From Lady Godiva to Manet’s ‘Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe’ (above), naked women out of context have scandalized and delighted the public in equal measure. Yet the media frenzy created by Fishlove’s photographs of Helena Bonham Carter took even us by surprise. Following their release in the Evening Standard on 12 February 2015, the pictures have been reproduced in hundreds of publications around the world. The link on the Blue Marine Foundation Facebook page has received, at time of writing, 33,696 hits. This compares with my previous blog showing an arresting photograph of the amount of plastic in a baby albatross’ stomach which notched up a mere 112 hits.
And this perhaps gets to the crux of why Helena’s photographs achieved so much for our cause. We can bang on until we’re BLUE in the face (sorry!), releasing shocking data about the crisis in the oceans and it barely causes a ripple. Yet link our UK Overseas Territories campaign to a beautiful woman, naked with a fish between her legs and suddenly everyone is talking about over-fishing, from the Times to the Now Show.
Without a bit of scandal, the plight of the oceans goes more or less unnoticed. As Professor Callum Roberts points out in ‘Oceans of Life’, when in 1998 the El Nino effect killed off between 70 and 90 per cent of the corals in the Indian Ocean, it passed much of the world by. Professor Roberts writes: ‘If three-quarters of our forests had withered and died that year, people would have demanded to know why and aggressive plans would have been drawn up for their recovery. Yet outside the world of marine science, this global catastrophe passed largely unseen and unremarked’.
Meanwhile, the crisis in our oceans keeps getting worse. Our Chairman, Charles Clover wrote last week, ‘The need for marine sanctuaries is greater than ever. Last year, Japan’s top fisheries official, Masanaori Miyahara, warned me that Asian countries have created a million tons of new fishing capacity, mostly in the Pacific, in the past decade. Some 1300 heavily subsidized Chinese boats are fishing the South Pacific, bribing their way even into the waters of Samoa and the Cook Islands. One Samoa fish exporter warned last week of “marine genocide” on tunas. Meanwhile, seabed thousands of miles from the shore is being divided up into mining concessions. Last year David Cameron welcomed the award of a licence to a British subsidiary of Lockheed Martin to explore for polymetallic nodules on a 58,000 square kilometres of the Pacific.’
But telling it how it is, warning of the destruction that is going on in our oceans, tends to turn people off. You’ve probably already stopped reading this blog. Environmental issues are not seen as fun or sexy. The human impulse is to eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die.
But that’s the trouble. If we don’t take action, we may die before our time. As the eminent marine biologist, explorer and writer, Sylvia Earle sums it up: ‘No ocean, no life. No blue, no green. No ocean. No us.’
On the afternoon that ‘those photos’ came out, Sylvia Earle addressed those of us involved in the UK Overseas Territories campaign. She’s nearly 80 and about five foot tall, but she held the room utterly captive with her quiet, simple messages. ‘If you like to breathe, you need to save the ocean’. She talked about her recent trip to Ascension, one of her ‘hope spots’ and a key focus of our campaign, where she’d seen an abundance of green turtles, but only one shark. She ended by calling on everyone in the room to do everything in their power to reverse the damage that is being done to our oceans.
And I thought, with deep gratitude, that Helena Bonham Carter had used her own particular power, which in her case is her beauty and her fame, but also her wit and her courage, to do everything she could to save our seas.
In the war on oceans destruction, we have to use whatever weapons we have at our disposal. So forgive us if we jumped at the chance of raising more attention than anything else we can think of to the crisis we’re trying to solve. Even if we’d tied a vast fish to Nelson’s Column, we couldn’t have got that much publicity. Thank you, Helena, for luring them in. Now we can revert to our work in earnest of trying to get more of the ocean under protection.