Martha Holmes specialised in marine biology and gained her PhD at the University of York. She started work with the BBC in 1988 presenting programmes such as Reefwatch, a live underwater broadcast from the northern Red Sea, and the award-winning wildlife adventures series Sea Trek. She worked in Antarctica for Sir David Attenborough’s Life In The Freezer and has produced a number of other natural history films, such as Hippos – Out Of Water, Deadly Liaisons and Otters – The Truth. More recently, she produced the groundbreaking film Wildlife Special – Polar Bear. She joined The Blue Planet team as a producer in 1997.
1. What was your first experience of the underwater world?
I was living in Qatar, 1965. Everyone in my family could swim except for me, I was only four and still not confident in the sea, largely because I was afraid of what was down there. My mother put a mask on my face, and from that moment on, she couldn’t keep me out of the sea. Anything and everything was of interest.
2. Who or what inspired you to become a marine biologist?
I grew up living by the sea (Middle East and North Africa) and so it was my playground. I studied zoology at University, and so consider myself a zoologist first. Only then did I specialise in marine biology by doing a PhD at York on fish behaviour. I learnt to dive in my late teens and enjoyed it so much I wanted to incorporate it in my work.
3. Which is your number one spot to dive?
I’m afraid I don’t really have favourite dive locations. I love the Polar Regions for the extraordinary atmosphere and sounds under the ice, I love diving on coral reefs for watching animal behaviour and I equally love places you can swim with marine mammals. I just couldn’t pick one location.
4. Which part of the world is doing the most to preserve its coral reefs and marine life?
There are many countries that are concerned about the plight of reefs and are doing what they can, equally there are others who tend to ignore the problem. Given the uneven distribution of resources available (money, people, expertise, political support, communications etc), it would be grossly unfair to select one country or region that is doing better than others. Clearly Australia, with huge resources is doing better than some of the poorer third world countries where local people fish on the reef using whatever means they can, simply to stay alive.
5. Do you think the public really knows how bad a state our oceans are in?
No I don’t. Getting the message across so that people actually know, care and do something about it is the hardest part of the whole issue.
6. What can people living miles away from the ocean do to help preserve our seas?
Lots of things. I don’t pretend to be an environmental expert in this and if they are keen to change their lives in order to help, they should contact the experts, the Marine Conservation Society for example. The BBC Blue Planet website has a lot of information and links to appropriate organisations. But there are everyday changes people can make. For example don’t use bleach, and only eat fish from sustainable populations. MCS is to publish a guide on this soon.
7. How did you become involved in making nature programmes?
I realised I wasn’t an academic and applied for a job at the BBC Natural History Unit as a presenter on a live broadcast from Israel. Amazingly I got the job, and then managed to stay on in the unit as a researcher.
8. How fit do you have to be in your profession?
It’s not essential but it helps. Location work can be quite physically demanding, and clearly the fitter you are the easier it is to keep up and keep going.
9. What is it you like most about your job?
The variety it offers: having the initial ideas and creating stories, meeting and talking to scientists, travelling to remote areas of the world, spending hours, days and weeks observing and filming animals, and then the really creative bit which is putting a film together in postproduction. One of the truly great things about the job is all the wonderful people that are involved in the industry.
10. Is there anything about your job you don’t like?
Not really. I cannot think of another job in the world where I would be more fulfilled and happier.
11. What do you do in your spare time?
This is getting personal. I prefer being outside, walking, skiing, climbing, and surfing – that sort of thing.
12. What do you think is the single most important thing an aspiring filmmaker must have or do to achieve their ambitions?
On the practical front – determination. It is a competitive world (if you want to do it as a job), and in order to succeed you must want to do it very much, because it is hard to get into and once in, it becomes a life, not a 9 to 5 job. Clearly a filmmaker has to be creative, imaginative and at the same time, decisive and efficient. The list is long.