Guests at the launch event included Princess Fareen, the Mayor of Kensington and Chelsea, the High Commissioner of Pakistan, senior members of the Exhibition Road Cultural Group, and leaders of the Jamat and AKDN. They encountered photographs of playful sea lions, basking iguanas and a determined cormorant, mixed with nudibranchs and clams on enormous backlit panels.
This long-awaited exhibition has previously been presented in New York, Nairobi, Lisbon, and Venice. It displays many years of wildlife photography from waters including mangrove swamps, coral reefs and deep seas; from Egypt to Ecuador and more. Some are close enough to sense their textures; others are situated in groups amidst their environment.
“The images around you this evening represent some of nature’s treasures and the most joyous moments of my life,” Prince Hussain said in his opening remarks. “Instants one couldn’t put into words if one tried.”
A head-on oceanic whitetip shark that brings the Jaws soundtrack to mind, and a clownfish reminiscent of Finding Nemo represent the familiarity of many of these creatures, through movies, photos, and real-life encounters. But such biodiversity can no longer be taken for granted.
The sides of the panels create a different impact as the bleak statistics hit home. Half of the world’s coral reefs, upon which many of these animals depend, have been lost. Individual species face extinction: the Caspian seal population has declined by over 90 percent since the start of the 20th century.
“Perhaps the only common thread among these species is the threats they face,” said Prince Hussain. “Climate change, including acidification, coral bleaching, sea level rise, habitat destruction, overfishing, plastic pollution and more. A third of all whale and dolphin species are threatened with extinction. There has been a 71 percent decline of sharks over the past 50 years. Six out of seven sea turtle species are threatened, including the greens I often photograph and critically endangered hawksbills I adore. Manta rays are being slaughtered in their thousands for their gills. Half of all coral reefs have been lost since the 1950s and up to 90 percent of the Great Barrier Reef has been affected by bleaching events,” he added.
“Somehow we've turned abundance, health and diversity to penury, disease and rarity. Our activities have brought on an unbrave new world. And while individual photographs here don't necessarily demonstrate some of the hardships our oceans and their denizens face, it is their wonder I hope to share with you, and their protection I hope to encourage.”
The same trends harming the sea dwellers are devastating the environment on which all animals, including humans, depend. Fluctuations in sea surface temperatures, for example, harm plankton, affecting the fish that feed on them and depriving their predators of food in turn. They also make the extreme weather of recent years, such as the increased rainfall in Pakistan or the lack of rain in Mozambique, more likely and more intense.
“As members of this global world it is incumbent on each and everyone of us to care for and preserve its resources and beauty,” said Naushad Jivraj, President of the Ismaili Council for the UK. “This exhibition,” he added, “instigates individual and collective reflection on the extremely difficult issue of climate change and its impact on our biodiverse world.”
The Living Sea – Fragile Beauty exhibition is on display at the Ismaili Centre, London until 24 September 2022.