“The sea rocked my childhood...later I had the desire to show the treasures of the oceans to a greater audience.”
Like many biotopes of marine life around the world, the underwater diversity of Réunion is endangered. Despite the creation of a natural marine reserve in 2007 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site spanning 40 percent of the landscape, global anthropogenic pressures like pollution, overfishing, climate change, and related threats pose serious threats to the island and surrounding waters.
A fear of the unknown, especially in the wake of a string of shark attacks, further hinders a now imperative mentality of protection and environmental stewardship. Among the strongest tools on the side of conservation are cameras and, more importantly, the hearts and minds of the people who wield them.
Photographer Gabriel Barathieu’s love for the oceans runs deep. Since his earliest memories of visiting his family’s holiday home in southwest France, he has been drawn to the marine environment. But it was a move to a small island in the western Indian Ocean that marked the beginning of his passion for diving and underwater photography, and for sharing his encounters on the other side with a larger audience.
In 2008 life and work brought Gabriel to La Réunion, a young volcanic island and French territory situated between Madagascar and Mauritius in an otherwise blue expanse. Its natural wonders include active volcanoes, a rainforested interior, coral reefs, beaches, and lush biodiversity — the magic of which is palpable even when rendered and shared in pixels on a digital screen.
We asked Gabriel to share some favorite images and encounters:
“I’m as in awe before a tiny shrimp as I am in front of a humpback whale. But for me, the most impressive experiences are with the great marine mammals. I once had a special encounter with a sperm whale. These giants give you an incredible, humbling feeling.”
“I'd say the moment that struck me most happened three years ago. There was a whale and her calf who had been present for a few days. During a dive, the small whale (which was 4 meters long) was very curious and came closer to see me. He approached so close that I was obliged to palm in reverse. Her mother also followed me. It lasted a good ten minutes, being followed by this family. It will remain unforgettable in my memory.”
“In all the encounters I've been able to have, I've never seen any aggressive behaviour in these animals towards humans."
“What I like most about diving is the atmosphere. You feel like you're on another planet. It is totally different.”
“I think what is most beautiful in the underwater environment is the relationship we have with the animals. While diving, the fish are not afraid of you, they come to see you and you can approach them easily. This is not possible on a terrestrial level or landscape. You can swim next to the biggest predators underwater without feeling in danger. The limits of possibility are completely redefined beneath the surface.”
“I sincerely believe that photography is a strong tool in the preservation of the oceans. I'm aware of how lucky I am to have the chance to see these wonders underwater. Many people are unable to see them, but also many people are unaware of these treasures and this biodiversity. Photography enables a broader audience to discover what lies beneath the surface and contributes to a collective awareness.”
Visit Gabriel's website to view more
and follow him on Instagram here.