3 minute read
21 Aug 2013
6:00 am

Treading water

Descending, a new generation aquatic adventure series will premiere on the Travel Channel tonight and the series pushes the boundaries of existing digital camera technology to capture some of the most incredible underwater footage.

For more than twenty years, co-host Ellis Emmett has been an avid diver and it shows in his comfort with the water creatures. Here he tells us about freezing waters, diving in South Africa and tickling a manta ray’s belly.

What drew you to this project?

I’m passionate about the ocean. It’s so diverse, it has so much history and I’m really into the critters. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on the couch watching the great French underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau. I was so inspired by him.

What was the most challenging moment?

We were diving in Aquifers off the coast of Iceland where the water was barely above freezing. We dived down these cracks where two tectonic plates were pulling apart. We were 100 feet below the surface. A couple of moments later, we realised Andre Dupuis, our director, had disappeared. His regulator had frozen and he had to do an emergency ascent. On another occasion in South Africa, my regulator froze when I was diving in a volcanic cone filled with water and I had to do an emergency ascent.

When that happens, it’s pretty darn scary. Situations like that are very challenging. But it makes for good television. One person’s misery is another person’s entertainment!

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Could you give us an example?

Yes. I had an awesome experience with a manta ray at a cleaning station in Indonesia. Those creatures can weigh up to a ton. They’re more like a small plane than a fish. When we first encountered them, they were standoffish. But by the third dive, they got used to us. I swam underneath one it was hovering over me like a helicopter.

Then my bubbles started tickling its belly and it clearly liked the sensation. So it quietly came down and landed on me. It’s over a ton of fish it could have easily swatted me like a fly. But it settled gently on top of me and I started caressing its belly. It allowed me to touch it and was enjoying the experience as much as I was. That was a spiritual moment.

Did you have any other amazing encounters with animals?

In South Africa we were preparing to swim with these reef sharks in the middle of a feeding frenzy. I was terrified. The moment there was a splash on the surface, the sharks attacked it.

I thought, “When I go in the water, that’s going to be me.” But I put my life in the hands of the locals and decided to live like there’s no tomorrow. The moment I hit the water, I expected to be bitten, but it was actually a fantastic experience. When I entered their world, I started to read them.

They could tell I wasn’t a fish and had zero interest in me. It was a moving experience that really inspired me. The shark is a much misunderstood creature.

What has the response been to the show thus far?

It’s started to air in North America and it’s had fantastically good feedback. It’s really started to take off.

One mother wrote me a very personal letter. She said, “I really want to thank you. I have a 14-year-old son and I’ve lost touch with him over the last two years. But somehow we have come together over your show. We have both been inspired by it. Every week after the show, we sit on the couch and really talk.

It has really brought us together. So we have made a pact. For his next birthday, we are going to go diving together.” That’s pretty special. Reactions like that is hard to beat.

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