What is an ocean storyteller?

Our first ever Storyteller in Residence, wildlife photographer, writer, and expedition leader Henley Spiers, is currently on the Isle of Arran off the west coast of Scotland to research and photograph his first exciting full SiR feature for us. In his first 'Despatches: From the field', he ponders the question: What is an ocean storyteller?

Words and photographs by Henley Spiers

Out of sight and out of mind. Therein lies the greatest challenge for the ocean, where a veil of water masks its reality from the human gaze. We can look back at our planet from satellites and gain an incredible perspective on terrestrial matters, both big or small, but even our most advanced technology cannot lift the water from the ocean and make the aquatic world more plainly visible to 8 billion inhabitants.

Its mystery is why underwater exploration feels like such an adventure. Every immersion, no matter its parameters, brings the few of us who actually take a look underwater that inexorable sense of discovery. When that rush of pioneering adventure is allied to the magnificent beauty and regular outlandishness of the ocean’s inhabitants you have, in my experience at least, a potent recipe for a fervent passion to develop.

Through my two young daughters and their friends, I have conjured a theory that almost every child will at some point in their younger years become fascinated by two things: dinosaurs and the ocean. To me, this speaks to a hardwired natural curiosity about our ancestors and our place on this planet. It makes sense that, as a step in our personal evolution, we should be interested in these two things. As we grow up, most of us will move on from those early interests, we will forget about dinosaurs, and we will forget about the ocean. Perhaps, however, beneath it all, the embers of those early passions do burn on in some deep-seated place, ready to blaze back to the fore with the right fuel. I find it somewhat reassuring to think this is the case…

As I kicked-off this journey as the Oceanographic Magazine Storyteller In Residence, pondering the existential meaning of the role, I had a moment of nitrogen-infused clarity during a dive interval. My job is to put the ocean in sight, and in mind. To achieve this, I must set out to tell eye-catching, heart-wrenching stories with every means at my disposal.

If you’re reading this, the chances are you already have a deep-rooted connection to the ocean. If so, you have surely shared your passion with others who are less well versed. This could be as simple as showing a picture or a film you are excited about (or maybe even made) to a family-member or friend. I would dare to venture that this person’s eyes widened at this moment, briefly but thoroughly rocked by whatever you chose to share. Those moments are golden. In that instance, you have brought the ocean in sight and in mind. The ocean not only merits, but needs an army of storytellers. You don’t need to do it for a living to make a difference, just share her stories with those you love most.

Follow our 2023 Storyteller in Residence’s journey here

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