Convenience is a sneaky concept. It seems such a positive word, speaking of ease and time-saving. Convenience food saves us the bother of cooking. Convenience stores allow us to buy we want when we want it (a plastic bottle of coke, a packet of sweets, a microwave burger) without having to be inconvenienced by a pesky little thing like the time of night. Who doesn’t want more convenience in their lives?
Well, me actually. Because the dark side of convenience is our throwaway society and increasing disconnect with the processes by which so many of our modern necessities came to be.
“I’m a fan of the Japanese word mottainai,” says Karina Holden, director of a new documentary about ocean conservation called Blue. “It means respecting the process via which something comes to you, and therefore the importance of valuing it and not wasting it.”
Holden says we can apply that concept to food and consumer goods. “In order for something to arrive on your plate or in your cupboard, what commodities has it taken to be grown, nurtured, harvested, traded, travelled? In our amazing modern world, where things seem to come so easily and casually, it’s too easy to forget that.”
Blue had its world premiere on Sunday night at the Sydney Film Festival, and opens nationally at the end of the month. Told through the eyes of seven people working in different ways to raise awareness, it’s the story of how our imperilled oceans need our help to thrive.
Legendary 82-year-old diver and shark fan Valerie Taylor details how much more diverse marine life was when she shot to fame in the 1960s. She bears witness to the effects of over-fishing, pollution and climate change on our reefs (and looks phenomenal in a wetsuit while she’s at it – note to self: must swim more).
Pro-shark activist Madison Stewart, who at 23 is perhaps Taylor’s present-day equivalent, travels to Indonesia to show us how shark fins are harvested, and hears from local fishermen about depleting stocks. Speaking after the premiere screening, Stewart said, “I don’t like the word ‘hope’. It suggests we’ve given up, that we don’t have the power to change things. We do. What we need is action.”
The film also features conservationists Tim Silverwood and Lucas Handley, parks ranger Phillip Mango, who works in remote Cape York, and sea bird specialist Dr Jennifer Lavers. They all share their perspectives on the marine debris problem.
At times, it makes for grim viewing. But Holden, a former commissioning editor of Science at the ABC who has made programs for National Geographic and Animal Planet, has managed to imbue her first feature with a compelling beauty that makes it hard to look away.
“That was a big part of it,” she says. “The aesthetics help us give the audience space to explore and to react to what they were seeing. But yes, it’s confronting. The issues are becoming more urgent.”
The facts (and, in this era of ‘fake news” it seems wise to point out that they are indeed facts; based on independent research and empirical evidence) are sobering. Climate change and agricultural runoff are killing our coral reefs. Over-fishing is depleting fish populations, which for some key species have been reduced to only 10 per cent of what they were in the 1950s. One fifth of all fish globally are caught illegally (for example: outside of quotas, under size or without correct licences). Industrial nets big enough to hold a dozen 747 aeroplanes trawl vast areas indiscriminately scooping up every living thing, so turtles and dolphins are killed along with the fish we so casually demand for our plates.
Up to 40 per cent of the global catch is discarded, and for what? So we can feed our cats precious tuna? Meanwhile bottom trawlers rake the sea beds for prawns, leaving nothing but sand behind. It’s heart-breaking, ugly, chilling – and once you’ve seen it, impossible to un-know.
Meanwhile our rubbish is choking the oceans. If we carry on at the current rate of marine littering, by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the sea.
“We’re seeing ‘ocean change’. Human impacts can no longer be ignored,” says Tim Silverwood, who runs not-for-profit Take 3 for the Sea, which encourages us to pick up at least three pieces of marine litter whenever we hit the beach.
“Changing [our behaviour] isn’t going to be easy; we’ve built up a global dependence on our oceans and their wild resources, but the problems are not only down to governments and big corporations. If you’re into sustainable living at all – buying organic, reducing your carbon footprint, any of that – you should be asking yourself: Can I extend that thinking to our oceans?”
Clare Press has a new podcast. Episode 1 features marine biologist and anti-plastics campaigner Laura Wells.