What would you imagine if I asked you to picture a perfect ocean? Vibrant coral reefs, clear blue waters and oceans teeming with colourful wildlife might be just a few of the things you think about. But ask a father figure and you might hear stories of ocean wonders that go beyond your wildest comprehension. In just a generation, the oceans have changed. To celebrate Father’s Day in the UK and shine a light on our beautiful blue spaces, we caught up with wildlife filmmaker and marine biologist, Inka Cresswell. Recognising a fundamental shift in the oceans across her short 25 years of life, Inka is a strong advocate for collaborative action to restore our seas to their former wonder.
At what point in your life did you know you wanted to be involved in ocean conservation?
For me, I started my love for the oceans at a really young age. I grew up in Brighton on the south coast of England, so I spent a huge amount of time rock pooling with my family, especially looking for things like mermaid’s purses and all kinds of beach treasures. It was from those experiences that I developed a natural curiosity for our oceans. Over time I started snorkelling more and I actually learnt to scuba dive when I was 11 – and I decided I was going to be a marine biologist from the age of about 6.
I initially thought that I was going to go and study behaviour, and that was what I was really fascinated by. But it was when I was at university studying marine biology and seeing changes first-hand while scuba diving that made me think doing something like studying behaviour was too much of a luxury. In reality, conservation was where I needed to be moving into. That’s part of the reason why I decided to transition onto science communication, because I feel that is one of the most effective methods for pushing conservation because you can educate people around you and share those passions. So, it was a mix of my own personal experiences of scuba diving on reefs, conservation and seeing the declines in shark numbers that really motivated me to go into conservation. Also studying it at university made me more and more aware of the risks our oceans are facing.
How did parent figures inspire or support your ambitions when you were a child?
For me, my parents were a huge part of why I love the oceans so much. My parents both are obsessed with wildlife; my mum has a farm and my dad loves birdwatching. But we as a family spend a lot of time on the coast, and I think they always really encouraged active learning outside of school. If I found something I was interested in, they would provide me with guidebooks and all of those little things that would help me develop knowledge about those subjects. My dad is also an underwater photographer and filmmaker so when he was away on shoots, he would often call me back and describe species and I’d get to ID them over the phone. I was so excited to be able to have these interactions with him. As I got older on our family holidays, I became my dad’s designated dive buddy, so we spent a huge amount of time scuba diving together and exploring the coastlines. I grew up hearing a lot of his stories which very much inspired me to go and study marine biology and learn more about those ecosystems.
When filming My 25, how did it feel to realise how much the ocean has changed between yours and your father’s generation?
This is quite an interesting one because I think I was very aware of the change before making the film and the reason I decided to bring that into the film was because I thought it was a great way to explain to people shifting baselines. That’s a subject I’ve been fascinated by since my days at university. I think as well as a diver, there’s been so many times that I’ve been out on dive boats where I’ve come up from a dive and said ‘Oh my god that was amazing!’ and the older divers on the boat would go ‘Oh you should have seen it 10 years ago, you should have seen it 20 years ago’ and I think I’ve always had this feeling that I’ve just missed out, especially when it comes to a lot of the ways my dad would describe places.
I’ve always had a bucket list as long as my arm of places that I’d like to explore, mainly due to the stories he would tell me from the places he would go to when I was younger. I think I was told I would always have time to go see them. It was like, you can’t rush everything, your time will come, you know – focus on school, and at some point, you’ll get to go do those things. I think as I was studying, I was becoming more aware of the fact that those opportunities were actually slipping away – because they just don’t exist anymore.
Through the film I was trying my hardest to translate the feeling that I think a lot of us have – the fact that these places have changed. But I think as well as seeing the difference between his generation and my generation, I’ve seen those changes myself, in my own lifetime. I think that was the reason why I chose the name ‘My 25: The Ocean Between Us’ – because in just my 25 years of life, I’ve been a witness to those changes first-hand. The oceans are definitely changing at a rate that I’m not happy about, but it’s good to see a lot of people coming on board with things – hopefully moving towards a more positive future.
What is your hope for future generations when it comes to experiencing and protecting the oceans?
My hope is that the next generation have the ability to see our oceans thriving and healthy. I think that we need to move away from this idea of conservation; I personally have no desire to conserve what we currently have. I think we need to be moving much more into restoration. I want to restore the oceans, I want to see them how they looked 20, 30, 50 years ago, because that’s the ocean I’ve always imagined. That’s the one I want to be living with, not what we have right now. And I think we are getting very, very close to that point of no return – so it’s important that we are motivated, not only to conserve but to build back better. I think that for future generations the ocean will be very different to what we have now, very different to what my dad had as well. That’s kind of the takeaway from my film – that actually, we need to be looking to the future and feel excited for our oceans. We need to accept that they will be different, but we have to approach them with innovation and creativity. That will allow us to build something back that I hope will be just as wonderful, just different.
As for the future generations protecting our oceans, I think we’re quite fortunate in the sense that we’re at a really brilliant time in our lives where we know what the solutions are, and we know what the problems are. It is just a matter of action. I think we are getting more big brands starting to realise that actually, ethics is important, and sustainability is important. Unfortunately, those changes aren’t happening fast enough at the moment but it’s great to see so many people and so many businesses aware that these are essential parts of every business model. I think also the younger generation are vital. They are so much more aware about what is happening to our planet and I think that they’re going to be huge supporters of more green policies and politics, so we are in a good place. It requires not only enthusiastic passionate individuals, but those individuals working and collaborating with huge amounts of other people, inspiring others and becoming a collaborative movement.
Check out Inka’s award-winning ‘My 25: The Ocean Between Us’ film here and keep up to date with her work @inkacresswell on Instagram!
If you can, this Father’s Day take the chance to chat to a parent figure about your own experiences of the world around you.
What changes in the ocean have you noticed in your lifetime?
Share your stories in the comments on Instagram and keep our ocean’s legacy alive.
Written by Lily Holbrook