Alice Wesley-Smith grew up visiting the south coast of NSW, “I remember as a child swimming through the kelp reefs alongside the large stingrays that visited the boat ramp on the local beach to collect the scraps from the returning fisherman,” she remembers. “It always blew my mind that you could put a mask on and jump in the ocean and suddenly escape life on the surface and for a moment immerse yourself in another world, one that is ever changing and always different.”

This childhood fascination with the ocean influenced Wesley-Smith to pick up a camera and pursue a career as an underwater photographer and filmmaker. “I find it infinitely inspiring. The movement, the way the light moves through the water,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to contribute and to do what I can to help give back, so I started learning to dive and to photograph underwater and it came together really organically.”
All photography by Alice Wesley-Smith

You created the launch film for National Geographic Wear featuring Valerie Taylor. Was she one of your inspirations as a young underwater filmmaker?“Yes, she was a huge inspiration. When I was growing up a good friend of mine gave me a second-hand book filed with black and white images of Valerie Taylor swimming with whale sharks. I still remember the first moment I thumbed through it. I was absolutely transfixed and could picture myself suddenly swimming next to the shark. Seeing a strong woman out there doing it was the first moment I believed a life like that was possible. She was, and still is, a hero of mine.”


What do you find special about the Australian marine landscape?
“I love how varied it is. The more I get to know the Australian marine landscape the more I fall in love with it and the more I want to continue exploring. We are so lucky to have one of the largest and most diverse marine environments in the world. From the Great Barrier Reef - the largest living organism on this planet - and the coral landscapes of northern Australia to our temperate southern reefs that host one of the highest rates of biodiversity in the world, to our subantarctic islands. I don’t think you could ever get bored of it.”


Any creatures or ecosystems that are particularly close to your heart?
“Marine plants and corals. I’ve always loved the Great Barrier Reef and have just recently finished a film on the Great Southern Reef, a temperate reef that runs along 8,000 kilometres of our southern coast. I’ve completely fallen in love, all over again, with kelp, seagrass and seaweed. They form, along with corals, crucial habitat for all the creatures we love and are the building blocks of the entire marine environment. Everything from nudibranchs, sea lions, whales, manta rays, fish, whale sharks and turtles rely on them.” 

You highlight both the beauty of the ocean and threats it faces. How do you balance an urgent call to action with a sense of optimism?
“It’s definitely a fine line, and one I think is crucial. I’ve always appreciated the privilege I have in being able to spend time in these ecosystems, and I see the role I can play is to communicate the incredible beauty of them, to tell the stories, and to hopefully inspire people to care and to also want to protect them. There is always hope, there is always something we can do. Communicating the real risks these ecosystems face while empowering people with practical steps they can take to get involved, and a clear call to action, is key.”

What can people to do contribute to ocean conservation?
“There is so much we can all do to get involved. The establishment of fully protected marine parks is probably the most important tool we have to ensure resilience against overfishing and warming ocean temperatures, and we can all support it by writing to our local MP and signing online petitions and surveys. 

Simply picking up pieces of plastic when you’re on the beach makes a huge difference, and organisations like Take 3 for the Sea also encourage, or contribute to local beach clean ups.

And lastly support organisations like the Great Southern Reef Foundation, Parley Australia, Ocean Impact Organisation and Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef to name just a few. I’ve had the privilege of working with these organisations and seeing what they do first-hand, and they are all doing incredible and vitally important work.”


What is your hope for the future?
That humanity will reconnect back to nature. As Jacques Cousteau once said, “We only protect what we love, we only love what we understand, and we only understand what we are taught.” Hopefully through stories more people will not only fall in love with the ocean, but understand and fully appreciate how crucial it is for all life on earth. Caring for our oceans, and ensuring a healthy thriving ocean for the next generation, is caring for our future.”  

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“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float.

To gain all while you give.

To roam the roads of lands remote.

To travel is to live."

Hans Christian Andersen, Author.