When John Smith explored the Chesapeake Bay in the early 1600s he reported that oysters "lay as thick as stones." Now they are at about 2 percent of their historic population, and in 2008 the federal government declared the blue crab fishery a commercial failure.
The Bay has seen much better days, and so have its watermen. Such is this premise of a new documentary by Laura Seltzer, “The Last Boat Out." Wednesday evening I attended an advanced screening of the documentary, which is narrated by Oceana board member Sam Waterston.
The 30-minute film portrays the Chesapeake Bay's watermen as an endangered species themselves, fighting to stay afloat amid shrinking populations of crabs, oysters and fish -- their historic bread and butter.
Filmmaker Laura Seltzer focuses on a pair of middle-aged brothers who are struggling to continue the family business on the water. They represent a few of the 2800 remaining watermen, who have seen a 70% decline in 30 years.
Nutrient pollution is a big part of the problem, as Seltzer demonstrates. Excess nitrogen and phosphorus from agriculture, wastewater and fertilizer deplete the bay’s oxygen, creating dead zones that can’t sustain life.
As Time reports this week, according to box office figures, the oceans have eclipsed George Clooney in popularity this week -- at least in France.
More than 100,000 people went to see Jacques Perrin's new documentary, Océans, in its first 48 hours in French theaters, which is double the number that went to see Clooney's Up in the Air. (They opened the same day).
Océans is the culmination of two years of planning, four years of filming, which included 70 expeditions to 54 shooting locations. The film banks on the beauty of the oceans (plus the skill of the crew and some fancy equipment) to convince viewers that ocean conservation is paramount. Not surprisingly, the technique works, say the critics.
Perrin produced the 1996 documentary, Microcosmos, which followed insects at close range, and 2001’s acclaimed Winged Migration.
As a documentary buff and ocean lover, I’m marking my calendar: the film opens in the U.S. on Earth Day, April 22.