Great white shark with Jorge Cervera Hauser · Eduardo López Negrete / Mares de México
Jorge Cervera Hauser is a Mexican underwater photographer, award-winning filmmaker, and ecotourism activist with a deep love of the ocean, reflected in his commitment to raise awareness of species from its farthest reaches.
Throughout his career, Jorge has documented unique, never-before-seen animal behavior, from swimming with orcas while they hunted pelagic rays in the Sea of Cortez, to freediving with great white sharks in the clear waters of Guadalupe Island.
Two of his recent projects are the adventure travel company Baja My Love, and The Hydrophone, a 10-episode podcast produced during the Covid-19 pandemic in which Hauser chats with inspiring people whose work connects to the ocean.
Jorge is also part of The Reef, Only One’s network of ocean ambassadors helping to support vital stories, solutions, and campaigns around the world.
This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
Tell us the story of how you’ve formed a personal connection with the ocean over the years.
My first experience of the open ocean came through the sport fishing company my grandfather used to own. I loved to hitch a ride on the boats, not really fishing myself. I knew all the pelagic species by name, shape, and size, and used to be fascinated by them while at the same time really enjoying the feel of navigating the open ocean. Later, when I was 17 (20 years ago… Wow!), I decided to certify myself as a scuba diver with the hope of seeing all the fish I loved.
Having a bachelor’s degree in communication with a major in film and TV, I was already into photography, and after I learned to scuba dive, my next step was buying an underwater housing for my camera and starting shooting. Around the same time, I joined in the early stages of an ocean conservation nonprofit started by friends of friends, and got super involved to the point of fully producing the award-winning documentary México Pelágico. We also published a coffee table book, worked hand in hand with local communities to develop wildlife tourism as an alternative to fishing, and pioneered crocodile diving in Chinchorro, a reef system off the southeast coast with beautifully preserved natural ecosystems, and the Mexican Sardine Run, created in close partnership with the community over 10 years, where people from all over the world go to Magdalena Bay between October and December every year to witness and document the marlins’ hunt and the other species that join in on the feast.
Around this time, in 2015, I was running an advertising agency and production company in Mexico City when the opportunity arose to buy a famous liveaboard, and so I decided to make the ocean my full-time job. I am no longer involved in the liveaboard industry but still very active in conservation, public policy making, and the development of new marine protected areas (MPAs). I also run tailor-made wildlife expeditions around the world and do a lot of filmmaking and photography, both professionally and pro bono, working closely with nonprofits and environmentally oriented brands.
Many of your photos feature large ocean species, such as sharks, whales, orcas, and marlins. Why are you passionate about raising awareness of these animals?
I am sharing and protecting what I love the most. I have always been drawn to large ocean predators and how they are still an enigma. The smarter an animal is, the more fascinated I am with them. From demystifying great white sharks and orcas by freely swimming side by side with them even as they hunt, to watching my dog actually interact in a weird communication dynamic with humpback whales, I love finding new behavior and sharing it with the world.
Navigating the open ocean is like therapy to me, and finding all the pelagic species I love requires knowledge of the region, the seasons, weather conditions, animal behavior, and, most of all, patience. I rely on building relationships with local fishers, as they are always the most knowledgeable people around. Documenting open ocean species is very different from diving on a reef and photographing its inhabitants—it’s like finding a needle in a haystack, and most of the time, you come back empty handed. Personally, I really love the challenge.
Are you hopeful about our ability to heal the ocean for future generations?
Yes! When I spoke at TEDx at the Royal Geographical Society in London, my talk was actually called “Small Actions Lead to Big Changes.” It was about how, if we get our act together, the ocean can heal in a relatively short amount of time.
I have a lot of older friends, and some of them have been diving for over 50 years. They all tell the same story about how this or that place is not what it used to be all those years ago. They are absolutely right, but what if we focus on the positive? What if we turn around and see examples of recovery? Take Cabo Pulmo, one of the oldest reefs in the Eastern Pacific, which for many years supported the tiny coastal population’s way of life. When they realized they were fishing faster than the reef was recovering, they switched their main economic activity from fishing to scuba diving and snorkeling. Fifteen years later, the biomass of Cabo Pulmo increased by 500 percent.
Cabo Pulmo is what Sylvia Earle and Mission Blue call a “Hope Spot,”—a relatively small area with large significance for the species that live in it. It may have migratory or reproductive relevance; it can be a major feeding ground for one or several species; or it can even be an oxygen-producing hub. If we start taking care of these Hope Spots, we know for a fact they can quickly recover and have a big positive impact.
What small, yet meaningful, actions can people take to help create a healthy ocean and thriving planet?
Combining photography and ecotourism uses two of the most effective conservation tools we have. The first allows us to share the ocean’s wonders with the world, making them more approachable for people. If they take the bait (pun intended!), enter ecotourism. When we put on a pair of fins and jump in the water, two things happen: 1) There is an economic spill into the local community giving a value to live species, which is often much larger than if the same species were fished, and 2) Ecotourists who see the ocean’s inhabitants with their own eyes later become ambassadors for the sea; they spread the word and get their friends to do the same.
One way of doing our part is being more conscious of our daily habits such as food sourcing and plastic consumption. When you know where your food is coming from and try to consume local and organic produce, or food sourced using artisanal and sustainable methods, you are already making a difference.
You can also inform yourself about what ocean nonprofits are out there and donate to the one most aligned to your vision of what conservation should be, always within your means and resources. Check out Only One’s The Tide.
And that is how the sum of many small actions can lead to big changes.