What is breath? To most of us, it is the inhale that succeeds each individual exhale, a reflexive sequence that separates daily life from dying. For Fred Buyle, it is the instant in which he leaves behind the world he was born into for the 1 he has dreamt about considering that he was knee-significant.

Belgian-born Buyle grew up all over the sea, shelling out considerable parts of his childhood on sailboats his mom and dad captained. When they occupied by themselves with navigating the currents, he was far extra fascinated by the darkish depths and the life it concealed. He was studying to distinguish species of fish by age 6 or 7. Close to eight, he place on a snorkel and was launched to the underwater realm. At 10, he identified freediving. There was no going back.

Freediving is how Buyle has expert the richness of the globe, from competing on world wide platforms for a 10 years — he established his initial entire world history at age 23 in 1995 and went on to break two far more — to facilitating his recent profession as an underwater photographer and marine everyday living tagger. The first was an intentional pursuit into which he poured time and the boundless strength of youth the very last two happened alternatively serendipitously.

In 2002, he bought a digicam to capture his peers in action but his incidental shots of marine life drew the consideration of publications and the scientific neighborhood. When he retired from the level of competition circuit two a long time afterwards, options quickly came knocking.

A large amount can happen in the span of a breath. In 1999, Buyle passed the famous 100m barrier on a one lungful of air, the eighth man or woman in the entire world to do so. Fifteen many years afterwards, he would hold his breath as a sperm whale nudged her new child calf his way, permitting for personal pictures of a magnificent sight and one particular of the finest times of his lifetime.


Freediving, images and field function

It is 8am in the Azores, the picturesque archipelago of 9 volcanic islands anchored in Macaronesia. Lonely Earth describes it as the “other Eden”, a paradise of basalt shores, verdant valleys and rocky outcrops with incredibly hot springs and waterfalls aplenty. The frothy waves of the surrounding North Atlantic Ocean are ripe for frolicking, and also residence to and a transit place for a third of the world’s cetacean species. Sperm whales and dolphins are living right here 12 months-round even though blue whales are amid the multitudes of marine lifetime that seasonally swim by on their migration routes.

Of training course Buyle would established up a base listed here.

Expeditions take him all over the planet but it is the Azores that he has returned to in between tasks because 2012. In actuality, some initiatives even contain the subaquatic creatures in his yard.

“We’re now finding out blue sharks and mobula rays here with non-invasive tags,” says the tall and tanned Buyle about Zoom. “We freedive down to them and attach the tags by hand to report almost everything from their motion to ocean salinity and oxygen ranges [oceanographers are now trying to track dead zones, areas of the ocean with low-oxygen or hypoxic conditions caused by pollution]. The tags detach after 24 hrs and we recuperate them employing radio beacons.”

Non-invasive tags have turn into a match changer, eradicating the need to capture and restrain marine animals to affix rigid attachments. This is where by Buyle’s freediving proficiency arrives in useful. Also recognised as skindiving, it relies on breath-holding until finally resurfacing instead than the use of breathing apparatuses.

“It is just one of the most organic means to explore the underwater world — all you require are a snorkel, mask and fins,” he claims. In the circumstance of this Ulysse Nardin ambassador, a diver’s watch is part of his typical minimalist get-up. With out the unwieldy bulk of oxygen tanks or other devices, freedivers delight in relieve of motion that makes it possible for them to be 1 with the environment and to entry more distant places.

“Freediving photography provides incredibly various final results when compared to pics taken by scuba divers. We really don’t have to fret about decompression so we can shift up and down as wanted, which offers us speedy diverse views. I also rely exclusively on organic mild — I don’t use any flash or strobes — so the aesthetic is quite uncooked. When I began undertaking this, the pictures were being so distinct from your normal underwater photographs that publications started getting in contact with me about them.”

The large angles and muted colours lend the shots a dreamy, almost ethereal high quality that properly demonstrates his perspective underwater. Several hours on several hours invested in the water, very first exploring its depths and his abilities in it and then creating up encyclopaedic knowledge about its inhabitants, gave him the essential self esteem to go all-around and amongst shoals of maritime life. This ease was essential when he began aiding marine biologists in industry get the job done in 2005, utilizing his freediving abilities to complete acoustic or satellite tagging, DNA sampling or photography for documentation or scientific studies.



Science and creativeness are inextricably joined, he believes, and you want familiarity with each to get near to maritime lifetime or photograph them by means of a compelling storytelling lens. His is the exciting portion of the work, he laughingly admits.

“I appear in when diving is essential, but which is the effortless little bit. For me at minimum, possibly not so much for the scientists,” he jokes. “They could possibly not be as cozy in the ocean, but their genuine get the job done begins when the details has to be extracted, collated and analysed. These are assignments that can run for a long time — tagging in the Azores has been likely on since 2016, for instance, but it is seasonal. Blue shark season below is from July to September, so there’s a brief window for me to function in. In a yr, I could be portion of two to 4 initiatives.”

These types of expeditions have whisked him from Portugal, France and the Uk to the Philippines, Colombia and South Africa. Between his most interesting tasks are the very long-expression shark research with the gradual emergence of styles and behaviours especially gratifying.

“You can definitely see how expertise progresses from yr to yr,” he states. “I was portion of a great white shark tagging expedition in Guadalupe in 2015, which had been ongoing for above a ten years by then. I’m a little website link in that chain, but when you stage back and glimpse at the major picture, the amount of money of knowledge compiled and insights obtained is astounding.”

Photography runs in his blood — his terrific-grandfather was a images pioneer in the 1890s and his father experienced a stint snapping manner — and his aptitude for it is hugely in demand from customers in furthering scientific knowledge of maritime life. An case in point is his operate with Hvaldimir, an adult male beluga that wandered by itself into the northern Norwegian fjord in 2019.



His unexpected overall look was the subject of a lot discussion as he was carrying a dorsal harness, which advised he had escaped from a maritime park or navy facility. Pleasurable reality: his identify, a portmanteau of Hval (Norwegian for whale) and Vladimir (as in, Putin), arrived from the perception that he could possibly have been a spy whale.

“After WWII, a number of navies, which includes the American and French, began schooling dolphins and whales to conduct duties mainly because they are clever and learn promptly. Hvaldimir experienced undoubtedly been trained considering the fact that he responds to selected signals trainers use,” claims the 3-time entire world freediving champion.

“Belugas are very sociable and, with no a pod, he began in search of out human contact. I spent quite a few days in the water with him as we place alongside one another a cross-self-control study of his conversation abilities, recording his reaction to sounds. It was challenging perform with the underneath-freezing temperatures and very low mild, but he was particularly upset when we tried to go away.

For maritime biologists, sociable animals like Hvaldimir, who are keen for conversation, are a gold mine of information simply because you can capture so much knowledge swiftly, alternatively than scouring via the wilderness trying to find an animal eager to interact with you. But it was sad to see his dismay at becoming remaining on your own all over again. Area NGOs are investigating his case and hoping to see what can be completed for him, this kind of as transferring him to sign up for other belugas.”


Relaxed in all disorders

While freediving all-around the Azores 1 fateful September working day in 2014, Buyle and his buddies bumped into a pod of sperm whales collected all-around a mother and her newborn calf. The divers had been quickly on high notify in scenario the whales turned aggressive, but the mammals were being concentrated on the new family members. The mom spent a couple minutes supporting her calf swim and breathe on its own right before introducing it to the other whales. She even pushed it in direction of the divers as though encouraging them to be part of in the celebration and satisfy her newborn.

“Sperm whales are the biggest creatures on the world with teeth,” Buyle factors out. “They’re astute hunters, consuming 1.5 tonnes of fish and squid for each working day, but you can dive with them. Our working experience with that pod was so exclusive and it is not something you could maybe recreate with land predators, who would be much fiercer in comparable circumstances.”

And that is just one of the important variances concerning land and marine predators that the photographer by no means fails to take pleasure in. “The maritime globe is magical that way. You can securely interact with white sharks and killer whales considering that there’s mutual curiosity and they are not immediately threatened by human presence,” he clarifies.

“You can’t just hang out with a peculiar tiger or lion. It is quite probably that the face won’t conclusion well for you. I imagine that arrives from centuries of us instructing land animals to anxiety us as we hunt them down, and when an animal feels concerned or threatened, it can develop into ferocious. Marine animals don’t [yet] see us as threats or competitors.”

Nevertheless, there are ways to nudge interactions with them in direction of the good, such as learning to browse particular person entire body language and team behaviour.



“It’s entirely empirical,” acknowledges Buyle. “I was 13 the to start with time I bumped into a shark and all the tales I’d read about them, particularly Jaws, arrived flooding back again. But it was a smaller reef shark and when you see it’s as pressured as you are about the come upon, you can relate to it a minimal superior. You require to independently evaluate circumstances. Diving with these substantial animals can be harmful, so it’s significant to consistently be mindful of what’s occurring about you. No matter how relaxed you are in the water, you should in no way take protection for granted.”

To be about subaquatic animals in their territory and depart unscathed is to know their tales, their biology and body language. A lot like with canines or even people, your behaviour has a direct impression on how the come upon unfolds.

Intense or erratic physique language puts the animal on warn and the conversation is promptly stilted or, in worst-scenario scenarios, defensive. Actions have to be light and quiet, and developing up an relieve around maritime existence, specially the massive apex predators, happens incrementally. It is not necessarily a linear advancement either. As a substitute, expansion resembles a cha-cha: the songs may spur you on but your lover might dictate a phase again.

“There will be times you don’t truly feel as fantastic or as assured, and you have to have to spend notice to these signals. You need to have to pay attention to your instincts due to the fact you’re dealing with huge and unpredictable animals,” he iterates.

“You have to be brutally sincere with your self. If you really feel that a circumstance is having out of hand or if your instincts are prickling, exit the drinking water immediately. It needs humility to do this, to say not these days, but that is important when you are dealing with mother nature, no matter if you are all over animals or performing an exercise like mountaineering or sailing. You have to pay out notice to your surroundings and react accordingly.”

Having said that, he admits that not absolutely everyone is keenly mindful of their instincts or appreciates how to behave in character. These are purposeful, primal abilities that many of us have lost even though finding out to reply to substantially dissimilar urban stimuli.

“Humans now absence that instinctual romance our ancestors had with mother nature,” states Buyle. “The primal fears of the human race have been darkness, the cold and wild animals, and we were being programmed to correspondingly seek shelter, heat and protection. Individuals survival instincts have dulled about generations as far more folks hardly ever encounter freezing in the cold or remaining alert all evening surrounded by wildlife. We want to reconnect with those parts of ourselves.”


Acquiring connections

Whilst he praises primal instincts, Buyle is absolutely a enthusiast of modern day shelter and plumbing. That said, there is a very clear line in the sand for him, separating helpful essentials and rapidly out of date technological innovation. Really should he at any time rule his possess kingdom (the dropped town of Atlantis could be appropriate), anything in it would be pared down to its elementary mechanics and be created to last.

“I’m not a huge supporter of technological know-how in typical,” he candidly admits. “I like standard mechanical factors that demand small upkeep to do the job reliably. I generate a 36-12 months-aged Toyota pickup truck that I retain in fantastic condition. I think outdated autos are sustainable for the reason that they have very long offset the carbon footprint of their creation. The very same is correct of most issues it is better to mend than to swap. Like mechanical watches — if you glance right after them, they can very last for generations.”

His dad and mom grew up in the relative luxurious of the article-war yrs, so scrimping was not reinforced in childhood. On the other hand, Buyle disliked wastefulness even as a boy, be it h2o managing from a tap or lights switched on when no a single was in the room. As his environmental consciousness grew, so did conscientious conduct these kinds of as sourcing materials or food stuff as close to home as attainable.

Some of these philosophies fed into his freediving, exactly where they simmered and took on new types, and then flowed again into his everyday everyday living.

“Freediving is inherently minimalistic, from the tools we carry to the rationed actions meant to protect oxygen,” he clarifies. “It’s a type of state of mind that sooner or later carries over into your day-to-working day daily life. You get started to see that you can do additional with a lot less or very little, and you glance for matters that assist that mentality. It’s all linked.”

Interconnectedness is a topic he returns to regularly. Freediving, he muses, is a person these kinds of private illustration. Although it has manifested in different methods all through the ebbs and flows of his job, it stays central to all he does.

“It was an intensive enthusiasm when I was a baby, then a aggressive section in which I definitely identified myself by pushing my limits. Then it turned a type of tool in my images and area do the job. Freediving has normally been a component of my daily life, occupying diverse areas as I grew,” he says.

Now, his concentration is on translating insights into motion and advocacy for the protection of our oceans. And here is the cross-junction in which Ulysse Nardin’s agenda and his very own organically intersect.

The luxurious watchmaker could possibly hail from Switzerland but, like Buyle, it resonates most soundly with the sea. A really like for the deep blue permeates its operations and identity, from its alignment with the United Nations’ Sustainability Aims to the stylised anchor that is its emblem. In addition to inviting seafaring pioneers such as skipper and sailor Sébastien Destremau and seaman Mathieu Crépel on board as Good friends of Ulysse Nardin, it also supports marine conservation by organisational partnerships, item innovation (think recycling discarded fishing nets into observe straps) and dedicated devices like the new constrained-edition Diver Lemon Shark.

Mechanical watches these types of as his devoted Ulysses Nardin Diver Chronometer aid Buyle reliably watch dive and restoration instances — he averages 30 to 180 seconds as deep as 60m underwater with up to a few minutes of rest just after. They also really feel much more normal in the h2o than a dive pc. But Buyle loves the model for a lot more than just its steadfast timepieces he also would like to rejoice its championing of oceanic passions and distribute the gospel of healthy seascapes to its stakeholders.

“Finding advocacy platforms is hard,” he suggests. “You can place alongside one another a stunning documentary, but the people today observing it are heading to be those people presently involved about or intrigued in the setting. The challenge is achieving new audiences and obtaining them fascinated and associated.”

This call to action rings with urgency as the reprieve granted by the Covid-19 pandemic recedes. Buyle is reluctant to explicitly affiliate reduced human action on the waters with the rejuvenation of marine life this earlier year, but the empirical proof alludes to a connection.

“We saw a sharp raise in the blue shark population right here in the course of their summertime migration, which could be owing to the Spanish longline fishing fleet becoming not able to fish in the region. It is a legitimate rationalization,” he states. “In the meantime, whale and dolphin observing is a massive tourism initiative below and, as the animals weren’t being hounded for pleasure, they seemed calmer this calendar year. [In] any spot with decreased human activity, mother nature returns to or reclaims.”

Air pollution is a further key concern, with Buyle testifying to meeting at minimum one particular plastic memento a working day even in the middle of the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans.

“What we’re seeing are just the large items of plastic — picture the mountains of microplastics that are entering the meals chain. There is more trash in the ocean than ever and this needs to be urgently tackled,” he carries on. “The effects are obvious when you carry out and enforce protective guidelines. Equally, the situation deteriorates fast when the ocean is not cared for. Just contrast the plummeting fish populations in overfished zones with the healthier populace figures in secured regions.”

For transform to be widespread and enduring, neighborhood communities who are straight impacted by the sea have to be involved in the discussion to comprehend their stake in its achievements.

“In the Azores, experts are striving to talk the relevance of fishing quotas, but the fishermen are worried about their legal rights and livelihoods,” says Buyle. “The younger technology would seem a lot more receptive but these troubles are exacerbating speedily, so we require to pace up these talks.”

The gravity of the situation hangs greatly in the air but it is way too wonderful a day out to marinate in misery when the sun is radiant in its celestial perch and the drinking water beckons. Buyle has factors to do, perhaps even head out to sea if the climate permits.

Terra firma may well be property, but his heart is most unquestionably swimming between the sharks or leaping with the dolphins. Among the natives of the open up waters, he is a curiosity, a peaceful observer and, most importantly, a respectful visitor sensible to their methods. The exact same Zen he exudes underwater he carries on land. And when forces past his command conspire to continue to keep him out of the sea that day, he is aware how to drop in for a quick take a look at, where ever he may well be.

Eyes closed. Recollections flickering powering the eyelids, the perception of drinking water pressing against entire body. A person deep breath.


This short article initial appeared on June 28, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.


By Harmony