Planet Ocean, a beautiful new documentary by French filmmakers Yann Althus-Bernard and Michael Pitiot, was premiered on April 18 at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood. It is a project of Althus-Bernard’s GoodPlanet, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising public awareness of environmental issues, in partnership with Omega Watches, maker, in 1932, of the world’s first diver’s watch.
The film, which has just been released on DVD, takes the viewer visually through images of the origins of the ocean, its mysteries, its depths, and finally, the ravages to it wrought by man.
Planet Ocean begins poetically, as the deep voice of actor Josh Duhamel intones: “It begins here, with a colony of living fossils, bacteria who live at the surface of the ocean. I am a descendant of this form of life, the most ancient known on Earth, which came into being four billion years ago. I come from here. I come from the ocean.”
Then begins the litany of the intrusion of man. “Facing the ocean, all I can see now is us, mankind. We are 7 billion human beings… We have shaped the world in our image. On the shores of the ocean, we have built vast cities where millions of us live. We have dug out ports, flattened islands to construct our factories.
“The ocean has brought us all the mineral riches of the world. We work materials, melt steel, cut and slice. 100, 000 of our ships criss-cross the seas. We delve unceasingly into the oceans to nourish ourselves. We have become a super-predator.
The planet is ours. And now, where are we going?”
From this prologue the film depicts, in luminous color, the evolution of life on earth over four billion years, encompassing the Ice Age, some 700 million years ago, when the planet remained frozen for 20 million years. And it delves into the depths of the sea to reveal life forms we can’t even begin to imagine.
Plankton, or “floating life,” nearing land masses some 500 million years ago, drifted to the bottom of the ocean and stayed put to create coral reefs.
Nearer the surface schools of fish move in unison, without a leader, whirling and twirling as if bound together by strings. They and myriad squiggly worm-like creatures provide food for other fishes, right up the food chain to man.
When it comes to man, however, the film turns dark. Worldwide, fishing sustains 500 million people, the narrator notes. Fishing with nets up to 25 miles long, men dredge the seas, bringing up fish not by the pound, but by the ton—some 90 million tons each year. Species are being fished to extinction.
And then there is oil, created by the waste, dead plankton, and particles of seaweed which drop to the ocean bottom as “marine snow”. As man digs deeper and deeper for oil, their rigs are burning millions of years of plankton deposits. The film shows the gigantic supertankers in whose holds a part of the bio-geological history of the oceans is being carried away.
In barely 200 years, the film continues, we have violently disrupted 4 billion years of the natural history of the world. We no longer see the beauty of life but only what it can do for our species, what it enables us to produce. Everything that lives around us suffers from our existence. We leave footprints everywhere we go.
As evidence of the destruction, a gruesome sequence shows dead seabirds lying on the shore, decomposing, leaving only the remains of the contents of their stomachs behind: undigested plastic garbage and other non-biodegradable waste products that found their way from humans to the sea.
“This film is not intended to moralize,” Althus-Bernard notes, “but to raise consciousness.” Nevertheless, it ends with a long list of actions that need to be taken by the world community, including stopping subsidies for industrial fishing, banning deep-sea fishing and limiting deep-sea exploitation, respecting fishing quotas, promoting small-scale fishing, protecting ecosystems so marine life can recover, and foremost, imagining and implementing an international stewardship of the oceans.
It’s a serious and workable plan, and one that we in the ocean city of Santa Monica should be most eager to encourage.