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Q&A with Craig Foster of "My Octopus Teacher"

Filmmaker and naturalist Craig Foster encourages us all to become better stewards of our planet.Filmmaker and naturalist Craig Foster encourages us all to become better stewards of our planet.If you saw the documentary film “My Octopus Teacher,” then it’s very likely that you were moved by filmmaker Craig Foster’s story of connection with the marine world. Although the film focused on his encounters with one octopus in particular, Foster has a broader goal: he wants us all to experience connection with wild places and wild creatures, and by doing so, become better stewards of our planet. At the recent JMP Discovery Summit Europe and in celebration of World Water Day, we were fortunate to hear about some of Foster’s recent undersea adventures and about his plans for an exciting upcoming project. His inspiring plenary presentation can be found here in the JMP Community

Below are Foster’s responses to questions submitted by viewers following his presentation:

Q: Have you identified a change in octopus’ behavior or patterns that might be due to climate change? 

Craig Foster: Climate change and overfishing are reducing predators, so I’m seeing an increase in octopus' numbers. While this might seem good for them, it is putting too much pressure on their prey, which is not good for octopuses or for the whole ecosystem. We need predators to keep the balance. 

Q: When I was in undergrad, my biology class took a field trip to a zoo and saw an Imax movie about the kelp forest that was fascinating. What do you feel the role of zoos is in interfacing city humans with the wild and conservation as a whole?

Craig Foster: Zoos could help a lot of people keep the connection with nature, but they need to be very carefully run with great emphasis on making the animals’ lives as pleasant and interesting as possible, perhaps by having fewer animals, bigger enclosures, or an emphasis on caring for injured creatures that can’t survive in wild. There should also be no wild-caught animals and only captive breeding. And a limit to animals that do well in these conditions.  

Q: In your second story, you mentioned how unusual it was to find an octopus in a tidal pool area that also contained plastic debris. Have you seen that the increase in trash and plastics in particular play a part in species decline? And do you have any information about how micro plastics might be impacting marine life and or kelp forests?  

Craig Foster: I’ve seen an octopus killed by eating a polystyrene cup and other creatures, such as whales and turtles, die when ingesting plastic. I see plastic bottles killing thousands of small crustaceans that get trapped in them. The science on how micro plastics are affecting the health of animals and humans is not clear yet, but humans are consuming the equivalent of one credit card per week of plastic…unlikely to be good for us! 

Q: When you’re not in the water learning from nature itself, are there any scientists you particularly enjoy learning from?

Craig Foster: Yes, I learn from Prof. Charles Griffiths and Dr. Jannes Landschoff, who I work with on kelp forest science. I also am deeply inspired by Jane Goodall and the work of cosmologist Brian Swimme. Prof. Jennifer Mather helps me with octopus science. There is a long list of scientists who help me understand what I find. I love to work with science and storytelling. 


We hope you enjoyed this conversation with Craig Foster as much as we did. Don’t put off watching the recording – it is only available until May 21. After that, we’ll be waiting eagerly for Foster’s next project, to have another opportunity to reaffirm our connectedness with the sea, with each other, and with our natural world.

Last Modified: Apr 4, 2022 3:23 PM