‘Apathy is one of our biggest problems’: Ocean photographer Shawn Heinrichs wants to save the seas
Stefanie Blendis, CNN and Tommy O'Callaghan, CNN
5 minute read
3:56 AM EDT, Mon March 28, 2022
Photographer Shawn Heinrichs believes that storytelling is man's most powerful tool. His imagery seeks to inspire protection of nature, and that is what drives him to document life in the ocean. "Art is my passion, but conservation is my deep purpose," he said. "And the two for me are inseparable."
Heinrichs grew up by the ocean in South Africa. He says that a connection with the ocean makes him feel alive. "That energy and excitement when I look down in the water or even see the wings of a giant manta ray pod beneath me -- that is always calling to my heart."
This image of a humpback whale and its calf off Tonga is Heinrich's favorite from his own work. "You can see into both of their eyes, and right behind them is a male escort in pursuit, hoping that he may get a chance at some point to mate with this female," he said. "You witness both the intimate connection between the mother and the calf, but also the system of life, how it all comes together for the next life cycle. And that to me is probably one of the most special images I've ever captured."
Heinrichs took this drone image of a blue whale in Baja California Sur in Mexico. It's one of the planet's richest ecosystems and contains one of the greatest abundances of whale species in the Northern Hemisphere. Jacques Cousteau once called this region "the aquarium of the sea."
Though almost two billion people live by the sea, few of them experience the same connection to marine life as Heinrichs. He estimates that only 1% of people put on a scuba mask to go beneath the sea surface in their lifetimes. "Fundamental to people wanting to protect and preserve the ocean is their ability to connect with it," he said.
In 2013 Heinrichs helped to expose the illegal trade of manta rays in Asia. He documented hunts and went undercover in markets. His footage was presented at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species at the UN. The team helped secure international protection for manta rays.