A filmmaker among the PhDs…
Tuesday | August 23, 2005
It was a great honor for me to be asked to come along on the Line Island expedition, this is something that I never dreamed I'd be doing; working along side some of the most talented marine biologists on the planet, well they're working, I'm just the cameraman shooting high definition video of the expedition.
Over the years I've worked on films about the space program, filmed tigers, chimpanzees, and polar bears, been strapped into a NASCAR race car in the middle of 25 other cars going over 160 mph, and filmed eruptions of several volcanoes, but none of that could have prepared me for being put on a boat full of PhDs in the middle of the Pacific for three weeks! Keeping up with their pace has worn me out. Making three dives a day, in rough seas and currents is nothing to these people. After that they come back to the ship to process the data and samples they have collected.
I don't understand a lot of what they talk about over dinner, Latin and Greek were not in my curriculum at film school. Before this cruse I didn't know my biomass for a hole in the ground. What I do know, is that everyone here is passionate about the coral reefs and discovering how they work and how they can be saved.
One thing I've found really interesting is how much the team relies on digital photography, almost everyone has a digital still camera they take diving. Not only are they making observations, collecting samples and taking notes underwater, they're taking pictures to back up their observations. Hey, something the PhDs do that I can understand!
Jen Smith uses a custom built "photo quad pod" to record the various algae along the transect line. The pod allows her to shoot the photos from a consistent distance every time. The images record about a square meter of the reef.
These days, Jim Maragos uses digital photography to record the corals he studies, but in the past he had to use film and wait, sometimes several weeks, before seeing the results of his efforts. With digital imaging he is now able to come back to the boat after a dive, download his images to his laptop and begin working with them right away - instant gratification. So what has become of the 75,000 plus photos Jim took before digital? They're being scanned for digital archiving, of course.
Gustav Paulay was able to identify at least one new species of pom-pom crab from one of his digital photographs. He was able to compare the image of the new species to the database of images he maintains on his laptop. The photos Gustav shot will be linked to various databases at the University of Florida and will be available to students and other researchers via the web.
Olga Pantos uses a little Nikon Coolpix 5200 to record where bacteria samples are taken from the coral. The photos also help her to positively identify the species back on the ship.
In all there are more than 15 digital cameras between 17 researchers and that doesn't include Zafer Kizilkaya's four (the expedition's still photographer) and my two.
This expedition kind of reminds me of a film shoot, lots of talented folks brought together for a common purpose, but having different ideas of how to achieve that goal. And everyone wants to be a director.