Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Daredevils

Valerie just sent me this lovely pic of our Bulls she took in March and a short post reminds me that she and Ron have been part of the underwater world for more than 40 years.

They are my Heroes and we've been best friends forever, and ever since 2002 when we sat down on the upper deck of Pelagian to discuss the first draft of the Fiji Project, they've been enthusiastic mentors of Shark Reef Marine Reserve and regularly pop in to gauge its progress and discuss its future direction - and of course, to have a great time with the Sharks!

They are the kindest and most generous people ever, always willing to share their limitless experience and unique insights garnered from a lifetime of interacting and trying to protect Sharks - and yet, nobody could be more modest, humble and self-effacing, and quite unaware of the huge influence they have had in touching the lives of so many, yours truly included. To me, that is the ultimate sign of true greatness.

And whenever you should marvel at some "feat" by one of the Shark people out there, keep in mind this: in all likelihood, Ron and Val have already done the very same thing decennia ago!
Have a look below and you'll understand what I mean - the difference being that back then, there was no such thing as hi-tech, foolproof gear and safety divers ensuring quasi total protection, and no World Wide Web and YouTube enabling an instant replay for the masses at large. It was adventure, exploration and daring pure and simple, sometimes reckless, always intriguing - but always springing from a deep knowledge, unbridled curiosity and deep love for the Blue Wilderness.

Truly, nobody, and I really mean: NOBODY out there comes even close!

And yet, do you really know who they are?

Here's a "curriculum" from one of the websites.
Yes it's long - but so are their life and the list of their achievements!
It doesn't even mention all of their successes in Conservation, be it the protection of Great Whites, Southern Right Whales and Grey Nurses in Australia or the countless other initiatives where they act as vocal mentors and supporters, e.g. in Komodo or with us in Fiji.

OK, enough ..... Check this out and be amazed!

Ron Taylor was born in March 1934 and Valerie in November 1935. They married in December 1963. Ron began his diving in 1952, Valerie a few years later in 1956.

Like most others at the time, Ron was interested in spearfishing and conservation was not an active movement in Australia until the late 1960's. Ron Taylor had another interest, underwater photography.

He spent almost as much time with his cameras as he did with a spear gun. In 1960 Valerie began spear fishing, eventually winning several Australian championships for ladies in both spear fishing and scuba.

Ron's first award for photography came in 1962, from Encyclopedia Britannica, for a news film titled, Playing With Sharks. Ron Taylor's introductory underwater 16mm film, Shark Hunters, was filmed with diving partner Ben Cropp and showed the first underwater scenes of Grey Nurse sharks and a search for a shark repellent. It was an enormous hit.

Ron received the Underwater Society of America award, the NOGI statuette for Education and Sports, in 1966.
In 1965 Ron won the World Spear fishing Championship held in Tahiti, the first and only Australian to do so. It came after winning the Australian championship for four years in succession at a time when competition was keenest.

By 1966 they had realized that they could capture the underwater world on film and cause it no harm.

The Taylors then began winning honours for their films. While Ron shoots film and video, Valerie concentrates on stills. Over the years the Taylors have produced and worked on numerous feature films and TV documentaries. Barrier Reef, Taylor 's Inner Space and Blue Wilderness were all television series made by the Taylor 's. Blue Water White Death, Jaws, Orca, The Blue Lagoon, Return to the Blue Lagoon, Honeymoon in Vegas are some of the feature film they were involved in. Wild,Wild World of Animals included Taylor Shark sequences; TV specials include Operation Shark Bite; The Wreck of the Yongala; Sea Lovers; In the Realm of the Shark; The Rescue, a Disney feature; In the Footsteps of Mawson; Blue Wilderness; Shadow over the Reef; Mysteries of the Jungle Sea; the tiger shark sequences in The Island Of Dr Moreau. They concentrated on working with sharks because the footage sold well, and they had to make a living.

In 1967 (on the Belgian Expedition) Ron devised an idea of a diver wearing a full length chain-mail suit over a wet suit as possible protection against shark bite. It was more than a decade before the suit was actually made and tested. The result appeared as a National Geographic Magazine cover picture. Although the idea worked well, it was not financially practical, nor necessary, for the average diver.

In 1967 the Taylor's accompanied the Belgian Scientific Expedition to the Great Barrier Reef as advisors and underwater cinematographers, for a period of six months. They worked between Lady Musgrave Island and Lizard Island. It was the first major scientific expedition filming underwater in Australia, and in 35mm. Ron had began filming on this expedition with his own Eclair 16/35 mm movie camera, in a housing he had recently constructed.

In 1969 the Taylors formed their company, Ron Taylor Film Productions Pty Limited. In the same year they co-filmed the feature film, Blue Water, White Death (a Must-Buy!!!) - which was 'an extremely exciting adventure' swimming with hundreds of sharks in bottomless water in the Indian Ocean. Ron and Valerie appeared as themselves being two of the four main characters along with Stan Waterman and Peter Gimbel in this feature length documentary. Filmed in Techniscope which is half-frame 35mm later 'blown-up' to Cinemascope for the release prints. They were responsible for bringing this film crew to South Australia to search and film the great white shark when efforts to find a White shark failed in South African waters and the film was without an ending. They got such an ending in Australia - the film was a hit pre-Jaws.

In 1969 Valerie began underwater stills photography.
Ron built the underwater housings for her cameras which were, at the time, far in advance of anything available in stores. With her art experience Valerie quickly become one of the world's top female underwater photographers, a position she holds to this day.

During 1970-71, they did the 2nd unit underwater filming and directing for the 39 episode Australian TV series Barrier Reef for the same company with Lee Robinson that had success with "Skippy - The Bush Kangaroo".

In 1972-73 they produced Taylor's Inner Space, a series of 13 TV films, showing their encounters with the marine life of Australia and The Coral Sea. These films were sold throughout the world with considerable success.

Meanwhile Valerie's stills had featured in other leading international book publications, Readers Digest, Stern, Life. Valerie was contracted to shoot stills in the Virgin Islands for Time-Life's American Wilderness series of books, and had a major cover and feature in National Geographic with a Great Barrier Reef story obtained after a year of constant work.

During 1974 with Rodney Fox they successfully did the live shark action underwater sequences in Australia for the first Jaws movie.
here - the "small person" was a professional jockey (!) who got a crash course in diving by the Taylors before being dumped into that flimsy and completely inadequate cage!)

Ron and Valerie have since done the underwater filming on many features and documentaries, such as "Orca," and The Blue Lagoon starring Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins in Fiji November 1979. Both the Taylors have won numerous awards for their underwater photography and videography.

In 1979 Ron finally had his idea of a suit of chain mail made in the USA.
Valerie had to wear it when it was found the suit was too small for Ron.
Another television special features Valerie testing the effectiveness of the suit against shark bite, was titled "Operation Shark Bite."

In 1981 while on a dive trip the Taylor's discovered mining claims on several Coral Sea Islands. They brought this to the attention of the Federal Government and saved these remote bird breeding islands from what would have been disastrous for hundreds of thousands of birds and turtles. Valerie was honored in 1981 by the Underwater Society of America where she received the NOGI award for Arts, and joined Ron as the first husband and wife team to be awarded a NOGI.

1982 saw the release of Wreck of the Yongala, a 47 minute TV film, showcasing what was then the most spectacular of all shipwrecks in shallow water (less than 33 meters deep). The film was instrumental in having the Yongala (and its marine life) made a protected area from fishing.

Also in 1982 the Taylor's lobbied directly and by the media both the Queensland Government and National Parks to make the Potato Cod of Cormorant Pass near Lizard Island known today as The Cod Hole protected.

Valerie has been bitten twice and nipped once by sharks, without permanent injury, she considers such encounters as part of the lifestyle. Three times in 30 years is 'not too bad under the circumstances'.

Four months of 1982 was spent in the Persian-Arabian Gulf, where the Taylors filmed the underwater scenes for six educational films featuring marine life that existed before it was later largely destroyed in the war. On the 4th October 1986, Valerie was in Holland where she was appointed Rider of the Order of the Golden Ark, by his Royal Highness, Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands. This award was for work in marine conservation.

Later in Sweden she finalized the picture selection for a coffee table book, The Realm of the Shark, a biographical account of their professional lives between the 1950's, until the 1990's. In January 1991, they went to Antarctica. Ron later produced a one hour film In the Footsteps of Mawson. In April that year, they joined Jaws author Peter Benchley, and Stan Waterman, filming once again white Sharks, but in Western Australia. This TV special documented the decline of the species world wide. Twice during 1991, Valerie Taylor was a guest of Jean Michel Cousteau, first on board their boat Alcyone during the filming of their special on white sharks and later when Valerie swam with spotted dolphins in the wild. The Taylors supplied some of their pictures to help illustrate the Cousteau coffee table book Great White Shark.

In January 1992, they returned to South Africa for filming on the National Geographic Blue Wilderness series. This time they tested an electronic shark repelling barrier, and also inadvertently became the first people to film white pointer sharks underwater without a cage, a necessity when the arranged cage was lost in a storm.
Shadow over the Reef,
an adventure diving with giant whale Sharks was filmed at Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia in 1993. This film was instrumental in preventing the test drilling for oil inside the Ningaloo marine park.

In February 1996, Ron shot an entire white shark documentary protected only by a Shark Pod repeller.

In April 1997 Valerie won the prestigious American Nature Photographer of the year award for her stunning photograph of a whale shark swimming with mouth open alongside her nephew Jono Heighes at Ningaloo Marine Park. The award sponsored by The American Press Club. Valerie, is also an accomplished artist, a talent that set her off on her first career as a comic strip artist with The Silver Jacket.

The Taylor's documentary film, Shark Pod was also completed in 1997, featuring their successfully trials with the electronic device (invented in South Africa by the Natal Sharks Board) against White pointer, Tiger, Great hammerhead and other shark species. The Shark Pod film received The Jury Award at the Antibes Underwater Festival, France, a high honor and judged by their peers.

After over 50 years in the "business," Ron and Valerie's fame keeps rising.

The Taylor's latest series of three TV films In the Shadow of the Shark is the story of their diving lives. It has been sold to Channel Seven in Australia and to more than 100 countries. Ron and Valerie have also authored three coffee book tomes, The Underwater World of Ron and Valerie Taylor, The Realm of the Shark, and Blue Wilderness (which won the 1998 Gold Palm Award for images at the 25th World Festival of Underwater pictures in Antibes France) and Valerie has also been working on her second children's book entitled, The Mermaid Who Loved Sharks.

In 1997, Valerie was awarded the American Nature Photographer of Year. The following year, she received the Golden Palm Award at Antibes, France, and in 2000, she became an inaugural Member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame. Valerie was also honored with two distinguished National titles - the senior Australian Achiever of the year 2002, the country's second highest national award and the Centenary Medal. She was also knighted by Prince Bernhard at the Palace in Holland for her work in the field of conservation. In 2003 Ron became a Member in the Order of Australia.

Valerie and Ron have been honored by the Wild Life Conservation Society of Australia for their work in conservation and at a ceremony in Parliament House NSW, Valerie Taylor was also made the Patron of the National Parks Association of NSW, Australia.

2002 Pelagian Voyage of Discovery, with Ron & Val, Stan Waterman, Bob & Dinah Halstead, Douglas D. Seifert, Chip & Susan Scarlett, Capt. Thomas Ridenour and Lam

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