DIVING FOR THE FUTURE

With Ocean Conservationist, Brooke Pyke

In the heart of Ningaloo, Western Australia, Brooke Pyke finds her muse beneath the surface of the sea. From a childhood apprehension of the ocean's power to an adult's deep-seated respect, Brooke's journey has been one of transformation. Now, armed with a camera and a passion for conservation, she dives into the depths to capture the ocean's wonders in all their perfect imperfection. Through her lens, Brooke seeks to inspire a new wave of ocean warriors, believing that art has the power to protect our planet's most precious life force. Join us as we explore the world through Brooke Pyke's eyes and discover the beauty that drives her to fight for our oceans.

What first drew you to the mesmerising world beneath the waves and how has your connection with the ocean evolved over time? 

During my early childhood, the ocean's power terrified me. Walking along the shore with my parents, the crashing waves seemed ready to engulf us. This fear persisted until I learned to snorkel, discovering the wonders beneath the surface and developing a close connection with the ocean. In my early 20s, after finishing my design studies, a holiday to Thailand introduced me to scuba diving. This newfound passion led me to become a dive instructor, as the underwater world offered a sense of freedom and tranquillity that felt like home.

 

As an underwater photographer, you have a unique perspective on marine life. Can you share a moment or encounter that deeply impacted you? 

It was July during my first season on the Ningaloo and we were out swimming with whale sharks. Our spotter pilot called in over the radio saying he had found a krill ball forming which had several whale sharks feeding in it. Upon arrival to the area, we could see at least 7 whale sharks charging around heads and mouths breaking the surface, scooping up krill as fast as they could. I got in to photograph the activity from underwater and it was one of the most exhilarating experiences. Not only were there whale sharks but below me I could see schools of fish whizzing by, oceanic mantas barrel rolling and devil rays feeding amongst it all. Krill balls are famously hard to photograph as you’re literally trying to see through a pink haze and all the animals are moving very fast to get their feed. After we exited the water and continued watching the action from the boat, suddenly 3 humpback whales showed up and began feeding as well. At this point I had tears in my eyes, it was really a roller coaster of an experience. Humpbacks are not really known to feed during their migration, so this was a really special encounter. 

Ningaloo Reef is a biodiversity hotspot. What steps do you think individuals and communities can take to protect this precious ecosystem? 

There are several issues and threats that our beautiful reef faces. Industrial development is a significant concern, and Protect Ningaloo has been fighting this for many years. One of the main areas under threat is the Gulf of Exmouth, which lies on the eastern side of the cape and is closely connected to the Ningaloo Reef. The mangrove systems in the south of the gulf serve as a nursery for many endangered species such as wedge fish, saw fish, and shovelnose rays. Additionally, the gulf is a resting area for humpback mothers with calves during their migration, and it also hosts a large population of dugongs that feed on the seagrass beds.

Over the years, there have been several proposals to develop the area, with the most recent one being a proposed deep-water port for commercial vessels. Fortunately, this has not gone ahead due to the efforts of the Protect Ningaloo campaign. Our community needs to come together and understand the value of the beauty we have on our doorstep. As individuals, we can also make a difference in our daily lives by connecting with the natural world around us and doing everything in our power to support its future. This includes lowering our individual consumption, switching to locally sourced products and food where possible, choosing plastic-free products, and supporting sustainable brands.

Through your lens, you capture the beauty and fragility of marine environments. How do you hope your photography inspires others to care for our oceans? 

With much of the world's population living in cities far away from any kind of real wilderness, it can be difficult for them to feel connected with nature. Photography plays a significant role in bridging this gap, connecting people with nature and offering a glimpse into worlds they may not otherwise experience. I believe I can speak for most people when I say that we need nature and wild places not just for food, air, and water, but also for our sanity and well-being. Photography serves as a powerful tool to inspire us to travel, explore, dive, and experience wildlife up close. When someone views my photography and sees a photo of someone swimming alongside a whale shark, I hope they feel inspired to seek out similar experiences for themselves.

What role do you see art and storytelling playing in raising awareness about ocean conservation, and how does your photography contribute to this narrative?

With my work one of my biggest goals is to bring conservation issues into a more public light. I feel particularly passionate towards breaking stigmas around sharks. Sharks are one of my favourite animals to photograph and they feature heavily in my work. I hope that showing their beauty, elegance and importance can help change the public's perspective on sharks. In western Australia, there is quite a widespread fear of sharks and also quite a lot of hatred towards them. Lack of awareness of the role they play in the ecosystem is a big factor in this, as well as dramatisation from the media. Globally, shark populations have declined by over 70% in recent years, these species are on the brink of extinction. I hope some day not everyone will think they’re mindless killers that need to be eradicated. That they are in fact a key species for the health of our oceans and should be respected, not feared.

Can you share a personal story or experience that highlights the urgency of protecting our oceans for future generations?

During my time as a dive instructor in Indonesia, particularly on the small island of Nusa Lembongan near Bali, I witnessed firsthand the alarming increase in marine debris, especially plastic pollution. Diving six days a week, I noticed not only natural seasonal changes but also concerning shifts caused by human activity. One of the most striking changes was the growing presence of marine debris, with hardly a dive passing without encountering plastic trash. This direct exposure highlighted the global crisis, with approximately 8 million tons of trash entering our oceans annually. Despite my efforts to clean up during dives, the sheer volume of trash was overwhelming, serving as a stark reminder of the urgent need for action.

One particularly impactful dive at Manta Bay near Bali revealed an immense amount of trash, ranging from plastic cutlery to packaging and even furniture. The density of the debris was unlike anything I had seen before, prompting feelings of embarrassment and helplessness. My guests, who were diving with me at the time, shared these emotions, questioning why more was not being done to address the issue. While it's easy to blame governments, manufacturers, and companies for their role in creating and perpetuating this environmental crisis, I believe it's equally important to reflect on our individual contributions to the problem. Each of us is a part of the larger picture, and our daily choices and behaviours matter.

You have received many awards, recognising your talent in a competitive field. What does this mean to you?

Among a few others, I was awarded in 2022 with the Oceanographic Female Fifty Fathoms Award which celebrates inspiring women in the photography field. This award came to me very unexpectedly and it still amazes me that so early in my career, I have been recognised against what I’m sure would have been some very tough competition. My portfolio for this award contained imagery of some of my most unique encounters from the coast of Western Australia. From sea lions to dolphins, and even sea dragons. I was able to feature imagery of many of Australia’s most famous marine inhabitants. I’m honestly very humbled to have won an award for my work in Photography. Getting such a high level of exposure and praise for my work has given me a lot of confidence to keep learning and moving forward. I’m excited to see what kinds of opportunities come up over the next few years and where it will take me next.