Shawn Heinrichs, born in Durban, South Africa, is an artist and Emmy-award winning cinematographer, photographer and marine conservationist and one of the co-creators of the documentary Racing Extinction. He is also the founder of Blue Sphere Media, a production company specializing in underwater, adventure and conservation films. Art is his passion and he uses his photography skills as a tool to contribute to help protect the oceans most threatened species and habitats. “Art is a universal language that opens people’s hearts and my aim is use art in in all its forms to connect people on an emotional level with majestic yet endangered marine wildlife and inspire them to act before it is too late,” he says on his own website. His artwork is motivated by his passion to protect the oceans and he strongly believes that people only protect what they love. He believes that the human connection is essential for conservation, and without it, efforts will falter.
Our oceans are under threat from various environmental impacts: industrial fishing, pollution and marine debris, habitat destruction, coastal development, global warming, and ocean acidification. Shawn works closely with organizations like Shark Savers, WildAid and the Pew Environment Group to fight shark finning worldwide, and in collaboration with the Nature Conservancy and Conservation International has helped develop a framework and best practices for establishing marine-conservation areas. What was once considered an endless source of food to feed the planet is now on the brink of collapse. Many species of fish have now been depleted to less than 10% of their pre-industrial fishing levels in the past 50 years. We are consuming far more than the ocean can sustain and we must significantly scale back our fish consumption and move to a system whereby fishermen can earn a living on higher-value, lover-volume sustainable catches. This is a very pressing issue, because scientists predict all the world’s commercial fisheries will be gone by 2048.
“My belief is, that once we have uncovered such an important truth, we have an obligation, no a duty, to do something about it.”
Key areas of Shawn’s conservation focus include ending the global slaughter of sharks, protecting manta and mobula rays, and establishing marine protected areas. The number of sharks that is killed each year is astonishing (over 100 million a year!) and is a completely senseless loss of animal lives. To show the world what is happening he went undercover and traveled to some of the most remote, and sometimes dangerous, places in the world exposing stories of the more disturbing elements of the endangered-species trade, like the global shark fin trade and mass killing of manta and mobula rays. He hoped that he could shock people into reality and inspire conservation, but even with increased awareness of these issues, nothing changed.
So he changed his approach into a deeper form of storytelling. With this transformation, people began to care. One of these storytelling projects is with professional mermaid Hannah Fraser. Together they created some stunning images of unique and exciting encounters with the oceans´ beautiful marine life. “People connect with other people far more readily than they do with abstract and strange looking marine life that they never experience in their “real” lives. This is where our imagery featuring humans and marine creatures comes in. By connecting people with the beauty and vulnerability of marine species, we ignite a new level of curiosity and passion for the oceans, “ explains Heinrichs.
In 2005, Heinrichs began working in Raja Ampat, Indonesia, after he saw the destruction of shark fishing in this region. He became deeply passionate about protecting the area, as the heart of biodiversity, and working closely with a dedicated and passionate team from Misool Resort they succeeded in creating what many consider to be one of the “most impressive and successful marine conservation stories in all of Southeast Asia.” He and John Weller made a movie about what was occurring, and how communities were cementing their commitment to conserve their natural resources for generations to come. This documentary, The Guardians of Raja Ampat, and project was such a success that it became the predecessor to Provinsi Konservasi (Conservation Province) in West Papua, what Heinrichs calls the “most important work I’ve done in my life.”
In 2011 Shawn received the Oris Sea Hero of the Year award for using his underwater footage and images to help protect reefs and sharks. “Shawn Heinrichs and his hands-on approach to marine conservation has made him worthy of the 2011 Sea Hero of the Year award,” said V.J. Geronimo, CEO of ORIS Watches USA.
As part of a special coalition, Shawn is working to establish shark sanctuaries and shark fin legislation across the Pacific, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean. And as Project Lead for Manta Ray of Hope, the team has launched a global study, campaign, and documentary to address severe and escalating threat to manta and mobula rays. Shawn serves on the International Board of WildAid, on the Board of Shark Savers, is an Associate Director of Manta Trust, and an Associate Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP).