How did your love for what you do come about?
My encounter with the deep ocean was serendipitous. It happened during a trip scouting for locations in California, at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. What got me fired up about the deep ocean was the ultimate novelty of this unexplored realm. Adding to this, the fact that this extremely fragile environment was under threat by huge industrial deep-sea fishing vessels with no one paying attention jetted me into action – I couldn’t be the witness of such rapid and mass scale destruction without attempting to do something about it.
How did you choose pieces for The Deep exhibition?
We had at our disposal over 7,000 pictures taken in the deep-sea from many varied sources, including research institutes like IFREMER in France and American institutes (notably MBARI) who have made extraordinary video footage available to us.
Having access to an extended scientific network allowed multiple donations of deep-sea specimens, some of which have totally surreal aspects. Through these donations and collaborations, The Deep is therefore able to offer a wide range of oceanic creatures, from miniature pelagic fish which live in mid-water, to much larger specimens such as the deep sharks and rabbit fish, as well as the average-sized “monsters” like our cerates (“the evil Squishy” of the abyss in the world of Nemo!).
What do you want visitors to take away from the exhibition?
The objective of the exhibition is very clear and is two-fold: first, I wanted to share my fascination with the deep sea with everyone, and I wanted to show the animals themselves, as many as possible because I realised that nothing replaces the contact with reality. It is one thing to see pictures or films, but it is simply extraordinary to be able to scrutinize them for as long as one wants. The way we’ve displayed the creatures with the enthusiastic and talented taxidermists, Christophe and Allan Gottini, creates an impression of suspension that is very realistic. A lot of kids ask us if they’re alive!
The second objective is to create a bond between the public and the oceans’ depths. The deep sea is unjustly punished by its very condition: it is remote from us, both horizontally (usually far from our coasts) and vertically. Because it is inaccessible, it rested in peace for most of its history. But now that we have developed the technology that enables us to reach great depths, these distant environments suffer more than other ecosystems from their exploitation because there is, by nature, no possible witness. Raising individual and global awareness on these matters is truly what the book, and now the exhibition, is about.
Which is your favourite piece from the exhibition?
This is a difficult question – but I think the award-winner is a fish (Stylephorus chordates), with its tubular eyes and huge goiter ‒ just like a pelican ‒ ending with a tiny mouth. The disproportion between the two allows it to create a strong current to suck in its prey, just like someone slurping spaghetti. This animal is so rare that I truly thought it was a legend. I was absolutely thrilled when the American scientist Tamara Frank gave it to me for the exhibition.
We also have another astonishing creature that we could consider a work of art because of its extreme rarity: a gulper eel (Saccopharynx sp.) given to me by the biologist Steven Haddock. This fish is in perfect condition, and is to my knowledge the only specimen in the world caught in situ.
We also have a couple of deep-sea “dragons” (Echiostoma barbatum) offered by the American ichthyologist Tracey Sutton.
These creatures have never been filmed before, because they flee from the lights of submersible vehicles, so it really is an incredibly emotional experience to be able to have such rare animals as part of our exhibition.
Tell us more about Bloom.
I founded Bloom in 2005. It is a non-profit organisation that works to protect the oceans and ensure a future for fishermen whose livelihoods depend on healthy fish stocks. Our work includes fighting toxic subsidies that drive overfishing. We also advocate global food safety and economic balance by trying to make sure that industrialized nations don’t export their fishing overcapacity to developing nations. We’re known for our extreme efficacy compared to the small budget we operate on.
What consequences do you predict, should there be minimal conservation efforts made in terms of fishing and conservation of ecosystems in oceans and seas?
Deep-sea species live long lives, grow slowly, reach sexual maturity late in life and have relatively few young. They are therefore inherently vulnerable to overexploitation. In fact, the vast majority of people think that the deep oceans are totally deprived of life. They are often unaware of the existence of hydrothermal vents although they were discovered as far back as 1977, and triggered a true scientific revolution!
I’ve become so aware of the threat our global natural system is under that I think humanity has put itself in a dead end. If we don’t radically change the way we think of our role on this planet and take responsibility for future generations, we’re going to miss our tipping point. I think this is partly done already and I can only wish we could use our incredible intelligence to build a new social and economic model instead of driving ourselves into a wall. It is therefore a priority to educate the public.
The Deep Exhibition runs from June to October 2015 at the ArtScience Museum, Singapore. Find out more and book tickets here.
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