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Changing Tides

Preserving our coastline and educating locals go hand in hand. Fortunately, a few Orange County influencers are leading the way.

laguna-mammal-marine-beac
Solar panels installed at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach.

Seaduction

Last year, Beverly Factor jumped into the 83-degree water off the coast of Raja Ampat, Indonesia. Known as one of the ultimate underwater destinations in the world, this area, which literally means “Four Kings,” is home to more than 540 types of coral and 700 types of mollusks. King Triton’s home is so bountiful that The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International estimate that 75% of the world’s species subsist in the waters surrounding Raja Ampat. These natural wonders bring thousands of divers to Indonesia’s waters each year. And that is why Beverly Factor found herself there, living on a dive boat for 10 days.

For more than a week, Factor and five other people did nothing more than eat, sleep and dive. “We were doing four to five dives a day,” says Factor, an underwater photographer who resides in Laguna Beach. While the other divers simply stared at the ocean’s beauty, Factor captured it – frame by frame. “When you’re diving and shooting pictures, you have to stay steady. There’s the current, and the water is moving. I’m an inch to three inches away from my subjects,” she says. “Even wide-angle shots, I’m within two feet. You have just one shot.” Once the flash bulbs go off, the fish dash away, urchins and anemone retreat into their hiding spots and the beautiful moment is gone. “I usually see it and just shoot.”

Trusting her instincts is how Factor came to this stage of her life. Her latest book, Seaduction, The Sensuous Side of the Sea, is a collection of photographs capturing the more alluring side of the ocean. Playfully referred to as the Georgia O’Keefe of the underwater world, Factor exemplifies this sentiment with her soulful and intimate images. She garnered the praise of ocean aficionados from the artist Wyland to environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau. But while Factor loves her profession, this was not her first career.

In fact, she found success in a completely different field. Factor invented stick-on nail art, which ballooned into an extremely lucrative novelty. But a bad relationship with her partner quickly eroded her love for that business. When Factor abruptly abandoned that venture, she found herself soul searching. What would truly make her happy? She discovered that thinking positively was the first step. She made affirmations, drew a picture board, bought a map and dotted it with all the places she dreamed of visiting. She plastered Post-its on her wall. After a few months, Factor came up with a plan. She would travel the world, dive in the ocean and photograph everything.    

Back in Indonesia, Factor waited as all her other shipmates jumped. With 20 years of experience and more than 5,000 dives under her belt, she is one with the ocean. When she finally dove into the clear blue water, another crewmember handed down her large camera and the rest of her equipment. It was far too large for her to enter the water with it all attached to her. Factor, who is a spritely 5’2 and weighs just 103 pounds, often jokes that carrying all the gear onto the plane is the most challenging part of her dive trips.

In Raja Ampat, “all the other divers were way ahead of me,” recalls Factor. Just then, she realized something was seriously wrong. A quick glance at the dial on her tank indicated one fatal mistake. “They forgot to fill it,” she says. Panicking was not an option. Shooting straight up to the top was also not possible. “Because you can get an air embolism,” she explains. “You have to allow your body to decompress at 15 to 20 feet first.” That’s when Factor thought, “This is it. I’m going to die.”

Instantly, she “did what any red-blooded woman would do.” She screamed. Luckily one of the dive masters turned around. “I don’t know how she saw me,” says Factor. “She was wearing a hood and she was far ahead of me. There was no way she could see me.” But, the dive master changed her direction. “She swam up to me and that’s when I grabbed her extra oxygen.” Factor pointed at her empty tank. “We were both calm and went casually to the top.” The story is a reminder that all her breathtakingly beautiful images are captured with a tinge of risk. But it’s evident from her close-up shots of fish, sea anemones and coral reefs that the risk is worth it. While we marvel at her images, we’re reminded of the words of Jacques Cousteau. “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”

Picture This :: beverlyfactor.com

 

Documenting The Wedge

The Wedge in Newport Beach attracts surfers and body boarders from all over the world. Known for its enormous waves, with swells as high as 20 feet, this Orange County landmark is steeped in local history. One family in particular finds its ancestry intertwined in the construction of The Wedge.

When Bob Rogers first decided to write a book about his family, he delved into the photo collections of his mother and father. “Both my grandmothers were the family photo thieves,” jokes Rogers. Meaning that each woman borrowed pictures from other relatives and conveniently forgot to return them. “We inherited all the photos from both families.” But this image hoarding had a purpose. “My mom wanted to put together the family history,” says Rogers. “She just didn’t have to tools to do it.” So Rogers took on the task himself. In the late ’80s, he decided to write a book about his heritage.

“I wanted to capture their stories. It all started with lost relatives that you can’t talk to any more,” he says. “I wanted to ask them what was life like back then.” But, of course “you don’t make that commitment until all the people you need [as resources] pass away.” At first, Rogers’ busy career as a filmmaker delayed him, but after 19 years, he compiled two books – a two-volume set to be precise, more than 1,000 pages long. Instead of recording the dry genealogy, Rogers sought out the interesting stories. “I wanted the flaws,” he says. “Which one was the alcoholic? Which one was a wife beater? Who has a mistake on their tombstone?”

Scrounging through old photographs and archived stories from relatives, Rogers discovered a truly compelling story. “It was something that people not related to the guy would actually find interesting,” he says. In Newport, “there is this rock monument that everyone walks by to go surfing. The monument doesn’t really say anything about the man himself.” That man is Rogers’ granduncle, George Rogers Sr.

Growing up on the Balboa Peninsula, Bob Rogers often walked by the statue near The Wedge on his way to surf calmer waters down shore. While he knew that this man named on the rock was related to him, Rogers knew little about the details behind his family’s legacy. The bronze plaque only mentions his granduncle’s service to the city of Newport Beach. Not one word about the tragedy that spawned what is regarded as one of the most iconic surf spots in California.

The story began 88 years ago. Rogers’ first cousin once removed, George Jr., was a privileged 15-year-old boy residing in Newport. His father, a wealthy entrepreneur and president of Union Rock, gave his son a Dodge Water Car speedboat. George Jr., who was paralyzed at the waist down by polio, walked with crutches and wore braces on both legs. Despite his condition, the boy was not frail. According to a close cousin, George’s father had hopes that his son would eventually take over the business and replace him as the family patriarch.

 In June of 1926, young George and four other boys boarded the speedboat. They had plans to motor to Catalina. Since his disability prevented him from standing at the wheel and the boat had a very high front, George Jr. sat sidesaddle on the rail to see over the bow. But the rocky waters proved too fierce. The tumultuous surf caused by the failing jetties overturned the boat. Family members recall the waves that day as being unusually large. While the boys were turning back into the harbor, a wave crashed down and they were flung into the ocean. The other boys survived, but George Jr. died at sea.

After his son’s sudden demise, George Sr. was grief-stricken. He dedicated the next decade of his life to campaigning the government to build stronger jetties. Captains needed help safely navigating the harbor, he argued. Something had to be constructed to protect the boats from these catastrophic waves. George Sr. vowed to fix the harbor as a remembrance for his son. In the end, this dedicated man not only improved Newport Harbor, but he also unexpectedly created one of Orange County’s most beloved surf spots.

In his documentary The Wedge: Dynasty, Tragedy, Legacy, Bob Rogers captures this local story. “It’s real and it’s history,” he says. “Newport needs to understand its past. I’m not making a dime out of this. But I believe in it.” Rogers, who is the founder and chairman of BRC Imagination Arts, decided that film was the best medium to share his story. The Academy Award nominee and now an elected member of the Academy Board of Governors partnered with PBS SoCal to uncover the mystery behind the cryptic rock monument perched at The Wedge. For everyone involved, it’s a true labor of love.

Watching the Tides :: PBS SoCal will re-air The Wedge: Dynasty, Tragedy, Legacy on Sunday, August 3 at 6 p.m. and Saturday, August 9 at 3 a.m. (on PBS SoCal Plus)

:: thewedgefilm.com

 

The Awe-Inspiring Ocean

Greg MacGillivray and Jim Freeman started shooting surf documentaries 50 years ago because they wanted to create films that surprised and delighted audiences. For these local filmmakers, it was all about the adventure. Then Hollywood came calling and MacGillivray-Freeman started collaborating on cult classics like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Still, more than five decades later, MacGillivray and his team continue to produce unforgettable documentaries. Using the awe-inspiring scope of IMAX technology, MacGillivray-Freeman films celebrate science and the natural world.  

Its latest motion picture, Journey to the South Pacific, narrated by Cate Blanchett, is a part of the One World, One Ocean series that MacGillivray-Freeman founded three years ago. Through this campaign, the organization plans to educate and astound people about marine wildlife. The first film in the One World, One Ocean series was the blockbuster hit To the Arctic. While the footage focused on an adorable polar bear family in the arctic tundra, the real message was about how climate change affects these creatures and their indigenous ecosystem. MacGillivray-Freeman’s next film is a partnership with Newport Beach-based Pacific Life Insurance. The story follows a pod of humpback whales and celebrates these graceful gentle giants from a scientific point of view. Pacific Life “has done a lot to protect the species. Even their logo is the humpback whale,” says Shaun MacGillivray, the film’s producer and Greg’s son. MacGillivray’s excitement about this latest project is contagious. It’s due to hit theaters by February 2015.

But what does it take for a Laguna Beach film company to make such epic films? For Journey to the South Pacific,shooting amid the pristine coral reefs of West Papua had its challenges. Although this region is home to more than 2,000 species of sea life, and houses the most diverse marine ecosystem on Earth, there are some obstacles. First, the location itself is so remote that it takes two straight days of travel to get there. “You travel by plane, by boat, by everything to get to that place,” says MacGillivray. Next, you must consider how to transport the equipment. Many of the locations where the crew filmed are only accessible by arduous, rickety footbridges. The IMAX camera itself is a hefty 250 pounds – and it’s bulky. With a girth the size of a small refrigerator, the camera takes four people to move. Plus you can only shoot for three minutes before changing the film.

Then, there’s the aerial photography. For this, MacGillivray-Freeman’s crew used a space cam with the IMAX camera fitted in. But getting a great shot is challenging when the location is a group of jagged and rugged archipelagoes. Another setback: there was no landing pad. So the native villagers constructed an open space just for the helicopter.

With all this hassle, why use this technology at all? “In the end, we’re storytellers,” says MacGillivray. “We search for fantastic stories that touch people around the world. And in the next 50 years, we’ll continue to do this in IMAX and other mediums as well.” After all, the audience doesn’t care about how hard it was to get the shot. They just want an unforgettable experience.

“It’s a testament to my dad and what he’s built as a company,” says MacGillivray. “We’re blessed to work with such incredible people and partners.” The filmmakers traveled through nine islands in Indonesia aboard The Kalabia. In the process, they “taught the local kids about their backyard,” says MacGillivray. They swam all their lives, “but they don’t have goggles and the accoutrements to go diving.” Through their eyes, the audience discovers whale sharks and endangered leatherback turtles.

Even though turtles move slowly, these reptiles were difficult to film. No one has ever captured them spawning. After crossing a river, risking crocodile attacks, schlepping equipment aboard tiny skiff canoes, and battling large mosquitoes, the filmmakers captured two-and-a-half hours of film on the remote Wermon Beach. When the Pacific leatherbacks lay their eggs, they enter into a trance, so in the end, they barely noticed the cameras. Dedication like this is what garnered MacGillivray-Freeman the lifetime achievement award as they celebrated their 50th anniversary at this year’s Newport Beach Film Festival. “We love what we do,” says Shaun MacGillivray. “We want people to see these stories on the big screen and learn about new topics. We’re about inspiring people to care about something that they might not necessarily have cared about before seeing it on film.”

Seeking Adventure :: oneworldoneocean.com :: macgillivrayfreemanfilms.com

 

Solar for Seals

The Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach is known for many things: Rescuing sea lion pups, rehabilitating injured sea creatures, housing more than 200 marine mammals, and educating locals about the ocean are just a few of its missions. But, harnessing solar energy? That’s another big achievement that the center can boast about this year. This past June, 59 solar panel units were installed on top of the facility’s roof. The goal is to save on electricity costs and act as a leader in environmental stewardship for Orange County.

Electricity powers everything – from lighting the halls to keeping the freezers stocked with fish to maintaining much-needed medical equipment. The center’s next step in conservation is to fundraise for a water reclamation plant. Once installed, it estimated it will reduce the PMMC’s water usage by more than 90 percent. According to Melissa Sciacca, director of development, all of these improvements are necessary. “We have noticed an increase in sea lion strandings in Orange County for the last two years,” she says. “And with the predicted El Nino that is due to arrive next year, we are concerned about 2015 being another tumultuous year… Both 2014 and 2013 were our highest patient count years in the history of our organization, so we are certainly concerned about the future.” Thanks to these solar panels, the center has more funds to light the way.

Save the Seals :: pacificmmc.org

 

Getting Schooled

Being water-wise starts with research and innovation. At UCI, water conservation projects are making headlines and changing the world, one experiment at a time.

  • Civil and environmental engineer Stanley Grant was selected by the National Science Foundation to spearhead a $4.8 million research project focused on water-stressed regions in Australia and the southwestern U.S. The goal: find low-energy methods to turn wastewater into drinking water. Grant and his team will learn from the Australian experience of how to thrive in the face of dwindling freshwater supplies. This study is expected to directly benefit California and other severe drought areas

  •  Conservation is going to save the planet. But preserving sea life helps us in other ways. Researchers at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering are studying squid. What do calamari and the U.S. Defense Department have in common? Camouflage. According to Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science Alon Gorodetsky, the squid’s ability to change color and reflect light is invaluable. Gorodetsky, along with a team of researchers, produced a substance called reflectin and used it to mimic the squid’s camouflage capabilities. By using this protective film wearers can disappear and reappear in front of an infrared camera. While the team has much more research to do, their plan is to make shape-shifting a reality.

Making Waves :: uci.edu


 

By the Numbers: Breaking down water research one drop at a time.

Nearly 50 :: percent of repackaged tap water that is sold as bottled H2O
1.2 billion :: the number of people worldwide that lack reliable access to safe drinking water
21 :: number of major death-causing diseases linked to H2O contamination                                                                                     
Source for above: Jean-Daniel Saphores “Economics of Water” research UCI Water-PIRE (Partnerships for International Research and Education); June 25, 2013
1.3 billion  :: the number of gallons of treated wastewater that flows throughSouthern California sewers into the Pacific Ocean every day.          
Source: OC Water District
2015  :: the year that OC Water District officials say the Fountain Valley plant will be producing 100 million gallons of potable water a day – at half the cost of imported water. Source: OC Water District

 


Water WordsTerms to start the conservancy conversation

Upwelling :: The process of water temperature dropping suddenly because strong winds are churning up deeper, colder ocean water. This occurred along the OC coastline this past April. Surfers and body boarders noticed a sudden chill in the water; the upwelling brought temperatures down to toe-numbing mid-50 degrees.


Primary productivity :: The scientific term to describe the process by which water molecules are transformed into oxygen. Think: Every breath we take comes from the ocean.

Source: UCI professor Bill Cooper’s “The Future of Water” TEDtalk


Toilet to Tap ::  The process of transforming wastewater into drinking water. About 2.4 million OC residents get their water from an underground aquifer that is steadily recharged with billons of gallons of purified wastewater. The cost is 30% cheaper than importing water. The process begins at a 24-acre facility in Fountain Valley.

Source: Orange County Water District

 


 


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