Synopsis: A career as a fisherman has always been a tough trade, demanding both physical and mental fortitude to survive. Few types of fishing are as intense as Urchin and Sea Cucumber diving, where solo divers work for hours in freezing waters at 60-foot depths to harvest a profitable catch. Like his dad before him, Conner works completely alone, running tubes of oxygen from his boat down to his suit on the ocean floor. Isolated underwater, the risk of being injured, attacked by a shark, or lost at sea is a real threat and requires constant management and awareness.
Jacques Cousteau once said that California’s Channel Islands were one of the most beautiful places he’d ever dove. While it’s a carefully protected national park, and all fishing is highly regulated, wider environmental changes have devastated the region’s vast kelp forests. Without kelp, the Urchins fail to produce healthy roe or ‘uni’, bringing an end to a regional economy, and for fisherman like Conner, an entire way of life.
Success as an urchin diver requires an incredible investment of resources, time, and effort – and like most forms of hunting and fishing, is typically developed over years of informal training from older generations. Conner’s goal is to pass his knowledge and love of the ocean down to his kids, like his dad did for him. While the ocean will always remain a part of the family’s life, the challenging economics of the Urchin business may force Conner and the few other full-time Urchin divers into new land-based careers in the years to come.
At a young age, I fell in love with the ocean. As I started to dive along the California coast, I began to see the reefs change before my eyes. Over the past 5 years, California has lost 95% of its kelp beds. Wildlife began to vanish and reefs that used to supply me with food and good photos are now gone.
With a goal in mind to raise awareness about the changing seas in California, I set out to profile the sustainable generational urchin diver Conner Rhoads, whose family has over 40 years of experience diving along the California Coast. Through this film, I want to take viewers on a journey beyond the ocean’s surface and to take a deep dive through Conner’s eyes to see the changing seas and how it has affected his way of life, the ecosystem, and the food that we eat. Conner is just one example and I hope this film can inspire others to fall in love with the ocean and protect it for generations to come.
Tyler Schiffman is an international award-winning photographer who has devoted his career to taking photographs and making films that will make a true impact in our world. He captures the unique moments both below and above the ocean’s surface.
Through his work as a freelance photographer, his photographs have been presented at the United Nations and have made the cover of The New York Times Science section. His work has also been featured in publications such as The Atlantic, Business Insider, BBC News, Nature Conservancy Magazine, Washington Post, The Los Angeles Daily News, and The Guardian. Tyler graduated from the University of Southern California where he studied environmental science and filmmaking.