Prove your humanity

With the current state of our environment and the news circulating the world, we all must know, to some degree, how our planet is calling for help. Our Planet was released on Netflix in April this year, which saw David Attenborough showcase the natural world at its finest and the animals in need of dire protection. Another film, 2040, by filmmaker Damon Gameau, took our focus away from ‘doom and gloom’ stories and towards sustainable solutions, showing us what a liveable future might look like if we start making changes now. The Map to Paradise stays with the same theme, but looks specifically to the oceans and what dedicated people from countries around the world are doing in response to the underwater world’s cry for help. It is an adventure-filled tale about the birth of the movement to protect the ocean.

Presented by Bluebottle Films, founders of the Australian agency, James Sherwood and Danielle Ryan, along with executive producer Martin Sheen, take the audience across six continents. Venturing from Australia, the USA, Antarctica, Asia, to the islands of Oceania, they explore messages of hope and courage as the film discovers what it takes to build a global movement and create a positive change.

In an interview with Surf Simply, Sherwood and Ryan explained that they founded Bluebottle Films in 2011 as they wanted to create an Australian-based production agency that focuses on the natural world and preserving its beauty. The Map to Paradise took them on a journey to find some of the most forward-thinking and innovative people across the planet. Some of these inspiring humans include Prince Albert II of Monaco, the chief of Apo Island in the Philippines and Captain Paul Watson from Sea Shepherd. In the Q & A time after the Cinema Paradiso screening, Ryan explains that the duo made the film to give hope to people who are on their conservation journey and inspire them to keep going.

“A couple years ago the NSW state government decided to overturn marine sanctuaries, this was a big shock because I thought once you protect something you protect it forever,” she says.

In September 2018, the NSW Fisheries Minister Niall Blair at the time said “fishing is not the key threat to the sustainability of our marine environment” and was the key deciding factor to back away from the decision of establishing no-fishing zones around Sydney beaches. In a 2018 article from The Conversation, a recent study showed stocks of inshore fish species were declining in Australia by 30 per cent—except in sanctuary zones. While the key theme in the documentary is what different countries and cities are doing to preserve the ocean, it highly stresses the importance of creating more marine parks and sanctuaries around the world. Coral is dying and over-fishing is occurring—humans are having a massive impact on ocean life. It’s clear the environment is rapidly degrading: we’ve heard about the coastal erosion happening at Perth’s hotspots, dolphins dying from entanglement injuries and polar bears ending up in suburban areas in Russia. With inspiration and hope oozing from this film’s stories, all may not be lost.

Directors Danielle Ryan and James Sherwood have spent most of their life documenting the land and sea.


Switching back and forth from the main tales featured—while at times confusing—keeps the plot interesting and showcases extraordinary parts of the ocean, exposing their hidden truths. For example, a small fishing village in Greece looks picture perfect with shimmering, crystal clear waters, but what lies beneath the surface isn’t what it seems. The reef is anything but teeming with life, brown and dirty, sending clouds of muck at the touch. The film tells this story through the perspective of George, a Greek fisherman, who says without strong laws and enforcement, fisherman will just keep fishing until the fish stocks are almost gone. But times are changing, with traditional fishing practices now on the decline with fisherman realising populations aren’t as flourishing as they once were. At the film’s screening, managing director of Sea Shepherd, Jeff Hansen, says that some changes have happened since the making of the film three years ago; the organisation has since established partnerships with African countries such as Tanzania and Gabon to help stop illegal fishing. Sea Shepherd provide the vessels and crew and the countries provide the authority that allows for arrests to be made. This initiative has seen an arrest of 33 illegal fishing boats and has seen citizen’s livelihoods and fish stocks return.

“These fishing nations have realised to have food security, they need sanctuaries helping to produce more fish. By protecting at least one third of an area, more fish are returning and spill out into surrounding waters,” Hansen says.

The photography and filming in The Map to Paradise have helped make the film a success, capturing unique underwater worlds, gentle turtles, whales, seals, colourful fish and so much more. Along with the stunning footage, the film adds its own touch with a series of hand-drawn illustrations turned into animations courtesy of the illustrators on the project team. The soundtrack was scored by Emmy Award-winning composer Daniel Clive McCallum; this magical accompaniment really portrays the sounds of nature. In a blog post from March this year the composer says by allowing the voices of whales and dolphins to be heard, the audience can try to understand that saving the ocean is a complex issue.

“It is about preserving the unseen lives and unheard voices below the surface,” he says.

Touring around Australian cities, Ryan and Sherwood’s film brings its vital message to cinemas around the nation with its most recent screenings in Western Australia before heading to New South Wales and Canberra.

The documentary reveals that only three and a half per cent of the Earth’s oceans are protected, compared to 15 per cent of protected land. The United Nations has set a target to protect 10 per cent of the ocean by 2020. However, scientists urge that 30 per cent should be conserved by 2030 to prevent reaching dangerous levels of global warming and species extinction. Ryan says that 9 per cent of Australian quality marine reserves have been protected but it’s not enough. However, she cautions getting caught up on targets.

“[We] just need to protect more and not lose further protected areas. 3700 sanctuaries have already been downgraded, downsized or lost since the making of the film in 73 countries worldwide,” she says.

Another attendee at Q & A time, senior lecturer in marine biology at Murdoch University Dr Mike van Keulen has done research on the Ningaloo Reef and has expertise in seagrass biology. He says, “There are ways of accommodating recreational fishing that starts with cutting fishing back to a sustainable level and avoid catchments of 20kg per person.”

The Map to Paradise at times felt a bit long-winded and repetitive with its messages around marine conservation. At 95 minutes long, just when you think its finished up telling its stories, it keeps going. Exploring conservation at a global level, director Danielle Ryan says a lot of research was done by conducting audience surveys and holding private screenings which revealed a clear decision to steer away from an individual call to action. “Everyone had a different option. Many said they would rather not have a call to action that appeals to the individual,” she says.

“Conservation is very focused on the individual right now, but it takes a village, not an individual, to save the planet! So, we are challenging this dominating narrative. Each person needs to find their own part in the movement to protect nature.”

However, Sea Shepherd managing director Jeff Hansen was there to provide some advice on how an individual can lessen their impact on the ocean and marine life. Volunteering with Sea Shepherd or joining a citizen science program is a good place to start. Hansen also puts the idea to the audience of participating in beach clean-ups or starting one yourself. Sea Shepherd has been doing clean-ups for three years around Australia and have salvaged more than two million pieces of debris with more than 80 per cent of it been plastic. This leads into his next tip of minimising single use plastics, “It can be overwhelming, so pick a battle and don’t flood yourself of negative stories, otherwise you’ll end up bloody depressed!”

While there is still heaps of progress to make, much can be celebrated as we begin a journey to find paradise.

If you happen to be heading over east anytime soon, be sure to catch The Map to Paradise or join the waitlist to see when the film is next screening near you! Check out the film’s website here!