At Sanibel Sea School, our favorite thing to do is explore the ocean – we like to jump right in and come face to face with the amazing creatures that inhabit our planet’s diverse marine ecosystems. But when a dive trip to see for ourselves isn’t possible, films can provide a surprisingly lifelike peek into some of the more remote areas of the sea.

In November, Sanibel Sea School participated in the 2014 Blue Ocean Film Festival, and our staff members were lucky enough to spend a week in St. Petersburg, FL watching this year’s best ocean films. It was a fabulous opportunity to learn about the latest conservation issues and greatest ocean research. We’ve each reviewed our top pick below, and included links to the films' websites so you can find out how to watch them at home (some are not yet available - but coming soon)! 

We'll bring some of these titles to Sanibel in early 2015 for our Sanibel Ocean Film Festival, in partnership with the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum. Stay tuned ....

Nicole Finnicum, Assistant Director – Sanibel Campus

A Window in the Waves

There is an oasis of life just 110 miles from the Louisiana/Texas shore where the warm waters of Mexico bring life to a small ridge called The Flower Garden Banks. Fish, invertebrates, coral, and even the occasional whale shark call Flower Garden Banks coral reef home. This geologically unique area was formed millions of years ago when salt deposits under pressure in the Earth’s crust were thrust vertically, creating the mounds that the coral reef colonizes today. The best part about this underwater hotspot is that people have been advocating for this area to be protected since the 1970s, and it was officially established as a National Marine Sanctuary in 1992. With the remoteness of the reef and no fishing pressure, the Flower Garden Banks are a balanced and thriving marine ecosystem. The film’s jaw-dropping footage of kaleidoscopic corals and giant schools of fish showed how National Marine Sanctuaries truly help maintain healthy oceans. Being able to have an up close look at the amount of life just a small area can support gives us hope that we can still protect and maintain pristine ecosystems in our oceans. This film is a must-see for any marine biologist, SCUBA diver, or anyone who loves the ocean as much as we do!  

Leah Biery, Director of Operations

The Last Ocean

Antarctica's land is protected by an international agreement called the Antarctic Treaty, which designates the white continent as a safe haven for wildlife and a place for countries to set aside their differences in the spirit of research and exploration. The ocean is a different story - without regulation or enforcement, it's being quickly exploited by fishing vessels in pursuit of deep-water fish species that scientists have hardly had a chance to study. With a focus on Antarctic toothfish (you may know them as Chilean seabass!) in the Ross Sea, The Last Ocean provides a broad overview of the threats facing creatures that inhabit this beautiful part of the world and the logistical challenges of protecting a remote place like the Southern Ocean. The film's narrative is set to a backdrop of breathtaking images and music composed specifically for this story. I think a film like this can really inspire people think about how the seemingly simple decisions we make in our own lives (about food, transportation, etc.) can impact living organisms thousands of miles away. It has me daydreaming about an expedition to Antarctica! 

Kristen Potter, Office Assistant

Our Deepest Waters

In 2009, three Marine National Monuments were created in the South Pacific. The Marianas Trench, the Pacific Remote Islands, and the Rose Atoll were all seen as unique and important ecosystems in need of protection against our quickly developing world. Part of the reason for creating these Marine National Monuments is to research, explore, and to educate the public on the importance of these pristine locations and their inhabitants. In “Our Deepest Waters” they hit on every part of this mission by showing research methods, such as coral coring to study the health of the corals, using Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS) to monitor the tiny inhabitants of the reefs, and taking counts of every species they see from month to month. The film also educates us on why these places are so important to save. For instance, The Marianas Trench is home to some very rare CO2 and sulfur vents that no one even knew about until the 70s, and before the Rose Atoll MNM was created, excess human contact with the area brought over invasive insects and ants that are now killing the native pisonia trees. The film provided great insight about what good we can do if we strive to preserve, and understand, more marine areas of this planet.

Emily Sampson, Marine Science Educator

Shark Girl

Sharks continue to be seen as fearful and threatening creatures, as shown in the media, in movies, and even during our beloved Shark Week.  However, while we should definitely respect these amazing animals, we should not fear them.  We should, instead, embrace their beauty and importance within marine ecosystems.  Madison Stewart, a 19-year-old shark advocate, has grown up loving and swimming with sharks on the Great Barrier Reef, and has seen firsthand the rapid disappearance of these creatures.  Seeking change, Madison has made it her life’s mission to show the world how we are affecting these apex predators, what we can do to help, and why it’s important that we do so. A truly influential documentary, “Shark Girl” sheds light on Madison’s mission to protect sharks, and is a great example of how one person, regardless of age, can make a difference. 

Caitlin Smith, Marine Science Educator

Rigs to Reefs

The Gulf of Mexico has the most offshore oil platforms in the world - approximately 4,000 rigs. After platforms are built, they become habitats for sponges and other invertebrates within a short period of time. These artificial reefs attract a great deal of other wildlife, large and small, and even whale sharks are frequently seen swimming around them. They are becoming dive and sport fishing hot spots in the Gulf, and bring many tourists to the area. Fish populations are increasing around the rigs, and some of the largest red snapper individuals on recent record have been observed there. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement is working on legislation that would keep these artificial reefs intact for wildlife instead of destroying the decommissioned platforms, and has started a program that funds science educators to spend time diving along the platforms. This film provides a beautiful overview of how artificial reefs can benefit all of us – humans and wildlife alike – and makes a case for creating additional artificial reefs in the Gulf region and around the world.

Madison Durley, START Intern

Expedition for the Future: Bouvet Island

Jason Rodi charters an exploration ship to visit the most remote landmass on Earth, which is known as Bouvet Island. The film is more about the journey to and from Bouvet than it is about Bouvet itself. It is the most remote place on Earth; the furthest place you can be from any other human being, other than leaving the planet. Fewer people have been to Bouvet (before his team went) than have been on the moon. Jason addresses many environmental concerns in this film, and shares his own spiritual journey. He emphasizes the idea that each of us is connected to the planet, and we discover ourselves and the planet in our own individual ways. Through suspenseful and beautiful moments captured on film and Jason’s thoughtful narration, the film delivers a powerful message to viewers about the importance of acting as good stewards of the planet we all share.

Other films we loved:

Mission Blue – The life story of Sylvia Earle, our most favorite ocean explorer!

The Florida Corridor Expedition – Why wildlife corridors are important – photographer Carlton Ward’s beautiful images alone are enough reason to watch this film.

Antarctica: On the Edge 3D – Jon Bowermaster’s journey to Antarctica, captured in 3D so you feel like you’re right there with him (minus the freezing temperatures).

Plastic Paradise – Reporter Angela Sun travels to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and talks to experts to find out why plastic is really so bad for our oceans.

Gyre: Creating Art from a Plastic Ocean – Artists gather plastic trash from the coast of Alaska and create an exhibition to represent their emotional experience.