Underwater concerns
The loss of underwater kelp forests concerns marine biologists who note the plant’s important role in the ecosystem. Photo courtesy Marco Mazza 

Steve Page grew up around the water. The San Francisco native spent many summers of his youth diving for abalone with his father around Mendocino and other diving hotbeds on the Northern California coast.

A recent and intense voyage provided him a radical perspective and rare opportunity.

Page, 23, completed a 60-day, 840-mile solo kayaking adventure along the entire California coastline. During his journey, he went past many sections of the same northern coastline he knew well. The widespread destruction of the kelp forest ecosystem left him troubled.

“It was really disturbing to see the extent of the problem. In Northern California, as far as I’m concerned, it’s catastrophic,” Page said.

In an effort to raise awareness about this issue, Page enlisted his friend and fellow diver Marco Mazza. The passion for the ocean felt by the recent college graduates is expressed in their upcoming feature-length documentary film, “The Last Forests Project.” The production, with support from Filmmakers Collaborative SF, is set to be finished sometime next year.

The project explains the importance of the kelp forests to the marine food chain, why they are struggling now, and what the destruction means for local communities, particularly in Northern California. To learn more about the film, visit thelastforestsproject.com.

To continue the production, Page and Mazza launched a GoFundMe page to help cover travel expenses, which include campsites and charter boats, as well as additional gear to document more footage. As Mazza said, “We want to do this thing right.”

Mazza, 25, grew up as a serious surfer in Half Moon Bay and Pacifica. He competed in amateur contests and to this day he’s a committed Mavericks regular.

But the years of grinding on the competitive scene and subpar waves wore on him, and he sought new ways to experience the ocean to its full potential. Fortunately, he was surrounded by a tight-knit crew of watermen, from seasoned fishermen to capable free divers. If the Coastside planted the seed for Mazza’s ocean passion, it fully blossomed when he went to school at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

There he dove headfirst into water photography, a notoriously difficult exercise that requires trial and error. Combining his free diving and spearfishing skills with photography changed Mazza’s mindset. Soon, he was diving more often than surfing.

“Being underwater was incredible,” he said. “It was a full-on love affair with the ocean. I was a stoked grom again.”

Mazza’s work reveals a hidden landscape. Using a strobe allowed him to capture an ecosystem teeming with life. However, this project called for documenting both the vibrant beauty and subsequent destruction of kelp forests. This is not as simple as documenting other notable environmental problems like coral bleaching or deforestation. Kelp forests are not often accessible, and more often than not, California’s cold and murky waters obscure the kelp beds from even the most willing divers.

Mazza’s photos show an abundance of sea urchins eating kelp, which is a major source of the problem. To make a change, Page and Mazza hope to demonstrate to viewers how the issue extends beyond environmental consequences. It affects nearby towns and communities that rely on seasonal tourism revenue that has been disappearing alongside the kelp beds.

Page, who has a degree in anthropology and geography from California Polytechnic University, explained the project has long-term goals that go beyond the film. Generating interest and raising funds for organizations restoring kelp ecosystems, such as the Greater Farallones Association and KELPRR, is key.

“As much as it is a film, I think we’re also trying to inspire a movement,” Page said. “Get people aware of what’s there and get them fired up to make changes.”

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