Underwater photographer, award winning film producer and ecotourism activist, Jorge Cervera Hauser, has a resume as vast as the ocean (pun very much intended), that has connected his intense love for the deep sea and the creatures that inhabit it—particularly the toothy ones we think we’re most scared of.
“It’s funny how things happen and how only after you see they’re all connected. If I hadn’t lost my toe, I would have never made films and had this business that I love. And it all took me back to the ocean, which is the thing I care about the most.”
He is a Discovery Channel ambassador (although more recently and excitingly for us, recently signed on as a brand ambassador for The Outdoor Journal), has spoken at TEDx, and his breathtaking and explorative underwater photography has led to producing the award-winning documentary México Pelágico, a film that beautifully captures and advocates for the critical balance between local shark fishermen and the ocean ecosystem.
Recently acquiring the legendary SolmarV and running unique and sustainable open water expeditions with Pelagic Fleet, Jorge is bringing more awareness and appreciation of the sea to everyone his work touches.
But at only 22 years old, after a debilitating accident, none of this was on the table for Jorge—least of all, winning the top prize in a Discovery Channel competition.
Animal Planet’s Unearthed
“I was working as a film producer on a channel comparable to MTV, and I was like ‘fuck this’ I’m going to be a safari guide. I had all the paperwork and was getting everything set up to go to Namibia to become a park ranger, and then I had a dirt bike accident. So I lost my big toe, was in the hospital for a month and couldn’t walk for 5 months.
“During that time I had a good friend that came to the hospital, and to my home when I was there, and talk to me about an Animal Planet show where they were looking for the next hot wildlife photographer. He was like ‘That’s you! You should be there!’. And after those months of him coming and telling me about all the episodes, I was just starting to walk again and feeling pretty anxious and ready to go back to work—just laying in bed all the time was horrible. At 7am one morning, that friend called me and said ‘okay, you have to go to this link and submit your application because they’re going to do a second season and you’re going to be in it.’ It was a ton of forms and a lot of trouble… and I was sure I would never be picked. At that point, I really just wanted to get back on track with my life.
“Finally, I had a day with nothing to do and I went back into it, filled stuff out, made a demo-reel, etc., did this stupid casting video. As it turns out, they picked 4 of us out of 35,000 people to spend time in South Africa training and compete in film and photography challenges.
“I didn’t really start off well with the producers because I was a 22-year-old arrogant kid who thought I was there to film my documentary and didn’t realise I was there to be a part of a reality TV show. So, anytime they would ask me to pretend or pose for some shots pointing at something, I would hate it.
“I wouldn’t smile for the photographs and the viewers didn’t like that.”
“And they knew that I loved the ocean and scuba diving and sharks, and I think they did it on purpose that I missed the great white shark part. It seemed like they were always trying to create tension and pin us against each other, even though we were actually pretty good friends. It was funny, but it was definitely one of the best experiences of my life. In the end, I got to spend 2 months in the African bush with all of this infrastructure. At the time it was the most expensive Animal Planet production. So it was a super fun and interesting project. Once I realised it was about the show and not about me, I had a really good time.”
And then he won the entire show!
After going out on his own for 3 weeks, filming, editing and all the voiceover on a documentary, Jorge’s film was selected and screened on Animal Planet stations around the world for the following 6 months. An amazing opportunity at the time and one that spiraled into the multiple careers he’s keeping up now.
After years of exceptional underwater film and photography, even leading to starting a production company called Calypso, Jorge started a non-profit organisation with the intention of protecting wildlife and inspiring ecotourism.
“Pelagic Life started as a group of friends exploring the open ocean. It’s very easy to go to a reef and scuba dive, but to go out into the big blue dessert and try to really find something, that’s a completely different story. And that’s how we started, to film and photograph sardine baitball with marlin hunting.
“It all came from a deep passion for the ocean. We all have different backgrounds. There’s the lawyer, the consultant and the guy that sells tires, but what we all have in common is this big love for the ocean. We have all been in touch with the ocean since we were kids—mostly through fishing, ironically, through our families. Yet, through that sport-fishing background we started scuba diving and began enjoying the ocean from a different angle.
So, we were exploring the open ocean and seeing this amazing phenomenon, these creatures, and we knew it was our duty to share it. We strongly believe that we cannot care about something we don’t know. And most people don’t know what’s out there. For us, Mexico is such an amazing place for pelagic life and people don’t really know that. You ask people about great white sharks and they’ll talk about South Africa or Australia and they have no idea that the best place in the world to see great white sharks is in Mexico. We knew we had to document and share this. That’s at our core: exploration, then documentation so we can share it. “
This eventually lead to exploring sustainable tourism as an alternative for the local communities and fishermen, reshaping them for tourism so that they would be the sincerely interested in taking care of the resources.
“We started working on offering shark tours as an economical alternative to shark fisherman so that they could make more money taking people on tours to see the sharks than killing them.”
“With the documentary, we pretty much did it backwards. We had 3-4 years worth of footage, and then we realised there was actually a story to tell here. So with 80% of the footage, we built a structure to the film, came up with a sort of script, and then figured out the pieces that were missing to really start to make the film.”
“When you do something with this level of passion, with the production company and all of the suppliers and all of the contacts, I started stretching the budget, asking favours and everyone did the same on their end and we ended up doing this independent documentary
Like France or the UK, Mexico doesn’t have a huge audience for documentaries. I knew we had a good relationship with Discovery Channel and it would very likely that the documentary would end up there, but then one of the largest movie theatre chains in Mexico were interested in the movie, it ended up showing nation wide. It was a huge shock. You really just don’t normally see documentaries in theatres in Mexico. Then a lot of people started inviting us to a lot of places to screen the film.”
It played at Harvard, Columbia, UCLA, Berkley, even the Pixar Headquarters invited them to screen the film and talk about it. More people watched it than Jorge had ever expected, which opened new doors and changed a lot for the work they were doing with Pelagic Life.
“Before the film, there were a lot NGO’s and people in the diving communities that knew what we were up to, it was a very close circle of friends and friends of friends. After the film, it became so diverse. At each screening there are a lot of people there specifically to watch the film. A lot of people that have never been in touch with the ocean. They’re super interested and want to be involved and help. And the was the whole point of the film, to make people engage with the ocean.
People don’t realise how easy it is to get out there and jump in the water and experience this for themselves. And once you see and experience it, you’re going to want to do something to protect it.
It’s the best way to make a difference. You can post all you want online about any subject and you can try and change legislation, but if you don’t try to actually change the lives of the people who are making their living out of this industry, everything else is pretty much pointless.
“It’s also very easy to see the fishermen as the bad guys, from sitting in front of a computer, but these are people that have been doing this for generations and it’s all they know how to do. They’re not doing it for the kicks of it—it’s a way of putting food on the table and it’s not an easy world they’re living in. If we don’t try to understand where they come from and try to help them, then we’re just jerks with an opinion. That’s why we think this approach is the way to go.”
Pelagic Fleet, SolmarV and Ocean Safaris
With his production company and documentary doing well, on top of all his work with Pelagic Life, Jorge realised he had two full-time jobs, “the one that paid the bills—I hated it—and the one that was taking more of my time and money—the one I loved—the ocean. That’s when I knew I had to find a way to make a living out of it. Then the opportunity came up to buy this boat, this live aboard diving boat called the SolarIV. I bought it with my partners in October of last year.”
Jorge says it wasn’t easy and the deal almost fell apart a few times over the two-year period. “The owner of the business, it was his baby. He spent 23 years of his life building it. He is a pioneer and the first one to explore these islands [Socorro Islands] as a diving destination—the first one to explore some of these great white shark hot spots. He wanted someone to carry on with his love for the boat and business and didn’t care as much about the money. I learned a lot during that time and still am. Every day I realise it was the right choice.”
Want to explore a part of the world and its wildlife you couldn’t normally get to? *link*
It seems pretty clear that Jorge isn’t very good at staying still. Only having bought SolmarV this past October, they’ve already acquired another smaller boat for their Ocean Safaris and are still on the hunt for more.
Needless to say, that’s not all.
“We’re also working on what I call an Eco-Disneyland in the Mayan Riviera. It’s going to be a virtual aquarium with huge screens that will make people feel that they’re in the ocean. The last half of this year and next year we’ll be going out and documenting things for this project which should be really interesting and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Years ago, Pelagic Life spent some time in Chinchorro with luring American saltwater crocodiles out of the murky waters to photograph them as never done before. GoPro took notice and liked what they saw so much that they invited them back there last year to team up with them, only releasing the footage this month.
As the area was an old fisherman’s town, this was the ideal success story of what Jorge and Pelagic Life have been trying to do with the fishermen in Baja: discover new places with wildlife and make them into tourist destinations to interact and protect the wildlife (as opposed to making money off killing these beautifully misunderstood creatures). Jorge says, “Now this guy charges a lot of money to take photographers out there and is booked for the next 2 years. It happened so fast. I hope that over time it will be like that for the fishermen in Baja, that they could have such successful businesses so easily and quickly. ”
However, his favourite projects right now? He a personal project where he’s heading to the Amazon in September to photograph anacondas on the water. “We’re a small group of 4 people that really don’t know what to expect because only a couple people have done this before.”
Pelagic Life is also working with a bank to come out with a coffee table book to give away to their VIP members. “I always love it when we’re able to go back to our roots of exploration, a little bit of conservation work just by showing people what’s out there. And I love that.”