The first thing to say about Karina Holden's Blue is that it is a beautiful-looking film, especially if you have the chance to see it on the big screen. And that's the point: we have a great resource on this planet, the seas and oceans, covering some seventy percent of the globe, and it's declining year on year, with the changes apparent even in a human lifetime.
Blue takes us to various parts of the world intimately connected to the sea, and we hear the voiceover narrations of those based there. One of these is Lombok, Indonesia, a community reliant on the shark trade. When a shark is caught, the fins are cut off and sent away to use in the soup trade. As the local community has no taste for shark meat, the fish are ground up and used for pig and chicken feed, or they are simply dumped back into the water to sink, finless and dead to the ocean floor. In Mindanao, in the Philippines, the local industry is tuna, not always legally fished, to the extent that some species are now endangered.
But if in some areas, overfishing is the danger, in others it's what we dump into the sea ourselves. In Cape York, North Australia, we see turtles tangled in nets, and on Lord Howe Island in the South Pacific, the threat is plastic: a seabird may have bits of bottle tops or rawlplugs in its stomach. Plastic effects the whole food chain, tiny beads are ingested by plankton, which is then eaten by larger fish which eventually end up on our plates. Some twelve million tons is dumped into the sea every year, equivalent to one truckload every minute.
The most famous interviewee is left to last: Valerie Taylor, still diving, here in the Coral Sea off Australia. Now in her eighties, along with her late husband Ron, she has been active in marine conservation and as an underwater photographer and cinematographer, for more than fifty years. She says the reduction in diversity and abundance of sea life has been noticeable in that time. Coral reefs are becoming bleached and are slowly dying. She once met Neil Armstrong and asked why so much money was spent into sending people into space when there is a vast resource for exploration here on Earth. (Something of a red herring, maybe – it doesn't need to be either/or.)
Yet, after an hour and a quarter of this film's warning of the dangers to our seas and oceans, there is hope. Species can and do return from the brink of extinction. We can change our ways, particularly in the use of plastics. While Blue acts as a warning, it's a cautiously optimistic one.