One Man’s Meandering Oceanic Journey
By Patxi Pastor
Like many children, I was immediately drawn to the magic and mystery of the ocean. As a young boy living on the coast of Spain, I learned about the amazing world at the beach that mesmerized me with colorful and fascinating animals. I longed to be a part of their world. After we moved to the United States, my mother would often lovingly explain that it was once again “time to get out of the water Patxi.” Then came the amazing Frenchman and his television series, The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. I became totally hooked on that man and his show. He would solve problems by inventing and modifying these incredible devices to help him and his team on their adventures. I was transfixed by his ship, the Calypso, and the seaplane, the mini-subs, a hot air balloon, underwater scooters and cameras that could go underwater and record everything for the world to share. Are you kidding … sign me up Captain!
My passion led me to become scuba certified as a youngster. Everything galvanized following a dive trip to the Bahamas, and I focused on becoming a dive instructor. I was fortunate to be mentored by the amazing Jim Hicks of the NAUI College in Laguna Niguel, California, where I earned certifications as a NAUI Instructor, Rescue Diver and Divemaster. Jim then asked me to serve as a member of his NAUI Instructor Training Staff at UNEXSO (the Underwater Explorers Society) on Grand Bahama Island, which brought me full circle to the beloved blue water and white beaches of the Bahamas, and it’s where I took a job as a divemaster at the Rum Cay Club. Soon after my fabulous Rum Cay adventure, I was awarded a NOAA Scientific Diver recognition by another mentor, the late great Dr. Richard “Dick” Cooper, who was a pioneer in saturation diving and undersea habitation.
Working closely with the marine science programs Dick had developed for high schools — like the “High School Aquanaut Program” that took students diving to the bottom of the ocean in a state-of-the-art Johnson Sealink II submarine to conduct cutting-edge scientific research — I had the idea of developing my own series of academically and athletically accredited educational scuba programs. These became first-of-their-kind certifications that were conducted at leading preparatory schools and colleges throughout New England, where I was living at the time. Soon afterward, I received a Christa McAuliffe Fellowship grant to produce a series of children’s marine science videos entitled “Underwater Exploration,” which paired me with my close friend, Dr. Nancy Eastlake, the director of the Torrington Connecticut Talented and Gifted Educational Programs. The videos included live interactive broadcasts into 10 school systems. The first phase of the project focused on “The Wonderful World of the Dolphin” and featured a variety of guests, including a live interview at the StarKist Seafood Company’s World Headquarters (StarKist was promoting their “dolphin-free tuna”). I then expanded the program by creating the “Coral Reef Studies Programs,” which was conducted throughout the Caribbean for high school students and teachers from top New England preparatory schools throughout the late ’80s.
All of the success attracted a lot of media attention, and I was approached by the SONY Corporation to serve as their sponsored underwater cameraman. This new position had me promoting the creative use and application of a variety of SONY’s state-of-the-art underwater video technologies. This all led to a dream job invitation by CBS Television to create a monthly underwater television series. Of course I took the job, which meant that every month I “had to” travel to the most beautiful places in the world to film amazing things like sharks, whales and shipwrecks, then come back to the studio to edit and host a feature special on each adventure. I couldn’t help but think at that time of how my dreams as a young lad had come true. I was actually living my own version of my hero Jacques Cousteau. Sometimes it’s true: “If you can dream it, you can do it.”
It was around this time that I started speaking with a wonderful woman at the Cousteau Society named Sandy Bond, who headed up their Research and Communications at their headquarters in Virginia. She was excited about all of the marine science education programs I had developed for schools and asked me if I wanted to serve as a Cousteau Society Ambassador for Children. I was thrilled to serve in that capacity for several years. I provided slideshows of my diving adventures and gave out free copies of the Cousteau’s Dolphin Log kids magazine to enthralled students. A very special encounter happened during one of these school presentations at the Green Farms Academy in Westport, Connecticut, when a teacher introduced me to a young student who wanted to meet me. It was Philippe Cousteau Jr., Jacques Cousteau’s grandson. That began a wonderful friendship, which included home visits from Philippe, his mother Jan and sister Alexandra.
By that point in my life, I had realized the power of the underwater footage I was producing and how it could inspire people to care about and protect the marine animals and their habitat. I continued producing and using my footage for a lot of cause-related marketing campaigns on the oceans and nationally televised programs, including E! Television; Extra; Access Hollywood; the Earth Day special hosted by Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward; Year of the Dolphin, hosted by George C. Scott; and the Children and the Sea adventure series pilot I created, which was hosted by supermodel Niki Taylor.
Life was perfect. Almost.
It was around that time that I found myself sitting on the tarmac in Miami getting ready to fly back to the cold of New England. I had been diving in the beautiful blue, warm waters of the Keys with my longtime friend Frazier Nivens, a seven-time Emmy Award-winning underwater cameraman, as we filmed the legendary Captain Spencer Slate’s “Creature Feature Dive” in Key Largo. Then, I had one of those “aha!” moments. I decided, I’m moving to the Keys. Four weeks later, in December of 2005, I was roaring southbound toward Key Largo with all of my worldly belongings in tow. I have called Florida home ever since. When I arrived, the scene was pretty grim. After several major hurricanes, the community was just trying to survive with little to no tourism. My dive buddies were finding it hard to support their families. Over some fresh Key’s fish and libations, the conversations turned to the idea of whether I could help the community by producing a major music festival that could bring folks back to the Keys to help spark the economy again.
As a result, I came up with the idea of creating the Celebration of the Sea Music & Film Festival, which I produced at Rowell’s Marina in Key Largo in July of 2005. More than 10,000 people attended the event, which included a Harley Davidson fashion show featuring several Victoria’s Secret models, live performances by Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler, rock legend Chuck Berry, rap pioneer DMC, Skunk Baxter of the Doobie Brothers, and Barry Goudreau and Fran Sheehan, the founding members of the band Boston. During the festival, we had touch tanks and an ocean pavilion for kids and families, helping the local nonprofits get the ocean conservation message out to the public. Through the amazing success and popularity of the festival, my Celebration of the Sea Foundation was born, and subsequent iterations included the Blues Brothers playing live on South Beach, hosted by Judy Belushi. The purpose of the Foundation is to engage, educate and inspire people around the world to protect the ocean and the world’s natural resources. A specific focus of all our initiatives is to develop resilient communities and promote STREAM (Science, Technology, Resiliency, Engineering, Arts & Music) education while focusing on female and minority role models and promoting career paths in these respective industries. Shortly after the festival, we went on to help create The Miami Beach High School Academy of Marine and Environmental Science (AMES) and The Miami Beach High School SCUBA Club. Both offer full scholarships for underprivileged students provided by the U.S. Navy.
A little over a year ago, I collaborated with my friend Victor Nappe to create an underwater 3D film experience of the Lady Luck and Okinawa artificial reef shipwrecks. We launched it at the Riptide Music Festival to a crowd of 30,000 attendees on Fort Lauderdale Beach. One of the people who took notice was the owner and founder of Resolve Marine, Joseph E. Farrell Jr. In addition to building Resolve Marine into one of the world’s leading marine salvage and maritime emergency environmental response companies, Joe also has a passion for marine science and maritime education. He has long been known for his generous philanthropic support of public schools in Broward County, Florida, and Nantucket, where he summers.
When we met, Joe and I quickly realized we shared a lot of common passions, especially those centered on marine science education and humanitarian work. As a result, we co-founded the Mission Resolve Foundation in July of 2020. A month later, Hurricane Dorian ravaged the Bahamas, so we focused all of our attention on humanitarian support for the Bahamian community. We worked with our good friend Oneil Kosa, the CEO of Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, to help sponsor and activate three humanitarian cruises to Grand Bahama aboard the Grand Celebration Cruise Liner. The first trip evacuated more than 1,400 hurricane victims from Grand Bahama with free passage. Subsequent cruises brought desperately needed food, water and relief supplies. We then turned our attention to providing fresh water for Grand Bahama as the storm surge had completely compromised their drinking water. With the support of a major grant from the Red Cross, we are proud to continue working in collaboration with Mercy Corps by providing up to 15,000 gallons of fresh water every day to the Grand Bahama community.
The NFL’s Miami Dolphins sponsored one of our earliest humanitarian missions, and they helped Mission Resolve donate and distribute 300 generators and tons of relief supplies. Rob Kornahrens, the CEO and Founder of Advanced Roofing, joined us on this humanitarian mission with the Dolphins, and he provided new roofs to more than 40 homes on Abaco. Rob is a longtime philanthropic leader in the Broward Community and shares our passion for marine science education. For years, he has worked extensively with the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation (GHOF) and Guy Harvey Research Institute at NOVA Southeastern University. Rob envisioned a partnership between Mission Resolve and the GHOF and encouraged me to meet with Steve Roden, Guy Harvey’s CEO to discuss the possibility of working together on K–12 education.
Without realizing it, we had assembled a dream team — Mission Resolve, GHOF, Rob Kornahrens, Joe Farrell, Guy Harvey, Steve Roden and others who have now joined forces on a Virtual Marine Education Program (VMEP). The VMEP has quickly grown into an extraordinary project that couldn’t have come at a more important time with the complications of the COVID-19 pandemic and the pressing challenges that teachers, schools and parents face as they desperately seek better online resources to educate and engage students. A major component of the program is that it provides amazing free resources and virtual field trips for teachers and students, and it helps to fund teacher workshops and accreditation. More than $100,000 in scholarships has already been awarded to in-need students pursuing marine and maritime career paths.
For me, a grown-up kid whose passion for the oceans has only gotten stronger over the years, I’ve realized that just exploring and experiencing the sea is not enough. Ultimately, sharing that beauty and educating kids about the value of protecting our precious waters is what drives me and gives me purpose. From those wondrous childhood days on the beach in Spain to my life now working with amazing marine conservationists, I have truly been blessed to have so many wonderful mentors along the way and to continue a lifelong journey following my passion and achieving my dreams.