Brian Skerry ’84 held the audience in Worcester State University’s Fuller Theater spellbound on Thursday, September 20 as he recounted his spectacular career as an underwater photojournalist. Skerry, who majored in media and communications at Worcester State, was the inaugural speaker in WSU’s Presidential Lecture Series, established as one of the events marking the inauguration of Barry M. Maloney as the University’s 11th president.
Skerry has devoted 30 years to photographing the beauty and majesty of marine life around the world. For the past 14 years, he has worked primarily for National Geographic and traveled to some of the most remote places on the planet. He spends eight or nine months a year in the field, where he puts in 18-hour days and often dives with equipment weighing 120 pounds or more.
He is driven by his passion for the ocean and his deep empathy for the creatures that call it home.
Early in his career, Skerry wanted to capture the oceans’ beauty and diversity. But increasingly, he is compelled to tell the story of the grave threats to marine life.
During his presentation, Skerry eloquently described some of our planet’s most astonishing and imperiled creatures, illustrating each story with stunning photographs. He said that 90 percent of bluefish, tuna, and sharks have disappeared since World War II. Blue fin and yellow fin tuna are on the verge of extinction, as are leatherback turtles, which have existed since before the dinosaurs.
Overfishing, pollution, and climate change have put our oceans in crisis. But Skerry is trying to reverse the damage by raising awareness and working with international conservation groups. “We can eliminate our use of single-use plastics,” he told the audience. “We can solve the problem of plastics in our oceans if we put our minds to it.”
He also advocates for the creation of more marine reserves. “Our oceans account for 98 percent of the biosphere, yet only a fraction of 1 percent is protected,” Skerry said. “In those places, the oceans are recovering. We need to create more marine reserves, more replenishment zones.”
Although our oceans are in trouble, Skerry said he is hopeful that we can save them. “The ocean is resilient, and tolerant to a point,” he said. “But we must listen, we must see, and we must act.”
At the conclusion of his presentation, Skerry received a standing ovation. Afterwards, he chatted with members of the audience and signed copies of his new book, Ocean Soul.
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