“Let’s show them what we’re trying to save”: ITW with Pete West

© Sarah Fretwell / Fondation Tara Expéditions

Director of Underwater Photography Pete West boarded Tara in Wallis for his second leg of the Tara Pacific expedition. A regular contributor to the BBC and other major television channels, Pete is currently documenting the Tara Pacific scientific dives for the Tara Expeditions Foundation. Back in his home country of Australia, Pete and his team specialize in super-macro photography of corals in their laboratories at BioQuest Studios.

Focus on a professional of underwater imagery.

BioQuest’s images enable spectators to dive into the heart of coral. The reef comes to life as polyps move and reveal their spectacular colors. Pete has been working underwater for 40 years, but the technological challenges in this field continue to stimulate him, and the details of coral still astonish him.

 

 

 

What’s your mission on board? Describe your collaboration with the Tara Foundation.

I embarked on Tara to document, by means of videos and photographs, the Tara Pacific expedition. This is the end of my second leg aboard Tara. The first leg was from Easter Island to Tahiti. This current leg started in Wallis Island and I will finish up here in Japan. For me, the single most important part of my association with Tara has been working alongside some of the world’s finest marine scientists. Through their appreciation of our work, they have given me the inspiration to continue and to broaden the range of work undertaken at BioQuest.

What have you learned on board?

I’ve had the opportunity to work with scientists from all over the world, and of course we’ve had time to sit down together and talk. It’s been really surprising for me, listening to peoples’ stories from the US, about the demise of corals, around Florida for instance. And then talking with the people from Kaust* about the demise of corals in the Red Sea, I realized, what I’ve seen on the Great Barrier Reef is just one more problem for the corals of the world. One thing that has really hit home to me: this is a global problem and it needs to be approached in that manner. This is what we have aboard Tara – a global approach. (*Kaust: Abdullah University of Science and Technology)

What do you appreciate about your job?

The advances in digital camera technology are so exciting and we have been able to combine these advances with our lighting, time-lapse and focus stacking techniques to show corals in extraordinary detail and color.

 

Pete_West_underwater© Pete West / BioQuest Studios / Fondation Tara Expéditions

 

As an underwater observer, what have you witnessed over the past 40 years, since you’ve been diving and working on coral reefs? What’s happening today in the Great Barrier Reef, in Australia, where you live?

What I’ve seen is rather obvious – we are indeed losing coral. It’s no longer “if we are going to lose it”. There can be no doubt. I’ve seen increased damage to the Great Barrier Reef over the years, a lot of it natural, for instance, cyclone damage can be massive. When a cyclone comes through, you can lose hundreds of acres of coral. In addition we are also seeing the impact of silting and nutrient run-off along the Great Barrier Reef. Add to these the effects of increased bleaching and ocean acidification and the reef is under extreme pressure.

We need to be doing whatever we can, and there are certain things we must do. Whether we can reduce greenhouse gases in time is arguable, but there are some things we can do immediately, for example, control the use of pesticides and nutrients used for coastal farming. These chemicals end up damaging the shallow water reefs along the coasts. We also need to re-plant trees along the coasts where erosion is now silting up large areas. We can do something about all these things, and particularly today in Australia, there is a move towards taking action. Is it too late? I don’t know, but we must do whatever we can.

 

Photo_macro_tubastrea_credit_Pete_West© Pete West / BioQuest Studios / Fondation Tara Expéditions 

 

The photos and films you’ve made on board are astonishing. You’re showing us a whole new world underwater. We can see that corals as living creatures.

Personally, I think there is a real possibility we’re going to lose this world of coral, so much of which we haven’t yet discovered! With the technology we’ve developed at BioQuest Studios for bringing out the natural colors of the corals, their true magnificence is becoming apparent to people. I hope this will give them a greater appreciation of coral. People are truly inspired to do something when they see our images, they see corals as the extraordinarily beautiful animals they are.

We want to use our films and photographs to make a real difference, educating people through entertainment. I believe beautiful images transcend all language barriers. This is the goal of our collaboration with Tara Pacific over the next 2 years.

Interview by Noëlie Pansiot

Related articles