Adventure

Sustainable coexistence

Words and photographs by André Musgrove

I’ve been in and out of the ocean my entire life.

In my younger years I wore prescription glasses. The first dive that I wore a prescription mask was in a new and unique dive location in Nassau that I’d never dived before. Opening my eyes behind the new mask I was finally able to see the ocean in all its glory, perfectly clear and sharp. To this day, that was the most exciting moment I’ve experienced in the ocean and one I consider to be a particularly eye-opening experience.

The underwater world for me provides a break from the negativity and distractions that can come from being on land in the modern world. Every time I dive beneath the waves I can experience something new – it’s an adventure, but one that has no storyline and can’t be predicted. I guess I can say I’ve always been freediving, as I was six years old the first time I remember going out spearfishing with my father. Being underwater is simply a part of my life and one of my favourite things to do.

Visual connection

I strive to use my imagery to share lesser-known truths about the underwater world and it’s inhabitants. In The Bahamas many locals do not know how to swim and have an extreme fear of sharks due to lack of exposure and misinformation. As a Bahamian I try to create imagery with or about sharks so to grasp the attention of my own people and to show them that they’ve been taught is not true. I hope that seeing one of their own interacting with sharks in their natural environment, without being attacked, will encourage others seek further education on shark behaviour and their importance. The story I try to tell through my work is that there can be sustainable coexistence between humans and the marine environment. Humans can enjoy what’s underwater while still keeping ourselves and the animals safe. I hope that showing people interacting with wild animals underwater in their natural habitats, others can learn not to fear the unfamiliar.

Photography can bring people closer to the ocean by stimulating their visual senses to feel a connection. I believe that people can create more of an appreciation to something if they understand it, see its beauty and understand how it needs our help. Showing images of how our day-to-day activities on land can negatively impact the ocean can encourage people to be more conscious of their actions. Photography can also help dispel myths and fears that some people may have of animals like sharks, so that they can see them for how they actually are instead of what over exaggerated media and fictional films present them to be.

the bahamas andre musgrove underwater photographer wreck
the bahamas andre musgrove underwater photographer freediving
the bahamas andre musgrove underwater photographer freediving
andre musgrove underwater photographer freediver the bahamas
Sanctuary in The Bahamas

A few months ago I was freediving in a blue hole in The Bahamas with my friend and fellow freediver David Langlois. We have visited this blue hole many times before and knew that at certain times of the year the Atlantic Sharp Nose sharks aggregate there to mate. We got out to the location on David’s sailboat and anchored in the sand surrounding the edge of the blue hole. The outside edge of the blue hole is about 50ft and drops down to more than 200ft in the centre. The sun was low, and visibility wasn’t great, so we couldn’t see any sharks in the hole from the surface. We dropped a descent line and I did my first dive down the line to where I knew the sharks usually hang out. The visibility started to clear up the deeper I went and revealed the massive school of sharks that was circling the edge of the blue hole. Everywhere I looked were sharks. Floating midwater down at about 70ft, the sharks kept their distance from me and occasionally came in a little closer to check me out. Being surrounded by that many sharks was one of the best free dives and shark experiences of my life.

The Bahamas is home over 40 shark species with the most popular being Caribbean Reef Sharks, Nurse Sharks, Lemon Sharks, Hammerhead Sharks, Tiger Sharks, Lemon Sharks, Bull Sharks and Silky Sharks. The face the global threats of commercial shark fishing mainly for use of their fins for medicinal purposes and shark fin soup. Other serious threats are shark nets, which have a significant environmental cost in terms of non-target bycatch and the catches that may contain both protected and endangered species. The Bahamas took action to protect its shark population by establishing a shark sanctuary in 2011. Commercial shark fishing is prohibited along with the sale, importation and export of shark products in The Bahamas. The campaign was led by The Bahamas National Trust (BNT) in partnership with the PEW Environment Group and support from partner agencies including the Bahamas Reef Environmental Educational Foundation (BREEF).

There are a number of organisations working tirelessly to support the shark populations of The Bahamas. The Bimini Biological Field Station Foundation focuses on research and educational of sharks here in Bahamian waters. Through research they can better understand the life cycles of our native species and also certain threats that we as humans can try to eliminate. The BNT is a non-profit, non-governmental, membership organisation founded in 1959 to protect some of the most beautiful and unique natural areas on earth. There are now over 32 legally designated National Parks spread over two million acres of ocean, tidal zones, and coastal land. By being an ambassador for the BNT I can use my photography skills to help shine light on certain subjects and to promote conservation efforts such as protecting Nation Parks and marine reserves. I’m also working with a new charity community group called Karmagawa. They’re taking a new approach on spreading the word of conservation and awareness by utilising social media, visual content and people with influence to spread the message of major world issues revolving around the health of our planet.

the bahamas andre musgrove underwater photographer cave diving
the bahamas andre musgrove underwater photographer
One breath

Through freediving I’ve learnt that the sport will quickly expose your personal strengths and weaknesses. Freediving is more mental than physical, as some of your greatest doubts and fears can surface while at depth. Controlling these thoughts and practicing staying relaxed can be a skill that, once improved, you can apply to many aspects of your life, even above water. Physically, freediving allows you to see how far you can push your body while under pressure in an environment that is different than on land, whether the water you’re in is cold or hot, the seas are calm or rough, the water is deep or shallow, these factors you’ll have to learn to function and keep your nerve. I first picked up a camera when I was maybe eight years old and I loved taking photographs of the nature in my backyard. I found my passion for underwater photography and filmmaking specifically when I was in my mid-teens when the Gopro action cameras became popular. Most of my friends at that age did not have easy access to the ocean as I did, or any interest in similar activities, so picking up a camera was my way of bringing my adventures to them. Freediving is important to my style of photography because I feel like I have more ability to adapt in any situation underwater. Eliminating the cons associated with scuba diving specifically ascending to fast, limited unrestricted movement and reduced swimming speed allows for more flexibility to create.

What I love most about shooting underwater is the process and adapting to inevitable challenges. When working with wild marine animals like sharks, turtles, fish or rays you must always expect the unexpected and be ready to take advantage of a situation that may only occur once in a lifetime. Those are the moments I wait for when I’m shooting a photo concept or creating an underwater film. Photography is important to me, as it’s my way of expressing my creativity and releasing the tension that builds up in my head if I’m away from the water for too long. I strive to create images and films that people will feel rather than just view.

Freediving has taught me that the natural world is unique beyond our imagination. Everything in the natural world has its own cycle and needs to be balanced in order for the cycle to continue smoothly. Freediving instead of using clumsy scuba gear, which creates intrusive bubbles, allows for less invasive human and animals interactions. Freediving taught me that, by applying a little pressure, you can create space for personal growth. The natural world has taught me that you’re limited only by your own imagination and level of determination.

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Unplug. Reconnect. 

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