to Cabo Pulmo to tell the story of the resilience of the ocean and the fact that life will come back if we give it a chance.
Cabo Pulmo is a place in Mexico that was once a fishing village, but it was so heavily overfished that the ocean was decimated. So the citizens created a marine protected area. They banned all commercial fishing and within 10 years the biomass – the amount of life in the ocean – increased by over 450%.
That’s a really important story that we can point to and understand that things can get better in the ocean. It’s not just this path of destruction where everything’s getting worse and all we’re doing is slowing down the damage. Things can actually turn around and go in the other direction.
We can feel the excitement through your words Julia! Its incredible when you're on the right path how vital pieces to your goals just appear for you to capture with your lens. We are in awe of Rob Stewart being in your film and how important he was as a mentor is brilliant. Rob was a humble and helpful person in life and you have captured him amazingly in your film. In your own words what would you like people to know that was a great lesson you have learned because of your journey filming Sea of Life?
An important lesson is understanding where our power lies. Often times environmental organizations and documentaries will point to personal lifestyle changes like recycling, driving less, or buying different products as solutions to the world’s problems. Those things are good – I do all of those things – but I don’t pretend like they’re addressing the underlying causes of the problems we’re facing because they’re not. Personal solutions cause people to look inward, rather than looking critically at the overarching systems of capitalism and civilization and growth that are set up to reward and facilitate the destruction of the planet. We need to tackle those systems if we’re going to get things right.
Individuals have so much more power than just our personal lifestyle choices. We are more than just “consumers”. We are citizens and we are animals who require habitat, water and food. Our options for action become a lot wider when we start looking at ourselves that way. Individuals have power, not just to make changes in our own lives, but to influence the world around us – to challenge the systems that are destroying the planet and create a better world.
What a refreshing answer! You have given us some very deep words to allow us all to think wider about how we can influence the world around us. If we all did our own part the positive changes would be substantial. Tell us how has your life changed since the making of Sea of Life?
It’s gotten a lot busier. I’ve been attending screenings constantly, giving talks and Q&As, going into schools and sharing the message with kids. On top of that I’m working on a second movie. And figuring out how to get Sea of Life seen by as many people as possible.
Great work! So happy to hear you're busy doing such amazing stuff. We are sure your film Sea of Life will be seen and loved. Educating the children is such a must and they absorb it so fast. Please keep us posted about your 2nd movie so we can have you on our Ocean Passion Series again. Julia, during the making of Sea of Life did you have struggles that you had to overcome to complete it?
The biggest challenge was dealing with all of the information that was coming at me. I thought I had a pretty good understanding of how bad things were, but every time I talked to a new scientist and learned more about these issues the situation seemed 100 times worse than what I’d previously been aware of.
About half way through making the movie I learned about the lag time with ocean acidification for the first time - the fact that there’s so much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere already that even if we stopped burning fossil fuels today, ocean acidification would continue for decades into the future, and we would lose coral reefs.
Having gone into making this movie thinking I was going to save everything, this was pretty devastating to hear because it looked like there was nothing we could do to save corals. Coral reefs are home to 30% of all life in the ocean at some stage in their life cycle, so losing them is a big deal.
"The ocean is the reason we’re alive and it’s up to us to keep the ocean alive."~Julia Barnes
Rob helped me see the problem in a different light by explaining that there’s an enormous potential to sequester carbon dioxide by bringing back forests and if we do this fast enough we could still stave off the worst effects of ocean acidification.
I started looking into it, and it turns out fish also sequester carbon. 90% of the fish are gone. 75% of the forests are gone. If we let that life come back, apparently, we could sequester more carbon dioxide than what we’re emitted since the beginning of the industrial revolution. And in doing so we would be creating beautiful ecosystems, restoring life, and helping to avert a lot of the other catastrophes we’re facing.
Learning about lag time helped point towards the best solution possible – Wildify – bringing back nature.
So here we are speeding up climate change in addition by removing fish from the ocean in an alarming rate, clear cutting old growth forests at an alarming rate and if we just stopped and let them strengthen back this would help with the carbon dioxide in the air. Outstanding find because we did not know about the connection with the fish. With you creating your life journey with the ocean in parallel did it help build a new strong character and skills within you? Can you describe?
Definitely. It forced me to learn a whole new set of skills.
Going into this, I knew nothing about filmmaking, I knew nothing about scuba diving, and I was a total introvert. So, I had to learn not just how to use a camera and how to get good footage but I also had to become a better communicator and figure out how to interview people, how to relate to people, and how to tell their stories in the most impactful way possible.
Having the ocean as my motivation helped because it’s so important, it’s so much bigger than me, and nothing was going to stand in my way of protecting it.
Wow we always love hearing how powerful passion is within someone. How it can take someone with no skills and prepare them for the fight they're about to take on! You have become a leader with a camera as your weapon, a diver, and a way to speak for the ocean through your films. Outstanding stuff! Outside of all your hard-work what ocean organization is your favorite and why?
Sea Shepherd is my favourite for sure. They’re the most effective ocean organization I know. They’re getting in the way of the ships that are destroying ocean life, intervening, and drawing people’s attention to the issues at the same time. Sea Shepherd is awesome!
You got that right! Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is doing incredible work all around the world. So to continue on that thought what would be your favorite thing about the ocean?
My favourite thing about the ocean is the way that it responds to you. Every time you move, every time you breathe, every time your heart beats underwater, this whole world of life reacts. It makes you feel a sense of connectedness unlike anything else.
I love the ocean for all it does to make life possible on this planet. The ocean gives us most of our oxygen, it regulates temperature and circulation. The ocean is the reason we’re alive and it’s up to us to keep the ocean alive.
Such a beautiful connection you speak about Julia - "This whole world of life reacts." So many people are completely oblivious to how important the ocean is to our very survival. Hey it is only 70% of the planet so of course it means something to its survival.
Check back next week on the Ocean Passion Series to find out who our next ocean passionate guest will be and you will never be disappointed! Check out our past guests here >>Ocean Passion Series<<