Denizens of the deep

Aaron Corbett dives in with two Nat Geo adventurers – legendary underwater lensman David Doubilet and daredevil filmmaker Bryan Smith – before their special talks on campus

David Doubilet
Sea a different world
Dave’s fave #1 – The Encounter: A lone parrotfish comes across a school of grunts in the Galapagos.
You’ve been diving since you were 12. Tell us what’s changed in the oceans.
When I first started working in the Bahamas as a teen, the Caribbean reefs were robust, healthy and busy with marine life. Now they're a mere fraction of what they used to be, with fewer large reef fish and even fewer sharks. During a recent dive in Indonesia, I didn’t encounter a single shark. They were gone, fished out for shark fin soup.

What’s the most amazing thing you’ve seen underwater?
The intensity of a male clownfish defending its eggs (above), the absolute intelligence of octopus, the tenderness of marine mammals... the relationships and behaviours you see underwater are awe-inspiring. While diving in the Canadian sea ice, a female harp seal came to my partner’s rescue when she was being attacked by a male seal – the female battled the male seal off and herded her away from the other males.

Your favourite diving spot is...
I’ve found working in the Antarctic to be simply mesmerising – it’s like working in a dream filled with sculptured icebergs and the creatures that live there.

What’s the biggest threat to the world's oceans?
Climate change has triggered ocean acidification – the trigger has been pulled, the bullet is out of the chamber, now we wait to see the effects. Reefs will evolve to deal with a chemically different environment. They’ll be less diverse as the less resilient species die off and more resilient species take over. Overfishing is evident everywhere underwater – anything of any size has nearly disappeared or is disappearing in front of us.

What can we do about it?
Make better choices. Don’t eat shark fin soup and explain why you’re not eating it. Don’t eat blue fin tuna, orange roughy fish, sword fish and other unsustainable species. Reduce the use of plastics and look for ways to leave a smaller footprint.

Dave’s fave #2 – The Fisherman: An angler stands in his outrigger over a school of baitfish in Indonesia.
What’s a close shave like for you?
When you have a good picture but are nearly out of air 30m below the surface, because you didn’t want to stop trying for that perfect shot. You try not to panic, take in small breaths and ascend slowly, cursing yourself. Yes, animals are dangerous and bite, but it’s usually human error that kills a diver. We are our worst enemies.

Would you encourage anyone to pursue a career like yours?
Yes, of course! The oceans still remain largely unexplored and it’s more important than ever to go in and document it and protect it. We can’t protect what we don’t know – that’s up to the next generation.

“If I weren’t diving, I’d be miserable because I absolutely need to be in the water.”
– David Doubilet
What’s on your list of must-dives?
I have dreams of exploring Iceland’s waters... and I have to go to Greenland!

“I love what I do because...”
I just have to know what’s down there beneath the surface. Curiosity is humanity’s greatest attribute after kindness, and it drives us to learn.

The earth as we’ve never seen it
National Geographic has brought us awe-inspiring accounts of our planet through its “yellow rectangle window”. Now that yellow window has come to NTU.

National Geographic Live debuted on campus in August with talks by Nat Geo “Ocean Hero'' David Doubilet, who recounted his adventures from two starkly contrasting marine realms – the colourful aquatic paradise of the tropics and the icy depths of Antarctica’s waters.

Bryan Smith will be the second Nat Geo adventurer to speak at NTU when he visits on 7 October.

As a series partner bringing National Geographic Live to Asia for the first time, NTU is also a co-sponsor of public talks by both adventurers at the Esplanade.

The conservation theme of the talks is in line with NTU’s efforts to improve the world through research and development in sustainability.

Says NTU Provost Prof Freddy Boey: “This partnership will bring to our students and faculty the excitement of scientific exploration and discovery. We hope the NTU community will be inspired by these master image-makers to come up with even more innovative ideas and ways to protect our precious planet.”