Whether you think a certain Swedish girl is an environmental messiah or political militant, it is impossible to escape the current world narrative; our planet is in need of some serious help. We can’t but feel helpless when natural disaster strikes – take the recent Australian bushfires, for example – yet worryingly it is not Mother Earth who is intent on self-destruction; for far too long we have been contributing to the problems.
But change is in the air. More and more of us are becoming engaged in doing our bit to slow down – and hopefully reverse – this environmental destruction, including long-time Monegasque resident Irina Peterson, who is not only representing the Principality in the Galapagos to Easter Island leg of the all-female round-the-world eXXpedition voyage, but who has created her own environmental platform, the Ocean Amazon.
F.1.M. : Irina, many of us know you from your work with major consulting companies in Monaco, as well as your entrepreneurial pursuit, yet you’re turning into a bit of a modern day Cousteau; why this shift in your life?
I.P. : The shift is not linked to what I do, but rather of who I am and who I want to be. There came a moment where my perspective changed from one of “what can I achieve and what I want to do” into a “how can I be of service” in this world. Like many of us, when I became awakened to the fact that we needed to confront the issues in our environment, I became all the more passionate in wanting to make a positive impact.
F.1.M. : And being based somewhere like Monaco, a place world-famous for its oceanographic efforts, how has that influenced this new phase of your life?
I.P. : I’ve called Monaco home for more than two decades and am deeply attached to the Principality. I’ve always been fascinated by the attention and protection of our surrounding ocean that this country has provided. I’m also incredibly proud to live in a country whose Head of State is the only one who has made a lifelong commitment to the support of the environment and our planet. It is so inspiring.
But I’ve always loved the sea, ever since watching Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s documentaries as a child as well as taking up sailing and diving in my youth. Yet it has taken me until now and this societal shift to really become intent on making a difference. I am an imperfect activist, an imperfect human, but I am learning and trying my best! Which is why I first signed up to take part in the eXXpedition, and really it has snowballed from there.
F.1.M. : Tell us a little about the eXXpedition and how you came to be a part of it.
I.P. : Oh what a life-changing experience this will be! I will be part of an all-female crew sailing from the Galapagos – where I will volunteer with the Charles Darwin Foundation – to Easter Island, while documenting the journey to highlight the environmental impact plastic is having on these habitats and the ocean. As I am the only representative from Monaco, I also hope to give a voice to HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation initiatives in ocean protection.
It was only when a friend of mine showed me an article about the founder of eXXpedition, Emily Penn, did I first learn of her work, bringing together crews of multi-disciplined women to contribute to scientific studies out at sea. So I applied, and after several months of forms and tests, I was accepted onto the trip. It was only recently that I found out there had been over 10,000 applicants.
F.1.M. : Did that initial excitement turn into fear once you realised that you would be setting sail across the world for three weeks?
I.P. : I would be lying to say that I am not afraid. My participation in the voyage is despite being afraid, by pushing my boundaries of comfort and understanding. Of course, I was incredibly excited when I got the acceptance letter from Emily and that’s when I realized that I can make a much bigger impact and tell a bigger story!
F.1.M. : And that was the catalyst for Ocean Amazon?
I.P. : Yes, exactly. I wanted to go one step further and create a platform to enable my own contribution, and to create more awareness of solutions and practical ways we can make a difference in our everyday lives. The plastic situation we find ourselves today didn’t happen overnight. It happened through daily collective actions, little by little, and I think the solution will come in the same way.
F.1.M. : What about the Ocean Amazon documentary?
I.P. : I have been lucky enough to meet some incredible people and we are making a documentary to inspire younger generations to carry on this work. On the voyage I will be sailing past the South Pacific Garbage patch, which has never before been filmed for a documentary at the heart of it. We will be focusing on this patch in conjunction with the scientific analysis we will be carrying out, which will present new perspectives of discovery and a unique opportunity to go above, and below. Basically, it will be a documentary following an ordinary person getting to do an extraordinary thing!
F.1.M. : You’ve got a couple of pretty impressive partners on this project don’t you?
I.P. : Yes! We are extremely proud to have as partner the HSH Prince Albert II Foundation who realized the opportunity of such a documentary! My friend Renier Ridgeway [founder of Silver Lining Pictures] is coming on board as executive producer, and he is bringing with him two incredible cinematographers: Benitha Vlok and Didier Noirot. Benitha has built in the last 15 years a multi-skilled approach to filmmaking, specifically directing, camerawork & editing – a passion that has taken her all over the world. Didier has started his career with no other than Cousteau in the 80s. In addition of being one of the best underwater cinematographers, he has more than 8,700 dives in all the World’s seas and beneath all the latitudes from the North pole to the Southern Ross Sea. Didier Noirot received two Emmy awards in the category ‘Outstanding Cinematography’ for The Blue Planet and for One Life (National Geographic).
F.1.M. : When you return, do you think you’ll come back a different person?
I.P. : As my hero Cousteau once said: “the sea, the great unifier is man’s only hope. Now as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: we are all in the same boat!” I am already humbled by this opportunity, and I suspect it will be a very emotional experience. I have no doubt I’ll return with an even stronger desire to contribute, to do something positive.
Irina sets sail from the Galapagos on February 15th, and will arrive at Easter Island on March 4th.
A SPECIAL PARTNERSHIP: PRINCE ALBERT II OF MONACO FOUNDATION
Founded in 2006 by Prince Albert II of Monaco, the eponymous charity has dedicated and donated millions to various environmental projects, inspired by the oceanographic pioneer – and his great-great-grandfather – Prince Albert I.
The foundation’s main aims are to raise an awareness of the human impact on the environment as well as awarding grants for innovative solutions and initiatives to mitigate the various environmental crises.
DIDIER NOIROT: Double Emmy Award winner Didier Noirot is no stranger to oceanographic filmmaking; his career began under the watchful eye of none other than Jacques Cousteau, and he has since spent 25 years capturing the marine world on film. His work on the BBC series The Blue Planet saw him win the Emmy for Outstanding Cinematography, as did his work on One Life for the National Geographic channel. Further credits include Planet Earth, Life and Frozen Planet, as well as the Stephen Fry-narrated documentary, Ocean Giants.
BENITHA VLOK: Cutting her teeth under the Emmy Award winning filmmaker Francis Vester, Benitha Vlok’s career as a director, camera operator and editor has been successful from the off. Her skills in conceptual storytelling and documentary making has seen her win multiple awards across an impressive and extensive portfolio of work.