A passion as deep as the ocean

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 20, 2014

Before Valerie Taylor became a passionate marine life conservationist who would lobby for the protection of sharks, she was involved in the making of a movie that made many viewers terrified of the creature.

She filmed the underwater shark sequences seen in Steven Spielberg's 1975 classic thriller Jaws.

But she does not regret being a part of the movie.

"Jaws was a fictitious story about a fictitious shark. It's not true. I mean, you don't go to New York and think you'll see King Kong on top of the Empire State Building. It just doesn't happen," she tells Life! in a telephone interview from Sydney, Australia.

"We were absolutely astounded by the reaction of the general public... We're not sharks' natural prey. It was just a terrible misunderstanding."

Taylor, 79, shot the shark footage in Jaws together with her husband Ron, who died of leukaemia in 2012 at the age of 78.

In an obituary for Ron, The Telegraph in Britain reported that the couple were the first to film sharks by night.

She met him when they were into spearfishing in the 1950s. They later gave up the hunting sport and made a living by selling underwater photos and footage.

The Australian husband and wife, who have no children, would go on to work tirelessly to promote marine life conservation.

Their latest and final project together is featured in a three-part documentary, The Coral Triangle, which is airing on Animal Planet (StarHub TV Channel 424).

The Coral Triangle - spanning almost 6 million sq km - covers the waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste and the Solomon Islands.

Valerie first visited The Coral Triangle in 1973 and was blown away by the ocean occupants - a wide variety of coral reefs and fishes.

She says: "It has the richest diversity of marine life in the world. The area should be protected and its integrity should be maintained."

The waters are also home to schools of tuna fish that support "a multi-billion-dollar global tuna industry", according to the World Wildlife Fund website.

She points out that the area is already degraded by the overfishing of tuna by fishermen.

"When I first went there, every day we saw tuna, huge schools of fish. You don't see them very often anymore," she says.

The worldwide overharvesting of marine creatures is her biggest worry.

Citing how some fish are caught before they reach the age when they can reproduce, she says: "This is a very bad practice because a farmer doesn't kill all his pregnant cows and expect to have calves next year. But this is what they do in the ocean."

After she and her husband conceived and planned the Coral Triangle project, he was stricken with leukaemia.

"The project was going to be our project. The storylines were done and we were already preparing to start filming. Although Ron was very ill, he allowed me to go with the film crew. It was very hard to leave my husband," she says.

Her deep passion for the ocean is what keeps her plugging away at conservation efforts and she has no plans of stopping.

"What would I do if I retire? I haven't a clue. No, you've got to keep going. No, I hope to sort of die running. Well, I can't run much anymore, but it's my love. I feel I've just got to keep going as long as I can."

The Coral Triangle airs on Animal Planet (StarHub TV Channel 424) tomorrow at 9pm. Re-runs air on Wednesday, 4pm, and Sunday, 6pm.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 20, 2014

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