Next to a fully grown humpback whale, the man in flippers is a fragile, if graceful being. He swims alongside the massive creature, imitating its fin movements, trailing in its wake, the connection between them clear. It’s a mesmerising dance that only a lucky few will ever see in real life. This is a scene from ‘Blue’, a gorgeously visual film about marine conservation featuring Southern Cross graduate and free diving marine scientist Lucas Handley.
Lucas has always been a wild child. Growing up on the border of the Booyong rainforest in northern NSW, his playground was the creek and bushland around the family home. The lush forest hummed with birds and every kind of lizard, if you knew where to look. When the family moved to a nearby coastal suburb, his boyhood interest in the natural world shifted towards the ocean. He spent hours combing the rocky headland and underwater rock shelf of Broken Head where sharks, dolphins, mulloway and a huge variety of marine life provided a never ending array of wild encounters.
Marine science was a natural progression for Lucas and it became the backbone for his exploration of science and conservation through film and photography. “I was already involved in work around the ocean, but the degree I think legitimised what I was doing in film,” he says.
Studies in marine science also led to the formation of an important professional network. “I became friends with many of my lecturers and it gave me a strong connection to the working scientific community, which was invaluable. Being able to do work abroad and do a lot of my study in flexible mode online, gave me the opportunity to combine both.”
Following his appearance in ‘Blue’, Lucas hosted ‘Great Australian Bites’, a series based on five short films exploring both sides of the debate on shark conservation, that screened on the Discovery Channel in 2017. “My work in film and documentaries is a good example of where contemporary marine science can take you,” says Lucas.
The Southern Cross graduate now divides his time between his home town of Byron Bay and exotic locations around the world where he free dives, makes films about his ocean encounters and hosts re-wilding tours to reconnect people with “barefoot living”, as they catch and cook their own food, swapping Wi-Fi for wide sky.
The Bachelor of Marine Science and Management is offered in Lismore and Coffs Harbour or online.