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Under the Sea, With David Doubilet

"You have to think of this planet, really, as a water planet, not as a land planet. It really is the heart and soul of what life is."

Acclaimed underwater photographer David Doubilet has spent decades photographing underwater images, witnessing firsthand how ocean stressors have negatively impacted the aquatic environment he loves. Explore a selection of David's photography and learn about the changes to the ocean he's seen over the past twenty years.

  • Sea Lion

    "I put my head underwater, and everything that I knew about in life completely changed.

    Here was an entire world completely different than the world we live in, the world of gravity and air.

    And it was mind-altering, even for an eight year old, and I knew that this was the direction that I wanted to go in."

  • Nudibranch

    "[Nudibranchs] are basically a sea-going snail without a shell that develops the most incredible colors in the world because of their need to have a method of survival and their method of survival is they feed on very toxic things like ascidians and sponges.

    Most photographers photograph them, because they live on the bottom, they’ll photograph them looking down on them. And it’s a little like doing pictures of children and photographing only the tops of their heads. And not only that, they are something that’s not quite understandable.

    So I thought for a long while and said, 'Let’s build a tiny studio underwater and treat these creatures like fashion models because the colors they create are more robust and incredibly vibrant than any piece of fashion I've ever seen, and that includes Haight-Ashbury in 1968.'"

  • Lemon Sharks

    "[Sharks are] basically the last dinosaur, one of the few species that can swallow a human whole, just about.

    That being said, we’re facing a time and a place on this planet where sharks may very well disappear.

    In some cases, 90 percent of the population has been taken away, destroyed."

  • Creating an artificial reef

    "We put cameras on the bow and the bridge of a ship called the Vandenberg, which was sunk off of Key West to produce a reef, so we could photograph a ship actually in the throes of going to the bottom, which turned out to be very exciting.

    Where technology meets dreams, you make photographs."

  • Stingray

    "There’s a certain amount of hypnotic quality to being underwater.

    You’re in a world that’s weightless. You’re in a world of—if you’re in the Caribbean, or the Mediterranean or the Pacific, blue; if you’re off the coast of New Jersey, green, or right off the coast of California, relatively green.

    And what you see underwater is most of the life [on] the planet."

  • Great Barrier Reef

    "Dr. J. E. N. Veron … is one of the leading, if not the leading coral experts in the world—he has predicted that the Great Barrier Reef within 30 years will begin to change considerably and by the end of this century, will be gone as we know it.

    For a lifetime that I spent photographing underwater, I've always imagined that there’s going to be something more, something astounding in the future and the future of other photographers and generations to come.

    Now I’m afraid that a lot of the images that I've made underwater are going to be documents of a time passed and that’s a frightening thought."

  • Key West Florida

    "Lines are very blurred these days between being a simple photographer and an activist."

    I think primarily the job of the photographer is to make images that are compelling.

    Before you protect anything, you have to know exactly what is going on and what is there to protect."

  • Garibaldi and Senorita Fish

    In the kelp forests of Channel Islands, off the coast of California.

    "We have just begun to look into the ocean and my realization is that we’ve, as humans, acted in a normal human way that we do.

    We are conquistadors. As we discover, we destroy.

    It’s a very sad fact, but if you turn this around at least we have a place now that we just found out about that maybe, just may be worth the justice that humans can sometimes bring to a place. We can preserve."

  • Weedy Sea Dragon

    In the kelp forest of Tasmania, Australia.

    "The idea of what is beneath the very surface of the seas is an idea that’s only about sixty years old.

    In all the entire history of humanity, humans had never really begun to go into the sea until about 60 years ago.

    The view through a face mask and the ability to breathe underwater and swim freely gives you an entire view of the ocean and that’s only an idea that’s 60 years old."

  • Anthias and Outrigger, New Guinea

    "You have to think of this planet, really, as a water planet, not as a land planet.

    It really is the heart and soul of what life is. In this very, very empty, very, very dark universe, here’s this one tiny orb that glows blue.

    And the color of life, obviously, life as we know it, is blue."

  • Bar Jacks

    In the Cayman Islands.

    "There’s been a lot of sweeping changes that I've seen … In the Caribbean, almost all of the elkhorn coral, these great brown corals, they've disappeared, almost all of them.

    In the Caribbean, you go onto an average Caribbean reef and you don’t see the big sweeping schools of grunts and snappers and all of the things that used to course over a reef top.

    They’re mostly gone, overfished and fished out. "

  • Humpback Whale Newborn

    In French Polynesia.

    "There’s a much more insidious situation that’s going on right now within the ocean because of climate change and, more specifically, the enormous amount of CO2 that we’re putting into the atmosphere, which is absorbed into the sea.

    And this packing of CO2 into the ocean has basically re-arranged and changed the chemistry of the ocean."

  • Stingray

    "I think primarily the job of the photographer is to make images that are compelling. Before you protect anything, you have to know exactly what is going on and what is there to protect.

    A photographer’s job is to make an image that turns people around.

    But if you go into a situation and say, 'I have to make these pictures because I have to illustrate the importance of this place and protect it,' you may be limiting yourself to how you see something."

  • Loggerhead Turtles

    In Key Largo, Florida.

    "We need two types of pictures. We need the picture of the smoking fish and we need the picture of the fish itself. Both of them work to change people’s attitudes.

    The biggest problem in photography and in the way we approach everything is that we end up convincing the convinced.

    The hardest job is to convince the unconvinced."

  • Baby Green Sea Turtle

    In French Polynesia.

    "Hopefully if people look at the images that both Jennifer and I make underwater, they will look at a place in an entirely different light.

    They will say, 'Wait a minute. This is part of our planet. This is an extraordinary part of our planet.'"

  • David Doubilet

    David Doubilet is an acclaimed underwater photographer for National Geographic.

    Doubilet has spent decades photographing underwater images and has seen firsthand how ocean stressors have negatively impacted the aquatic environment he loves.

    Learn more about oceans and the threats that they face at the main feature,  Stormy Waters.


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