Urban Underwater Odyssey
Sometimes, you have a feeling deep inside you compelling you to do something. You just can’t avoid it and do nothing about it.
This is exactly what happened to me. I've been technical diver for nearly 2 decades and when I discovered the underwater world my life changed in a way I wasn't expecting. This was a game changing event for me. I was already a cinematographer, so it was obvious for me to take my camera and share the wonders I was witnessing.
I already knew I was one of the few privileged divers who could explore unknown territories. And the more I explored, the more I realized I knew nearly nothing about this amazing world.
So, as a documentary filmmaker, I took my camera to produce underwater films in caves, in the Arctic and basically in every remote location I could get to regardless of how fraught it was with challenging situations in deep, dark, and high-current waters around the world.
Each I time I came back home, my flight would glide over the St Lawrence river -- the largest inland seaway in the world. I dove many of its shipwrecks from the Great Lakes to the open sea and yet, what exactly did I know about the river in my hometown of Montreal?
Well, there's colors and motions: dark greenish, brown waters and high flow, rapids. This is not a typical dive that would go on top of your bucket list. But still, 80% of the drinking water in Montreal comes from that river and all the treated waste water goes back there. Apparently, there are more than 70 species of fish and nobody has explored it yet. Each time, as I came home, I was plagued by the same questions? What lies down there? Is the water quality that good? This environment is so fragile. I wished I was a drop of water to move along the shore of the entire island of Montreal, from one end to the other one; just to see what it is like down there…
I started to visualize myself diving the St Lawrence with 5 feet visibility, being like a single drop in that huge body of water where the discharge during spring can be up to 12,500 cubic meters per second. Even the reduced summer flow of 9,000 cubic meter per second sounds like a pretty amazing adventure. But hey, could it be done safely? How long could it take to dive 44 miles? Is there a way I could cross the Lachine rapids that make up a barrier to maritime traffic? The water not only babbles, it swirls with strong undercurrents in all directions. About 30% of the St Lawrence river alongside the island of Montreal is not really considered open for navigation. But still, even knowing all that, I felt I had a commitment to the St Lawrence river.
I slept a lot on that crazy idea until one day when I woke up and finally decided to do everything I could to understand this amazing river, our source of drinking water, our source of life.
So, I started a project called: Urban Water Odyssey. Most of the people on earth live in urban areas. These are expected to become more and more crowded, increasing the challenges to procure sustainable drinking water sources for these expanding populations.
First things first, we needed to clean up the place a little bit. With the help of divers, we went cleaning debris from the bottom of the river. Each day, we basically removed more than 750 pounds of all kind of stuff from bottles, fishing gear, bicycles, benches. We even found a car that we couldn’t remove, stuck in the muddy bottom. Clean up efforts will continue with other organizations as we strive to make the city shores a better place.
Each day I had the opportunity to talk with citizens, creating awareness and prompting them to act because toilets and sinks are not trash cans. Even in modern day, 21st century society, we still need to remind people to avoid trashing streets, sinks and toilets. People grew more aware of the little details. I love telling people about the effect of flushing floss in the toilets and the cost to municipal installations and finally, by extension, to us via our taxes.
The second part of the mission is a scientific one. I'm planning on spending 5 days, travelling 350 km to sample sediment and water in more than 40 sites. What I am looking for? I want to know how prevalent is the presence of emerging contaminants like aspirin, caffeine, pesticides, herbicides and so on. As consumers, we do have a direct power and impact of what goes into our bodies and then into the water. Most emerging contaminants are not treated before going back to the water. This is the same situation everywhere around the world.
I am working with scientific researchers helping them build a huge database about emerging contaminants. Through my diving, I bring more information from many sites that they wouldn't have access to otherwise.
The Big Finale is just a few weeks away. I will embark on a unique, never attempted 44-mile journey done on a continuous single dive in the river. Every single piece of equipment has to be the most reliable and efficient for these extreme conditions. I have to feel absolutely confident in every part of this mission
Regardless of the outcome of this journey, I can say this is a most unique privilege. It is wonderful to be so close to nature, so humbled by the elements and even just to learn what it can teach us towards the improvement and preservation of our quality of life.
The big dive will start September 14, 2018. Stay tuned: https://urbanwaterodyssey.com/en/