Arts and Entertainment

Suquamish filmmaker captures, presents 'Invisible Shoreline'

Underwater filmmaker John Williams will present video tour
Underwater filmmaker John Williams will present video tour 'The Invisible Shoreline' in Port Orchard, Port Gamble and Poulsbo this week.
— image credit: Photo courtesy Dan Hershman

The Puget Sound is catching to the eye; tourists come to see lolling waves, whales and palm-sized shoreline treasures. For watershed locals, Suquamish filmmaker John Williams wants to develop an awareness of the sound's tinier elements — inhabitants so small, the human eye alone can't sense them.

"Hearing the words is one thing, but actually seeing these creatures and getting to know them as neighbors is another," Williams said.

He'll present a video tour titled "The Invisible Shoreline" in Port Orchard, Port Gamble and Poulsbo this week. The presentation, a series of video clips from Williams' public television programming and other science-minded groups and individuals, is designed to increase discussion and encourage learning about the Puget Sound. His aim is to introduce shoreline dwellers that are affected by upland development and other human activities, such as surf smelt eggs, which are hard to distinguish from grains of sand.

"The trick is not not to do them," said Williams, of the many things that contribute to shoreline pollution, from car washing to strip mall construction. "The trick is to do them right."

The message is a poignant reminder in the wake of the 56-day spill along the Gulf Coast, where more than 100 million gallons of crude oil have seeped into waters which have been closed to swimming and fishing. It also comes as Kitsap County updates its Shoreline Master Program, a land-use plan for the county's 230 miles of saltwater and freshwater shoreline. The program must be updated by 2012, according to the Washington Shoreline Management Act. It regulates public shoreline access and attempts to balance public and private interests.

"I've been to [Shoreline Master Program] meetings where a lot of things were talked about, but a lot of people had never seen what they were talking about," Williams said.

Williams has been capturing underwater ecosystems in the area since 2002. Last year, he offered the video tour "Our Underwater Neighborhood," which introduced some of the sound's larger marine life and the environmental issues they face.

Williams grew up in Southern California, where he spent much of his time on urban beaches and studied famed explorer Jacques Cousteau. After spending 20 years as an adult mapping the ocean floor for sonar systems, and spending several weeks each year at sea, "I began to see some of the things that were happening in the ocean," he said.

Williams described trash-lined shipping lanes and shoreline development, situations he viewed from a unique perspective — that of the ocean.

His sonar software job took him from Hawaii to the Pacific Northwest, where, after diving with a friend who was using a video camera underwater, Williams had somewhat of an epiphany: "All of a sudden I could see how to show people what was going on in the water."

Williams took film classes from Bainbridge Island Television, 911 Media Art Center in Seattle and Kingston's Don and Diane Peterson. He learned the basics of lighting, editing and storytelling, and by 2006 started his own magazine television show. His program "SEA-Inside Pacific Northwest" airs on 60 community televisions stations around the country.

In 2004, Williams made "Return of the Plankton," a 27-minute chronicle of the seasons underwater, with Bruce Claiborne and Cameron Snow.

Williams is now jump-starting SEA-Media, a non-profit focused on assisting media personnel in expanding oceanic information in books, videos, games, podcasts and more.

Events like the Gulf oil spill bring a higher awareness of shoreline eco-systems, Williams said, but often that attention isn't sustained. Through presentations like "The Invisible Shoreline," he hopes to change that: "What we need to do is keep reinforcing that awareness. Not one event, or even a few events, will do the job. The fact that oceans and the shoreline are part of our neighborhood is something that needs stressing over and over again."

Did you know?

Underwater, Suquamish filmmaker John Williams must compensate for the lack of sunlight and green tinting with two handheld, battery-powered lights. His camera is enclosed in a water- and pressure-safe case, so he must control it via remote. He regularly films up to 120 feet below the surface — 80 feet beyond the reach of sunlight — in water temperatures that range through the seasons between 45 and 55 degrees.

Williams will show "The Invisible Shoreline" at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 15, at the Bob Oke Community Room, Long Lake County Park, Port Orchard; at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 17, at the Franklin Masonic Lodge, 5 Rainier Avenue, Port Gamble; and at 7 p.m. Saturday, June 19, at the Poulsbo Marine Science Center, 18743 Front St., Poulsbo. For more information, visit Learn more about Kitsap County's Shoreline Master Program update at WU

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