Filmmaker Ian Shive explores America’s threatened marine national monuments in ‘Hidden Pacific’
By Andrew Dubbins
West L.A. conservation photographer Ian Shive had just gotten back from filming three remote marine national monuments in the middle of the Pacific when he found out the Trump administration was considering shrinking and loosening protections on two of them.
“We’re the only ones who know what’s out there,” Shive told his staff of the monuments they’d just explored. “So it’s our job to share that with people.”
What’s out there are pristine atolls, turquoise waters, sharks, rays, whales, colonies of albatross, old World War II huts, coral reefs, and white sandy islands covered in palm trees.
“When you think of paradise,” Shive says, “this is the place you think of.”
An award-winning photographer and film producer, Shive was commissioned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to document America’s five marine national monuments, home to a diverse array of marine life that help support ocean ecosystems across the planet. Later this year, he’ll release a feature-length documentary called “Hidden Pacific.”
“Hidden Pacific” documents the Palmyra Atoll, 1,200 miles southwest of Honolulu; the Wake Atoll, 2,000 miles southeast of Japan; and the Rose Atoll, 185 miles east of American Samoa. Before Shive and his crew arrived, the 16-acre Rose Atoll had never been professionally photographed, and only about 700 people are believed to have set foot there throughout human history. Other than the Wake Atoll, which houses a U.S. Air Force base, none of the atolls have permanent residents, and typically researchers are the only visitors.
“Scientifically, these areas are considered a baseline of the most pristine marine environments in the Pacific,” Shive says.
Following President Trump’s recent proclamations to shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah, “this conversation is especially pertinent,” said Alice Garrett of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Trump administration is considering a plan to allow commercial fishing in two Pacific marine monuments: the Rose Atoll and Pacific Remote Islands, both of which provide refuge to a number of endangered and threatened species.
For Shive, documenting far-flung islands, atolls, and underwater ecosystems — where there’s no hotel or power outlet for a thousand miles — proved a difficult task. To prepare for the trip, he had to get his pilot’s license, earn a certificate for flying drones, learn CPR and first aid, and undergo two days of medical exams. The six-month shoot involved daylong boat rides on choppy seas and long-distance flights on cramped, single-engine planes. To reach shallower islands, his crew had to load their 400 pounds of high-tech equipment into waterproof cases and swim it to shore from a zodiac — “which is nerve-wracking,” Shive recalls.
Shive’s company, Culver City-based Tandem Stills and Motion, specializes in films that document “land, air and sea,” utilizing high-tech drones and underwater cameras. In addition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Shive has created films for the Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, National Park Conservation Association, National Park Service and U.S. National Wildlife Refuge System.
Before becoming a professional photographer, Shive worked as a marketing executive for Sony, promoting big-budget projects like the Spiderman franchise. He’d spend weekends traveling to national parks, backpacking and taking photographs, and eventually quit his job and emptied his savings to launch Tandem Films out of his West L.A. apartment, selling his photographs to newspapers and magazines before transitioning into film production.
Although “Hidden Pacific” touches on ocean pollution and climate change, Shive says he avoided pushing an agenda.
“I try to be less fear-based, more inspirational,” he says, adding that his goal is really to transport people’s imaginations to the marine monuments, which few realize belong to the U.S. and most people will never visit.
There are plans to show “Hidden Pacific” on IMAX screens in 150 museums nationwide.
For his next gig, Shive is traveling to Alaska to document the state’s most remote islands.
But first, a jaw x-ray.
“They won’t let you go if you need an extraction,” Shive says.
Visit tandem.film to learn more about “Hidden Pacific” and related web shorts.