ENVIRONMENTAL film-maker Chris Scarffe was in the island this summer visiting his family in Castletown.
The island is a long way – in all senses – from his working life.
Based in Africa, he makes films to educate the public, at a very local level, on the devastating impact man is having on the marine environment.
And his work takes him into some particularly dangerous situations.
‘People are a much bigger risk than sharks,’ he said, only half joking.
His work, alongside friends Dave Charlety and Aaron Gekoski, has taken him to shark-fishing communities to meet fishermen with a reputation for machete-wielding aggression, as well as for dodging pirates,
In between, Chris, 35, has done extensive underwater filming of marine life, including sharks.
Brought up in Manchester, he said his love of the environment was inspired by visits to the Natural History Museum, the aquarium and playing in rock pools while in the island, where his family goes back several generations.
He studied film and media studies at Stirling University in Scotland and this, combined with his love of diving, led to his big break in film-making during a two-and-a-half year stint in Malaysia filming historic shipwrecks.
‘The boss thrust a camera in my hand and said: “You’ve done a degree in this – film!”,’ Chris explained.
‘It was an incredible two years of my life. It was hard work, being on the high seas for months in a smelly old fishing boat. We dived on wrecks from 170 years old to more than 1,000 years old.’
Diving inevitably involves witnessing the devastating impact man is having on the marine environment.
Chris, whos parents, Howard and Sheila Scarffe, live at The Crofts, Castletown, said: ‘You see the waste of all the sea life. Huge pieces of coral are dragged up by fishermen. If you tried to do any of this stuff on land you would not be allowed. Nobody sees what’s going on under the sea.
‘We are at that tipping point – if something is not done soon, it really will be too late.’
In Malaysia, Chris set up a small film company called Blue Frontier, which produces a mixture of environmental and commercial films, the latter financing the former.
‘I wanted to set up another company where there was world-class diving, a relatively stable government and no competition,’ he revealed.
‘I was supposed to go to Fiji to see my sister, who now is in New Zealand, but there was a coup and I ended up in Mozambique.’
While he was there, he hooked up with a friend and, for the past four years, they have made films aimed at educating the communities doing the damage.
‘There is no point a foreigner making films and taking it home if the people on the ground have the most impact,’ he said.
‘In a lot of these places where film crews come through, the finished film disappears to satellite TV and the people who can make the difference have no knowledge of the environment.’
They lived in a shark camp, a community focused entirely on fishing sharks.
‘We were warned they were dangerous, aggressive men and that they had attacked people before,’ Chris said .
‘They were incredibly welcoming, though, and very keen to learn, so we went back to show them the film we had made.’
The film has not stopped them shark fishing, but it has encouraged them to release the less mature catch back into the sea to stem the destruction of the stock.
But this was a tiny battle within a much greater, worldwide war, he said.
‘Shark fishing is big, illegal industry, and there are a lot of big boats catching hundreds, even thousands, a night,’ said Chris.
‘It’s a worldwide concern – including the EU, where countries are illegally and legally looting the seas.
‘We need a larger body to take this on. Our films are a catalyst for campaigning groups but very few people are aware of the problems.’
For the past three months their films have been shown to shark fin soup-eating communities in China.
‘Things are slowly beginning to change,’ Chris said. ‘But if your family has always done it then it’s like saying to us: “You cannot have turkey for Christmas.”
‘Most Chinese are unaware this is an environmental problem. It’s not like baby seals in Namibia, where everyone says they’re so cute – people are scared of sharks, so it’s a hard PR job.’
The shark fishing industry, Chris claims, ‘generates so much money, they will always find poor countries to catch shark for them. We try and create awareness and get the message out there’.
He is now based in Madagascar, where there’s plenty to keep him occupied.
‘The rate of decline is incredible,’ Chris revealed. ‘Not just animal species – there is deforestation and tortoises are eaten for their meat and Chinese medicine. The ploughshare tortoise species is going to be extinct very soon.’
Chris and his colleagues are hoping to replicate their success with the Mozambique shark fishing communities.
According to Chris, a key element of their success is their approach.
‘We are not pointing fingers and being aggressive,’ he explained. ‘It’s hard to say: “You should not do this”, when they have got to feed their families.’
When he says people are a much bigger risk than sharks, he talks from experience, as also lurking on the waters where he films are pirates.
Chris said: ‘In an ironic way, pirates are a great thing as they stopped a lot of illegal boats going into the Malay channel because they were scared about being captured.’
l Their film, called Shiver, which is the collective noun for a group of sharks, can be found online at vimeo.com/24011684 and youtube.com/watch?v=NC-rKn9MMmk