Earlier this year we met the lovely Aleksandra Ølbeck Nilssen in Lamu and she was really moved by the work we do and wanted to help create awareness about it, this is the out come!
For those who can't read Norwegian, here is the English version:
ELKE GREW UP IN THE HIDDEN Lamu archipelago on the north coast of Kenya, where her parents run a small but very famous boutique hotel. All her life she has been surrounded by the sea, and since her childhood she has spent most of her time underwater with dolphins and coral reefs. Today she is a certified rescue diver and, a nature and underwater photographer.
Jahawi often traveled to the coast from his home in Nairobi, spending all his free time in the water. His love of what lies beneath the ocean's surface has led him to explore oceans around the world, inspiring him to become a filmmaker dedicated to portraying life under the waves. He is a professional photographer and filmmaker on land as well as underwater.
Both Elke and Jahawi consider themselves seafarers, and their greatest desire for life as humans and as couples is to protect and encourage commitment to the ocean, and the important role the ocean plays for our planet.
Elke: All life, as we know it came from the sea before it took to the land and developed into you me and everyone we have met or heard of. The sea makes up 71% of the earth's land, and is full of beautiful and important creatures. In addition, marine life produces half the oxygen we breathe, we are completely dependent on it. The threat we face today is great and serious, and it is absolutely critical that we do something about it.
Tell us a little about where you come from and how you met each other?
Elke: I was born and raised off the coast of northern Kenya in a small family-run hotel on the remote island of Lamu. My upbringing was freedom and adventure, I could swim before I could walk, and as soon as I could walk, I began to explore everything that could crawl, swim or walk in and around our small village. We spent most of the time in or on the ocean. Jahawi and I met by chance in Lamu at my family hotel, after both had returned to Kenya after a long stay abroad.
Jahawi: I have been incredibly lucky to have grown up in such a wild part of the world as Kenya. I was born in Nairobi, but we had a house on the coast where I spent much of my childhood. The sea and the bush played a central role in my upbringing. I grew up with the films of Allan Root, David Attenborough and also the National Geographic magazines, which only continued to cement my love of nature and the desire to preserve the last wild areas of the world. The privilege of such an upbringing has made me aware that we all have a responsibility, and that it is not too late to try to turn problems into opportunities and solutions. Before I met Elke, I lived in Thailand, where I learned to film underwater. And when we met, it was very clear to both of us that our lives here on earth should be used to protect what keeps us afloat.
What inspired you to start the East African Ocean Explorers project?
E: The first film project I worked on with Jahawi focused on the trading coast, the Swahili lifestyle and the work of the Lamu Marine Conservation Trust. At the time I was more involved in organizing all-needed outings, and I was amazed at how Jahawi managed to put together
such a beautiful film on his own. Not to mention the impact it had on the community when they witnessed the beauty of the underwater world. This inspired me to learn more, and over the last few years he has taught me to film with him. We work very well together because we understand each other's strengths, but much in this industry can be challenging.
J: Although Kenya is at the forefront of terrestrial conservation, the same cannot be said about the coastline. Just as we need healthy land ecosystems, we also need a healthy ocean, especially since so many Kenyans are completely dependent on the ocean for survival. Also we live in a world where things are changing quickly, so it's not enough to just highlight these issues - it's time to act, and that's been a big part of why we started East African Ocean Explorers.
What are the goals and challenges of your project?
E: East African Ocean Explorers is a very young organization, but we want to increase our understanding of the wild world off the East African coast, and will give everyone who cares an insight into what the sea is really like. Through our films, we hope to inspire a new generation of Kenyan scientists who will fight for the conservation of the ocean and act as an inspiration for young people in their communities. In the future, we also want what we stand for to be a platform for passionate people, who want to explore and learn about the sea. We hope to achieve this through workshops, educational films and by giving the young people who are passionate about this, the opportunity to actually spend time in the sea. Our goal is to teach them to snorkel, take a diving course or provide a platform for those who want to continue with scientific research.
J: Our ultimate goal is to get more young Kenyans involved in the sea and to create positive effects and preserve our coastal environment. At the same time, we want people to see the benefit of conserving the sea, from a community perspective, a sustainability perspective and also as a career path. However, working with and the sea is always challenging, so we have taken the time to really think again about how to set up the project correctly, especially when we start working closely with people. Water safety, swimming experience and sea conditions all play an important role, which is why we first focus on creating effective communication channels.
What is the hardest part of your job? And the most inspiring?
E: Challenges are good, because it makes us work harder. It is difficult to see how much influence we as humans have or have had on the natural world, especially the underwater world which is more often out of sight. We want to change this by sharing the beauty of the sea and showing the animals that live there, but also the problems they face and the effect it has and will have on the earth.
J: Both with my work as a filmmaker/photographer and when I have the conservationist hat on one thing remains the same, no day is alike! This does create lots of challenges but it always keeps things interesting, so in reality I don’t have a daily routine. Working in the ocean you also have to be fluid as time out on the ocean depends on many variables like the tides, winds, waves and season. It also requires a lot of planning and preparation so that when the ideal conditions occur you’re ready to head out and even then your dealing with wild animals so that’s a challenge too. When you see a beautiful photo or watch a film sometimes its quite hard to understand what it took to get that shot or sequence, in the first film we did together here in Lamu there is a sequence of a newborn turtle swimming, it took me 6 months to get that shot, whenever there was a hatching I was there ready and each time the conditions weren’t right. I either got battered by big waves trying to keep the camera safe, visibility was difficult but eventually a day came when conditions were right and I got the sequence and that makes it all the more worthwhile! Being able to witness incredible moments that not many people see firsthand makes this work so inspiring and keeps me going.
Why is it important to protect marine life and educate people?
J: Life came from the sea! It is the largest part of this planet, and it gives us everything we need to live; oxygen, our weather, sustenance and carbon sequestration. If we destroy the ocean, we will notice it much faster than with land-based degradation, but I do not think enough people are aware of that. Educating people on this topic is very important, as it gives them the information they need to make the right decisions for their lives and environment. Film makes it possible to reach more people in less time.
What is their wildest ocean experience?
J: We have been so lucky to travel a lot, and have seen incredible things, both at sea and on land. One of my most memorable moments was when Elke and I met a humpback whale mother and her calf. It was indescribably beautiful. To be in the water with such a huge animal - to see them look at you - makes one feel extremely humble
Who inspires you?
E: There are many truly inspiring people in the world who have influenced me in many ways, but it was Jahawi who inspired me to start filming underwater, and without him I would not
do what I do today
J: I could name some amazing photographers, filmmakers and conservationists as my inspiration, but no matter how much I admire their work, my true inspiration comes from nature and from Elke. I now understand how lucky I am to have grown up where I did. Having the opportunity to be so close and to see the power, beauty and complexity of our nature gives me all the inspiration and the drive to protect it.
What is important for future generations to do differently?
E: Future generations have a big job to do, but so does our generation. Our planet has almost reached a boiling point, and it is now important that we make progress and realize that we can all do more when we work together.
J: It is so important to pass on knowledge to future generations, about how the world was, how it should be and what we should do to live in harmony with nature. If people do not know what it was like, they do not know what they have lost or how things are going. I would like
carry on a world better than the one we were born in.
Paint for us that future picture you dream of?
E & J: We want a world where we all recognise how important a natural, healthy and balanced world is to us everyone. We have become so driven by wealth, power and greed that we have lost respect for our only home. The earth can satisfy all our needs if we treat it with respect and use things sustainably, wisely and justly. This is the world the vigilantes want to see, and we must all do our part to make it happen, now that time has begun to run out.
How can people help or get involved in their work?
E: Spread the word further by sharing our movies, and do something good every day. We can all help make a difference
J: Be inspired by nature! Think globally, live locally. We can all do a little in our local areas, which in the long run can create greater changes.
To read more about the East African Ocean Explorers project, visit www.eastafricanoceanexplorers.org or www.africaunderwater.com
Facebook: East African Ocean Explorers
#eaoceanexplorers #elkebertolli #jahawi #magicalkenya #discoverlamu