By Patricia Reaney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - From the Galapagos Islands to Australia's Coral Sea and a marine park off the coast of Mexico, the documentary "Mission Blue" navigates the journey of renowned oceanographer Sylvia Earle as she travels the globe to save the planet's threatened seas.
With stunning underwater footage, the film that airs on Friday on the online streaming service Netflix and in selected U.S. theaters, shows the devastating impact of pollution, overfishing and climate change on the oceans through the eyes of the renowned scientist, explorer and author who has been charting it for decades.
"I really wanted to make people aware of this woman and her life because she is such an incredible person and has dedicated so much of her life toward the ocean," Fisher Stevens, 50, who co-directed the film with Robert Nixon, said in an interview.
Stevens, an actor and producer of the 2010 Oscar-winning dolphin-hunting documentary "The Cove," met Earle, 78, while filming her trip to the Galapagos Islands with scientists, explorers and policy makers more than four years ago.
The trip was a brainstorming session to protect the world's oceans and to create "hope spots," underwater national parks and conservation areas where dredging, drilling, dumping and commercial fishing is prohibited.
"Mission Blue" chronicles Earle's life from her childhood in New Jersey and on the Gulf Coast of Florida, her pioneering days as a marine biologist in a field dominated by men, her underwater expeditions and lecture tours to promote marine conservation.
Stevens dons scuba gear to accompany Earle as she examines the environmental changes she has witnessed over decades. Earle has led more than 100 ocean research expeditions and logged thousands of hours underwater.
The film also details the story of Cabo Pulmo, a village in Mexico where fishermen made a good living until the fish disappeared. Years after fishing was stopped the ocean recovered and the area attracts eco-tourists.
"Now all the fishermen own tourist boats and they take them out diving and they have a whole other life," said Stevens.
Despite dangerous underwater filming trailing Earle as she followed whale sharks and examined a destroyed coral reef that once thrived with life, Stevens said the most difficult part of production was keeping up with Earle and her punishing schedule promoting her cause.
He also had to whittle down more than 700 hours of footage into a 90-minute film.
But his efforts have paid off. The Hollywood Reporter described "Mission Blue" as an "excellent, engaging documentary."
"More than a basic profile pic, 'Mission Blue' dives into the most urgent issues threatening marine habitats today, including ocean pollution, climate change and collapsing fisheries," it added.
The trade magazine Variety described cinematographer Bryce Groark's underwater photography as "eye candy aplenty."
Stevens hopes "Mission Blue" will inspire people to respect, appreciate and to look at oceans differently and protect them.
"Educate and entertain, that is what I always try to do with a documentary," he said.
(Editing by Eric Kelsey and Andrew Hay)