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Kip Evans ON: Ocean Microplastics, Finding your Purpose & National Geographic

Mar 22, 2021


Learn about the microplastics that are floating around our ocean from Kip Evans, a national geogrpahic aquanaut and filmmaker. Get to grips with finding your purpose in life and learn to follow your passions.
Award winning filmmaker and aquanaut Kip Evans has worked on dozens of National Geographic Society projects since 1998. He shot the Mission Blue documentary alongside Dr. Sylvia Earle. And in addition to his photography experience, Kip has worked as a naturalist and an educator for the National Marine Sanctuary program. 
In this week’s episode Kip and I discuss: 
- Balancing career and fatherhood 
- Micro-plastics in our oceans 
- How companies can make a change for the betterment of our planet 
- Following your passions in life 
The future of humanity relies on all of us doing our part to protect the Ocean and the life contained within it. I know this episode will ignite a passion in some of you to get out there and make a difference.

Not to be missed...

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Full Transcript

[The following is the full transcript of this episode of The Life On Purpose with James Laughlin Show. Please note that there may be small moments where grammar goes off track - this is simply due to the fact that the LIVE episode was converted to full long-form transcript.  For weekly motivation, please subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Youtube.]


Kip Evans, James Laughlin 


James Laughlin  00:01 

Welcome to Life on Purpose. My name is James Laughlin, former seven time world champion musician and now success coach to leaders and high performers. Each week, I bring you an inspiring leader or expert to help you live your life on purpose. Thanks for taking the time to connect today and investing in yourself. Enjoy the show. Steve Irwin once said the single biggest threat to our planet is the destruction of habitat and loss of precious wildlife. We need to reach a balance where people habitat and wildlife can coexist. If we don't, everyone loses one day. And the Dalai Lama said, It is our collective and individual responsibility to preserve and tend to the world in which we all live. Award winning filmmaker and aquanaut Kip Evans has worked on dozens of National Geographic Society projects since 1998. He shot the mission blue documentary alongside Dr. Sylvia Earle. And in addition to his photography experience, Kip has worked as a naturalist and an educator for the National Marine Sanctuary programme. I'm so excited to welcome Kip Evans to the show. A massive welcome, it's so great to connect with you. Thank you so much. I'm so pleased to be here and to share this time with you all Thank you. Well, you have just captured some of the most incredible footage on the planet, you know, working with National Geographic mission blue. Dr. Sylvia Earle. Your career is incredible. So, I'd love to know, where did this all start? Like, where did this passion for photography, the world and wildlife world start? 



Kip Evans  01:56 

Yeah, you know, that's always a question that I that I get when I do public speaking. And, I think like a lot of people, you know, it was kind of an organic beginning. I went to college and I kind of discovered my passion for marine biology in my second year. I did kind of the traditional educational route of learning as much as I could about the ocean and graduating from college with a degree that really prepare me to be successful in the ocean. But there's not a lot of jobs as marine biologist, as you probably know. And growing up as, as a teenager, I had a father that loved to dive and we spent some summer vacations diving in places like the Caribbean or the Galapagos. And he would often bring a camera on these trips and take pictures. And later in my teen years, I was starting to get bored underwater, it's been, a couple 100 hours underwater, just looking at stuff and, and he started loaning me his camera, and I started taking pictures, and I realised that it completely changed my perception of what it was like to be underwater, because suddenly I had a purpose, to capture and share what it looks like down there with people who don't dive. And I realised that there was great value in them. And while I didn't realise it at the time, I continued taking photographs through college and volunteering with the Park Service and  doing things where I could be helpful, but I always brought a camera with me to kind of document my experiences. And about, I don't know, about five or six years out of college, I had the opportunity to go and work for a marine sanctuary programme in Monterey Bay, California that allowed me to kind of explore my artistic curiosity, if you will, more. And, I spent all my weekends out shooting in the water and diving and in 1997, I had an opportunity to go and work for National Geographic, and I won't get into the nitty gritty of how that happened. But I just happen to have the right skills at the right time. And I spent five years diving submersibles and travelling around the world. And that was kind of the beginning of my career as a full time, you know, videographer underwater photographer. And pretty much for the last 30 years, that's what I've been doing has been diving in different places in the world, documenting what I'm seeing, sharing it with the world trying to educate the people, that care about the ocean, about how things are changing why it's important to pay attention to these changes and how we can help. 


James Laughlin  04:52 

That's amazing. What's so beautiful about that is that you spoke of your dad introducing you in a really nice Way to the ocean and to dive in you were doing something with your dad, you were being present with your dad. And he was too but all of a sudden, that led to a passion, which then connected with a purpose by the sons of it. 



Kip Evans  05:11 

Yeah, absolutely. And my dad was a busy doctor. And so I didn't get to see him much during the week. But when we went and did trips, as a family during the summer, that was a big deal. And, you know, I got certified guy when I was 15 16 years old. And I mean, it really did open a whole different world for me, and I have him to thank for that. I mean, he really lifted, lit the fuse that ignited my career. And so anyway, here we are, 35 years later, doing something that I started off doing when I was a teenager. 


James Laughlin  05:48 

beautiful, it's so beautiful. And I've done quite a lot over the last year or so then a lot of research around what's happening in our oceans. And to be honest, I've been oblivious for so many years, I look at the ocean, I think, Wow, it's so pristine. It's so beautiful. But I don't realise that some of the destruction that humanity is doing to the ocean. So, in your experience, what is happening and what has been changing over your lifetime? 


Kip Evans  06:16 

Yeah, you know, it's a complicated question, because there's varying degrees of impact depending on where you are. So you might go to places in the Caribbean, where you don't see coral reefs, like you used to 25 years ago. I mean, they're gone, they're gone, and they're bleach, they're dead, you might have to go 100 miles offshore to find some semblance of a reef that's still existing. There are other areas that have been protected, where countries took steps 25 years ago, to protect their coastal waters. And those areas, by large, do pretty well, might think of areas like Cocos Island, or that's off the coast of Costa Rica, or Cabo Pulmo, which is in the Gulf of California, in Mexico, areas off the coast of Honduras. But there's other areas that have changed dramatically in, I'm sure you've heard about the, the Great Barrier Reef, and how much that's changed. There are areas like the Arctic, and the Antarctic that are melting and changing rapidly. And there's a lot to be concerned with. And I've seen a lot of these changes during my life. I've personally witnessed these changes underwater, and it's heartbreaking. I do remember diving as a teenager off the coast of United States, Florida, I'm sure you're sure you're, you know, well aware of it. And I remember, it's huge strands of coral and big schools of fish. And it's not like that anymore. it's dramatically changed. It's a combination of so many things, it's overfishing, it's pollution from shore, it's the way that we've treated the ocean, it's climate change. Unfortunately, those effects have dramatically altered a lot of areas in the ocean. And there's only a handful of areas that are still beautiful and pristine, but most of them have, have changed. And one of the most striking things that is not visible by the naked eye is the amount of plastics that are in the ocean today, specifically, micro plastics. And what micro plastics are, imagine, you have a plastic bottle that has made its way down a river or a stream off a boat, or whatever, and it's floated in the ocean for, months and weeks. And it's degrading and degrading, and little tiny pieces of that plastic bottle break off. And they go into the water calm, and they've further diffused, but they don't really go away. And what happens is marine life feeds upon these things. That plastic ends up in the food chain, and we, as the ultimate consumers end up with those microplastics in our own bodies. And so that's scary for me, because we've been in, very, very remote places in the ocean and done water samples. And almost invariably, there's always microplastics now in those water samples, so my hat goes off to the countries that have created marine protected areas. Those work, those make a huge difference for not only species that live there, but for those cities and communities that depend on tourism. And for those communities, in countries that haven't done anything yet they need to do do that before it's too late. 



James Laughlin  09:49 

Wow. It's something that though the microplastics is not something that many of us think about, and it's not until we come across. So again, great documentary. Netflix is where I initially connect with some of you agree at work, that we've become aware of some of our human behaviours, and how they're impacting the world at large. And I'll have these conversations with people around, hey, we'll look at each of us don't use plastic bottles or plastic bags and we get food, it's not wrapped in plastic, we can make a difference. But no, and then more often than not, people will say, Actually, you know what, it doesn't matter what we're doing, we cannot make a difference one person at a time, but what's your thoughts? Can we make a difference? And can we turn the tide, so to speak? I think it's hard for the general consumer to have a heavy impact that we'd all like to see, I mean, you can definitely make individual concessions to make a difference. And if we all did that, universally, it would make a huge difference. But the problem is, is that everyone has different ideas of how they like things packaged or how easy it is to carry groceries in a plastic bag, or as a paper bag. And, I think the important thing is to educate everyone about those options, and let people make those choices, where I'd love to see more pressure put is on the industrial level. And the companies that are creating these products that are causing these problems could make those changes and make a huge impact for the ocean. And if those companies could make those changes and find alternative materials, then we could curb this issue a lot quicker than asking individuals to make those changes. Because, the reality is with all the billions of people on this planet, and you know, all these different cultures and everything that's going on, and everyone's in a different state of understanding what the issues are. I mean, it's just like, it's almost impossible, right to, to curb it and control it. But if the people who are actually manufacturing those bottles could change the way they produce those materials that eventually find their way in the ocean, I think we'd have a lot more success. That's amazing. So get to the root of the problem, change the product, because we're going to still need to consume and do things, but change the actual nature of the product.  


Exactly. I love that. About your work, you've been in this career for a long time. And we're in a day and age now where a lot of people will change career every five to seven years, you've been doing this passionately for a long time. What's your Why? What's the purpose behind what keeps you driving and doing?  



Well, I wouldn't say that it's always perfect. There's always ups and downs. For example, during this pandemic, it's been really hard I haven't been able to travel for nearly a year. And it's talking about having an identity crisis at times, when you get can't do what you're trained to do, and what you love to do. But I'd say what has really driven me over this period of time is my genuine love for the species that I interact with, the scientists that are doing work that I think is amazing, and being able to document what is happening in the oceans today and share that with the public. I mean, it's so powerful. And for me, it's one of those things where, while I can't perfectly put it into words, I can tell you right now that, it's like one of those things where your heart drives what you love to do, and you just know it, you know, and I know what I'm in the water, and I'm, you know, I'm swimming past animals that are unique or dangerous, or whatever you whatever you want to say it's it's something that most people don't experience. And I feel like I'm so lucky to be able to call that part of my career. Incredible. And if you think through your career, is there a one moment that you would say was one of your most emotional moments, maybe an interaction with an animal or something you witnessed? You were like, wow, that the lot of emotion was evoked? 



Kip Evans  13:58 

Yeah, you know, when you've worked as long as I have in the ocean, you have a lot of those those moments. Not always there's there's many trips where nothing out of the ordinary happens, it's funny, I get the question, what is your most dangerous thing has ever happened and I've never had any life threatening experiences, I've had little close calls, but in terms of things that have really impacted me, a couple things in the last couple of years, I was up in the Arctic. And as climate change is greatly affecting the Arctic, a lot of areas are melting rapidly. Seeing areas that were historically covered in ice that are now exposed rock made me realise you know, when I looked at photos or have been seen those areas before, how much they've changed, but during a trip a couple years ago, I witnessed a mother polar bear and her cub, forging, you know, trying to find food on the shore and, and she was greatly associated, and obviously, trying to provide for her cub and, and that that was kind of a shock to the heart for me to see an animal that was struggling in a habitat that was that was changing. But I've also had amazing moments to where I've been diving in areas with sharks. And if you've seen any of my work, you know that I love sharks, and I've spent a lot of my career documenting sharks and learning about sharks and working with shark scientists. And I was diving, I guess it's about two years ago, now I was diving in Cocos Island, which is one of my favourite places in the world to work. And I was down about 70 feet along a ledge, it's quite well known for hammerheads that come into a cleaning station. And during this particular trip, I was working for a client that had hired me to do some shooting for her and, and there were no other boats at Cocos, which is really unusual. So imagine having a tropical island essentially to yourself. And, going diving, I was I had a guide master with me, but there was no one else really in the water. And it was amazing to see how the wildlife had changed so much, they had let down their guard, and then we're coming much closer. And I was sitting on a ledge, and I had a hammerhead shark, that came up and came within literally inches of me while I was at a cleaning station. And just they move incredibly slow. I mean, it's just like this when they're, they're being cleaned. And I had this animal come all the way up in front of me. And it got spooked, right when it almost hit my mask and and took off. And it was one of those moments where you think, Oh my gosh, so many people are afraid of sharks. And really, these hammerheads, they're like Golden Retrievers in the ocean, you know, if you can imagine the animal that would be scared of you, as a human, it's the complete opposite of what people have been trained to think about sharks. And so I've had those experiences where I've been so close to animals, and I've had these interactions. And anyway, that's one of my favourites is, you know, that interaction with that Hammerhead, 


James Laughlin  17:31 

That's beautiful. So, so lovely. I love how you describe it, like the golden retriever of the ocean. Brilliant. So good. There's people out there that have excuses for not following their passions, or, you know, I could have done that. But I was too young. I loved it than that. But now I'm too old. So for people out there who are trying to find their passion and want to take that leap, but they come up with excuses, what kind of advice would you have for them? 



Kip Evans  17:57 

I think everyone's situation is different. And we have demands if we're a parent, and we have to think about providing for our children. We all have certain skills and aptitudes and things that make us great at one thing and maybe not so good at another thing. What you really need to ask yourself is how much of your life do you want to spend doing something that you maybe don't want to be doing? Right? And what is it worth to you to be doing something you're passionate about? And money always plays a factor in our decisions, because we have to pay our bills, right? I'm in a career that's competitive, it's non traditional. You have to be trained in a different way than people are normally used to being trained, right, in terms of diving and photography, and you know, working in the ocean. But I think it's a great example of if you do follow your heart, and you believe in something and you're willing to put the hard work into it, you can make that work. And it doesn't have to be a career in the ocean, it could be career and whatever drives you and and, as  I've gotten older, during the years, I've realised that a lot of this comes down to perseverance and not giving up. And I think the people that are successful are the ones that latch on to their dreams. And they don't let go right? They keep on working super hard at it. And those opportunities do come, and unfortunately, there's more and more people in this world and it's more competitive. But those people who persevere are typically the ones that end up doing what they want to do. 


James Laughlin  19:38 

Absolutely agree. You've got kids and you're such a great role model for your kids. So throughout the years, you've been performing at such a high level in your career, how have you balanced that and still being able to show up as a good dad. 



Kip Evans  19:54 

It's something that it's been difficult at times. Because when I do travel, I'm completely gone and out of the picture. And it drives me crazy when I'm at sea and I know I'm missing my kids' soccer game or I missed a birthday. But when I'm home, I'm 100%, dedicated to my children and I show up for everything, and I help and I've been on my son's mountain biking team for four years, I'm one of the coaches that goes out and rides with those kids. And yeah, I might have to take off for 10 days and miss a tournament or not be all the ride, but when I'm back, I'm out there every single ride and, and so, I give 100% when I'm home, and when I'm away, they know I'm dad's away working and, and that's okay, you know, as long as you can strike that balance, and you can give, you know a lot of yourself with your back then it works. 


James Laughlin  20:52 

That's great advice. Because there's a lot of dads and mums out there that'll be listening to this that are heavily involved in their careers and their passions. And it's nice to know that there is actually a balancing act, and there's compromise for everyone involved. I love that. 


Kip Evans  21:04 

You know, I told my wife one time, when I was leaving for a trip, I was like I don't, I just don't want to go. And you know, I didn't want to go to the Galapagos. 


James Laughlin  21:16 



Kip Evans  21:17 

I know, it sounded so bad. I'm like, I'm so tired of being away. And she goes, You know what, sweetheart, she goes, you're around more than dads that are here full time. And one of the great things is how dedicated you are when you are home with the kids and and they love that. And so it makes it special, right? If you're gone for 10 days, hopefully, you're missed. And when you get back, it's kind of like this special reunion and your kids actually want to be with you, you know, you're you're a novelty at least for a couple of days.  


James Laughlin  21:50 

I love that. That's so cool. I want to ask you one last question. So what does it mean to you to live a life of purpose? 



Kip Evans  22:07 

Yeah, that's, no one's ever asked me that question before. I think I'm a lot like everyone else out there that's, you know, has to try to figure these things out. And I think that we do things in our life that take us on a certain path. And you might have the taste of success along the way. And, you can also have the taste of failure. And I think, once you have that taste of success, and you see that you're making a difference. I know that I've made a difference with helping to protect sharks, for example, and educate people about the importance of this, these animals that are greatly threatened on our ocean, and, and I guess, you know, that, that gives you purpose, right, that's, that's what gets you up in the next morning, or out on the next trip. And so and if I was put on this earth, to inspire people to learn more about beautiful places, important places, then that's a great purpose too. While I would love to be different things, and, and for different people and do different things in my life, I'd love to fly an F 18, for example, and be a fighter pilot, I also realised that, you know, my skills took me down this road. And this seems to be my purpose in life is to document the oceans and teach people about the importance of what and one of the most important areas on our planet, the most important thing, without the ocean that we'd have nothing really no climate, you know, oxygen. So I'm proud to have spent my career you know, working in the ocean. 


James Laughlin  23:58 

Well, we are very, very grateful for the work that you do. I would not have learned what I have learned about the ocean if it wasn't for the work that you've done. So I just want to personally thank you. I know that we lots of listeners and viewers there that will be so grateful. So please continue to do that work once COVID disappears. I can't wait to see you back out travelling and please come and say hello. When you come to New Zealand. 


Kip Evans  24:19 

I will. I can't wait to come and visit your beautiful country sometime in the future. 


James Laughlin  24:23 

It'll be fun. Hey, Kip, thank you so so much for taking the time. You're so welcome. Thank you so much for listening in today and investing in your own personal growth. Please hit that subscribe button. I would love Love, love. If you'd leave me a rating and review as it really helps me to impact more people. I've got some amazing guests lined up in the coming weeks. And folks, it's that time get out there and live life on purpose.