DirectorInterview

Soames FilmingSoames Summerhays : Director & Producer

Soames Summerhays is a British-born naturalized American who produced and directed Turtle Reef 3D.

Q. Soames, what inspired you to produce Turtle Reef 3D?

A. The more we study coral reefs the more we begin to understand the intricate complexities of these amazing ecosystems. In my view the relationships between organisms are even more fascinating than fiction. Nobody could make this stuff up! Turtle Reef 3D is a modest attempt to tell the story about the rhythm of life on a coral reef and how creatures interrelate and associate over time. Hawaiian Green Turtles feature as a key protagonist because they illustrate ways in which we, as humans, can do things right. Their story is inspirational because it symbolizes both the past and the potential future for coral reefs.

Q. What is the film about and why did you approach it in the way you did?

A. We decided to produce Turtle Reef 3D because, first and foremost, this is a really great story! What is it like to be an animal living on a coral reef and how does these creatures relate to the rest of the community? Turtle Reef 3D is an entertaining experience that takes its audiences on a journey through the dramas playing out on a coral reef community over a 24 hours period. Audiences discover for themselves the dynamics of the relationships between the creatures that live there. Ultimately, we cannot help but share in the wonder for turtles and its coral reef companions and thereby develop a respect and a new hope for their future.

Q. How does that show up in the film?

A. Well, Turtle Reef 3D is the story about a great success. People are innately good, yet we often cause havoc in marine ecosystems because we do not understand the impacts we have. Such is the case with the Hawaiian Green Turtle that was hunted almost to extinction during the past few hundred years. Once we understood the impact we had on their populations we protected it in 1978 under the Endangered Species Act. Since then, Green Turtles have made a miraculous comeback in Hawaii. It is an inspiring story!  

Q. So what has that to do with the rest of the film?

A. The Hawaiian Green Turtle is merely one, very easily understood, symbol for all the other species that make up a coral reef community. The Green Turtle’s of Turtle Reef 3D have an important role in the lives of others on the reef, at many different levels. Remove turtles and the biological function of the reef shifts. Coral reefs are bound by countless interrelationships like the turtles. Now consider the impacts when the biggest and showiest species are overfished and removed from the ecosystem. At some point the ecosystem becomes dysfunctional and eventually collapses… like what happened in Jamaica. The reef communities may reach a point at which they can never recover. Nobody wants that to happen. It hasn’t collapsed yet in Hawaii, but the reefs are deeply impacted by our activities.

Q. That’s all very well, but be specific.

A. OK. While most of the life on “Turtle Reef” has healthy populations of corals and reef fishes the largest, most sought-after species have been decimated by overfishing. Sharks, jacks, large snappers, giant groupers and other large predatory fishes are rare or absent. Their absence has led to trickle-down effects as it reduces biodiversity and the efficiency of energy flowing up the food web. Additionally, Fish and Game introduced certain species, such as Bluestripe snappers to Hawaii in the 1950’s to increase fisheries. Studies have shown that these snappers have successfully established themselves. Native species are negatively impacted as the snappers edge out native nocturnal species. For example, they directly compete with yellowfin goatfish for refuge sites used during the day. Peacock Groupers are another species that were introduced in 1956. Peacock Groupers have been a complete failure as a fisheries species because they accumulate ciguatera toxin and are banned from commercial sale. Since the 1980’s peacock grouper populations have increased fifteen times and one study showed that this species was consuming an average of 70,000 pounds of fish per square mile…annually. That’s a semi-truck load!

Q. So how do you think Turtle Reef 3D will help?

A. Well, it will help in several direct ways. For example, everyone who experiences Turtle Reef 3D is helping to conserve turtles. 5% of the revenues from Turtle Reef 3D goes directly towards protecting marine turtles. Our partners, the Sea Turtle Conservancy (www.conserveturtles.org), work to protect sea turtles all over the world. Secondly, audiences witness the associations between creatures and the critical role they all play in making the ecosystem function. And thirdly, audiences discover how coral reef life is bound by rhythms and cycles so similar to our own. Their lives parallel our own, like cities in the sea.

Q. So how did you come to be so interested in the ocean? A. Oh! I’d always been fascinated by wildlife and, as a kid, my dream was to become a game warden in Africa!  But in my mid teens I began free diving and spear fishing. I got to know the habits of the fish I hunted. I discovered they had no chance. I realized how easily we could annihilate a species. Ultimately that experience led to me specializing in oceanography as a postgraduate and finally to work in marine conservation for Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in Australia. In the interim, for many years, I lived in the Galapagos Islands and led dozens of expeditions in every ocean, and between the poles, all the while cataloguing what was happening in different ecosystems. It was a fabulous experience, but also sobering. I realized that, unknowingly, we have reduced the diversity and productivity of marine ecosystems worldwide. The good thing is that, when we learn, understand and act in time, we can resurrect marine ecosystems just in the same way we are resurrecting populations of Hawaiian Green Turtles. Turtle Reef 3D is just one of the tools we can use to encourage everyone to become part the decision-making process so we can collectively make better decisions about our ocean heritage in the future.     

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