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Underwater world of the Salish Sea

Documentary film
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These silvery fish swim near Tuwanek on the Sunshine Coast

It’s a magical world that is so close to us, yet we cannot see it from our homes. Sarama of Gibsons, sculptor, photographer, film maker, has been privy to the underwater world that laps the Coast’s shores, and he is busy filming it using scuba gear and underwater cameras for his documentary, This Living Salish Sea.

His previous film about the Gospel Rock area near Gibsons was received with great enthusiasm on the Coast. The camera zoomed down the rock face and into the water — half of it was filmed underwater, a part of the rockface unfamiliar to most.

“It gave me my awareness of life under the sea, the richness of it,” Sarama said. “It was not on people’s radar and they need to see it.”

The Gospel Rock video inspired the next project that he began last January.

“I do what I can to make people aware,” he said. “But I also want to film something that people will want to watch, not that it’s their duty to watch.”

His first focus is to show the beauty of the Salish Sea and the life he sees while diving. He’s learned a lot about identifying different types of cod, shrimp, sponges, anemones and barnacles — and about the protected areas that currently exist. Sarama has been a scuba diver since the age of 16 and his workshop is full of equipment: an ROV (remote operated vehicle), the various light units that strap underneath to illuminate the dark waters, an underwater camera and the heavy housing for it plus the housing for a remarkably small HD camera, and even a flying device, not unlike a mini helicopter, that is controlled remotely and flies overhead for good visuals.

The urgency of the documentary project became acute once Sarama learned about the supertanker expansion that would bring huge vessels through coastal waters. Currently tankers are already cruising through nearby waters when they leave Vancouver’s port loaded with the product of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, and they pass Victoria to enter the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The proposed pipeline to Kitimat in the north would carry diluted bitumen, a product of the Alberta oil sands. Should the tanker founder in the stormy strait, this substance would not float on the water like an oil slick but would sink to the bottom, suffocating sea life. Sarama, along with many others, does not want to see this happen. After he started filming, Sarama researched the issue and made an unscheduled trip to the oil sands, not as a protest but for a healing walk organized by First Nations.

“It was a good decision to go there. I met Native Elders and found out some shocking facts. It’s a strange and sad place.” The visit spurred him to devote full-time work on the current film, subsidized by his own pocket, and he now has 19 hours of footage.

Diving in the waters around Victoria, Nanaimo, Gibsons and Sechelt Inlet at Tuwanek, Sarama was surprised to find ling cod bigger than he was and giant rockfish that can live to be 80 and 100 years old. He’s not giving away the location except to say that cod like rocky slopes where they poke their nose out for the camera. As an additional segment of film, he’d like to go aboard a commercial fishing boat to show where our food comes from. It gives us something to think about the next time we order fish and chips.   

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