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Beneath the Waves Film Festival screens globally, acts locally

Conversations about ocean pollution, endangered species and climate change often leave people feeling powerless. But a group of scientists is attempting to change that through their traveling film festival Beneath the Waves, which will appear Saturday in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.

The festival screens short films about the ocean and marine life. The screenings are followed by scientist-led discussions in which attendees learn about local conservation and research projects and ways they can get involved.

"We provide that connection between the audience and the scientists to try to bridge the gap between these groups of people," says Erica Staaterman, vice president and co-director of the festival. "It's really great, because I think the audience leaves with a sense of hope."

Staaterman and Austin Gallagher, both doctoral candidates at the University of Miami, founded Beneath the Waves in 2009, after they met while working on separate research projects in the reefs of French Polynesia. They realized that while scientists have access to beautiful places and are familiar with the problems threatening these environments, most people don't know much about them.

Staaterman says overfishing, pollution and climate change are among the greatest threats.

"In Florida, people are more aware than in other parts of the world, but it's surprising how much people don't know about these things," Staaterman says. "We really felt like there was a need to create a platform where people can learn about these issues, and the scientists could express themselves and share that with the world."

Scientists usually submit the majority of the festival's films, which are often related to their research or work. But anyone can submit a film as long as it falls into the "under-the-ocean" category.

Although most of the Beneath the Waves team is based in South Florida, any person in any part of the world can apply to host a festival and program it using the group's database of about 200 short films.

Beneath the Waves Film Festivals have been hosted in Portugal, Peru, Iceland, Germany and several states in the U.S.

"Change comes from the top down, but it also comes from the bottom up, and it's really important to inspire people and give them hope," Staaterman says. "And that's really what we try to do by showing people these films."

The Beneath the Waves Film Festival will begin 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 2, at Jarvis Hall, 4505 N. Ocean Drive, in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. Dave Gilliam, an assistant professor at Nova Southeastern University's Oceanographic Center, will be part of the discussion panel. Admission is free. Go to, @babicorb and 954-356-4710

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