Stories from the heart that connect us to the ocean

This entry was posted on 04 May 2021.

With the recent Oscar success of documentary film, My Octopus Teacher, writer and underwater photographer, Lynton Francois Burger, reflects on powerful storytelling as a catalyst in affecting change in our behaviour towards ocean life. Lynton is the author of the exhilarating novel, She Down There.


“AS WORLD OCEANS DAY APPROACHES on the 8th June, I am buoyed by a growing sense of optimism, like the rising exhalations of a scuba diver, which start as little bubbles but then join to become saucers of air, wobbling expectantly to the surface. I am seeing, for the first time since this UN-declared awareness day started, signs of a fundamental shift in consciousness towards life aquatic. Towards a new respect for the creatures who live in the big blue of our little marble in space. And good storytelling has everything to do with this.


We’ve had many World Oceans Days. Twenty-nine to be exact. On this day, starting at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, we’ve been guilted with facts and figures of how we are getting it wrong. And in between all the Days, we have fed our growing angst with stories of just how wrong we are getting it. Stories of overfishing, shark finning, bloody whaling, dolphin slaughter, ghost nets, ocean warming, coral bleaching... plastic choking our oceans. Shocking stories. True stories. But somehow these stories didn’t really shift the zeitgeist. In between the stories we, as a species, just kept doing, or allowing others to do, harm to the ocean and her creatures.


What was needed were stories from the heart. Stories that connected us, at a personal level, to the magnificence, the beauty, the mystery of this watery realm. Naturally, it was David Attenborough who led the way, along with his team at the BBC Natural History Unit. Their Blue Planet series instantly struck a chord. Attenborough’s masterful grandfatherly storytelling, aided by new technology that took us “down there” like never before, brought us collective wonder. He awakened the child within. We started marvelling. And we actually began to change our ways. The final episode of Blue Planet II has been widely heralded as a key instigator in sparking the war on plastics. An incredible 88 percent of viewers surveyed sometime after the episode aired said they had changed their behaviour as a result.


“Unlike any other nature story before it, My Octopus Teacher is deeply personal and honest.”


The family film, Whale Rider, Netflix documentary, Chasing Coral and a few other “ocean heart” stories further contributed to this awakening. Social media and a global pandemic, which chased us all indoors and into our heart space, added to the growing shift. And then along came a simple story of a slimy invertebrate who meets a man in the midst of a mid-life crisis.


My Octopus Teacher, the Oscar-winning South African documentary film, is a game-changer. The underwater footage is sublime. It is beautifully produced and edited, but it is the nature of the storytelling that sets it apart. Transcends our stuck narrative. Unlike any other nature story before it, it is deeply personal and honest. A man has shed his ego and instead of guilt-laden facts we are taken on a journey of self-discovery. We meet another species face-to-face. We discover a different intelligence. We connect. Our psyche’s rewild. And the phenomenal reaction globally to the film gives me hope.


Much of my novel She Down There, about being in love with the ocean, takes place underwater. From the depths of a mystical seamount off the west coast of Canada, and the kelp beds of British Columbia – where readers meet orcas and sea otters – to the great Cape kelp forests, where one of the characters has a profound encounter with a great white shark; and on to the magical coral reefs off Tofo Beach in Mozambique, where we dive with dolphins, turtles, dugongs and manta rays, the story celebrates the diversity of life in the ocean and the people compelled to saving what we have left. There are even two octopus scenes. The book, a culmination of a thirty-year love affair with the ocean (covering all those World Oceans Days), is my storytelling attempt to bring readers closer to the magical sea creatures “down there”.




To find out more about Lynton Francois Burger, visit


by Lynton Francois Burger


SEE THE WORLD THEN MAKE IT BETTER Inside David Attenborough’s new book in Volume 04 of The Penguin Post magazine.


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