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Andy Jackson – Just Add Light To Water

When George Brown, Andy’s trusted dive buddy called to say Andy had died unexpectedly, it was not just a shock, it was incomprehensible. It is hard to come to terms with the loss of such a dedicated, talented, generous and big hearted storyteller of the underwater world – and grasp the fact that he is no longer with us. He was in his prime and had so much still to give. Andy and his wife Jackie were an unusually talented team. Our hearts go out to her,  his family and children. In the funeral notice they beautiful captured what he meant to them:  “We are devastated to lose Andy, our hero, such a bright light in our lives, and invite his family and friends to join us at a service to commemorate his magnificent achievements in life and the brilliance of his soul. ”  Beautifully said.

George’s phone call came as I was editing what Andy had called the “clumpy mearl” footage. This is an area of Wester Ross where he’d enjoyed getting closeups of the tiny life forms living amongst the mearl back in 2016.  We returned a few years later to this area to set up our citizen science project monitoring mearl in the MPA. Now this 25 meter transect was colonised by flame shells making nests out of twiglets of maerl. Two of the species with the highest status ‘hanging out’ together. We were all excited.

Even more exciting was the moment Andy captured the herring spawning on maerl near Gairloch. That will never be forgotten. His excitement perfectly captured ours. The moment he captured on film shown on Blue Planet UK seemed to signify the rebirth of hope in the region.  Recovery was happening and possible.  The tragedy which I can’t get over is that he will not be continuing to capture that story as it develops…nor any of the other stories of discovery that were planned. He had discovered new species, new behaviour and captured stories never told before. He was a critical part of our ability to tell stories in Wester Ross to inspire greater protection of the seas. His impact is immeasurable. It was a joy to know him.

We began working together when he supplied footage for The Bountiful Sea: The Story of Wester Ross MPA which was a film made to celebrate the creation of the MPA.  We talked about getting footage of the mearl in Wester Ross and we invited him up to help us survey it.

We had fun. Out of this formed what he dubbed the ‘A Team’.  This was SubSeatv, SCFF and Sea Change in a loose kind of survey coalition. From then on it felt like a shared journey telling the stories and protecting the MPA.  Since then many others have made huge contributions too, but it began with Ali and Andy.

Almost all of what Sea Change has been able to share with the community – in order to foster awareness of life under the waves in Wester Ross Marine Protected Area – has been thanks to Andy’s filming. In time, the film I am currently making will be dedicated to him, but a few nights ago I came across footage of him enthusing about the tiny world that lives inside a mearl bed.  We share a passion for the small, often overlooked creatures and I felt overwhelmed by the need to say thank you to him for the extraordinary footage I’ve had the pleasure to work with. The film above is the result. I know many others share my gratitude including members of Sea Change and hundreds of others in the community who have been inspired by Andy’s beautiful footage and stories.

Howard Wood said “The whole diving & marine conservation movement has been devastated over the past 24 hours by the untimely passing of Andy Jackson @Subseatv an amazing diver, cameraman & just lovely guy”.  This is no more true than in Wester Ross. He touched the lives of  many people in the area outside of our surveys, for his interests extended to all areas of the North West and he had many dive friends. 

Ali Hughson called him a dedicated and consummate professional, destined to be at the top of his field. Like Ali I always envisaged Andy making a Blue Planet style programme celebrating the British Isles underwater,  particularly Scotland’s seas which he was such an advocate for.  That is not to be,  although his work may well be the inspiration for it.

What was most charming about Andy is that he was not only sharing the beauty he saw – but he was discovering the lives and behaviour of the creatures he observed and telling their stories. He wanted to bring awareness of the extraordinary preciousness of our own coastline. Without him saying as much, I know by his actions that he saw these creatures as intelligent,  with complex lives worthy of our concern.  

I hope that at some point a Television programme dedicated to the world Andy helped bring to life will be his legacy.   I like to think he will be watching with pleasure from the other side of the veil, when the programme he dreamed of finally happens – which it surely must.  Andy loved filming Harry the Hexopus and what I liked to think of as Mr Bob The Tail – the bobtailed squid from Loch Carron that he spent many weeks filming and excited by.  To see these and more visit SubSeatv.net.

Sometime in the future I hope we might be able to honour him by giving a prize to the best marine storyteller or young ambassador with Andy’s same storytelling abilities and love of the underwater world – here in Wester Ross. Here is hoping.

I will be at his funeral to represent the huge numbers of people within Sea change, the Inverness Sub Aqua Club and our survey partnership alliance to say our last goodbye and pay tribute to our friend.