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About traveling, her love for animals and life in a foreign country.

Fast Confession - Predator photographer Markéta Schusterová: About life with sharks, crocodiles, and saving the planet

Karolína Lišková
13.Aug 2018
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11 minutes to read

The Kladno native who is discovering the world and trying to change it for the better. Breathtaking images are created in Markéta Schusterová's camera on the road to adventure. The photographer living in Toronto, Canada, experiences incredible and sometimes dangerous adventures on her journeys and expeditions with the organization Sea Shepherd. During the summer she stopped by in her native Czech Republic and provided Luxury Prague Life with an interview.

Do you remember how you ended up in Canada?

I graduated from the Beroun Pedagogical School, and during the course of my studies came the revolution and with it the chance to travel. I had wanted to travel since childhood. There were only two television programs on TV that I grew up on. But my parents owned a lot of books about Africa and other travel books I looked through as a child. I always had the desire to visit places, although I didn't know what it was like anywhere else. When the chance came after the revolution, I was looking for ways to get out and there were several options.

In the end I went to raise children as an au pair, My first stop was in England, then Belgium and Germany. I still didn't feel like starting full-time work carousel and I wanted to extend this experience, keep traveling and learn more languages, and mainly manage to learn English well. It was a coincidence. I read the article by Josef Škvorecký about his life in Toronto, where he wrote about his friend who successfully runs an agency for au pairs. After a year of communicating, I set off to Canada in 1998.

You're still there, but you do not raise children.

No, I don't. Originally I went to Canada for six months to learn English and travel a bit. It'll soon be twenty years since I arrived.

Prodej luxusního bytu s terasou, Praha 8
Prodej luxusního bytu s terasou, Praha 8, Praha 8

So what do you do?

The beginnings in Canada were harsh. I started by bringing up children, and since I had a work permit only for this, there was not much possibility to earn somewhere. So you'd make money cleaning houses or maybe doing the dishes in a restaurant. I was very lucky to have the family I worked for. They offered me sponsorship after 2 years, and I obtained a permanent residence permit. I had always enjoyed taking photos, so I decided to study photography and graphic design long-distance at Ryerson University. In the evenings I worked at a bar and went to school during the day. After passing the final exam, I received a diploma, which is very important in Canada. If you do not have Canadian education, nobody cares about your experience and schools from Europe. They keep asking the same two questions. "What Canadian schools do you have?" and "What work experience do you have in Canada?" If you you have none, your only option is to clean houses or do nothing.

How did your parents react to the fact that you left like that? Have you never wanted to come back home?

No, I had always wanted to travel and my parents knew it and were very supportive. Even though we missed each other, they always had their fingers crossed for me.

Was it not a big shock for you to get out into the big world from a Communist country?

It was a shock. I had no idea about a lot of things. I remember how difficult it was to become successful in something, to study and save some money when you are broke and attending school. You look for loopholes. For example, we found that the Czech dime is as big as the tokens that are given in Canada to enter the metro and which are, of course, more expensive. This is how the entire Czech community rode for a dime. Then they changed it. Maybe they realized it, maybe they were losing a lot of money. I also remember walking down the street with the most luxurious shops and brands as a student. I stepped into one of the shops and it seemed as though everyone was looking at me and that it had to be absolutely clear that I could not buy anything at all there. I looked at the price tags and thought that it must be some kind of joke. How is it possible that a dress costs three thousand dollars. Who can afford that.

Even though you didn't have much money, you still traveled.

We traveled in various ways. In the beginning we hitchhiked or rented a car. We were traveled cheap, slept in the car, at friends' houses or we looked for cheap flight tickets. It was not important for us where we slept, the point was to get somewhere, discover it there and take photos.

Do you know how many countries you have traveled and how many you still have left?

I never counted that. I have a list of things on my phone, it's an inspirational list divided into several categories. In the category of places I want to see, the list is the longest and constantly growing. So counting the places I've been to is a waste of time for me. I'm more interested in how many places I'd like to go to.

In Toronto, where you live, you were able to prepare a number of your own photographic exhibitions. How did you manage that?

I gained a lot of experience and contacts from my field while studying at the university. In my case it was more about the fact that I became successful in the Czech community. I prepared the first exhibition where there were lots of photos with Czech themes. I gained support from the Czech Embassy and Czech Television, which operated also in Toronto. They broadcast a 45-minute report, which was quite good advertising. It was very successful. But these were the beginnings, now I mainly take pictures and film underwater. It happened by accident when I started diving. My girlfriends and I went on our first vacation to the Dominican Republic, we managed to get a huge discount on it. We did not have much money with us. As the end of the holiday approached, we said we would at least some money on an experience. My friend Renata decided to get braids, which took about five hours. I tried to explain to her that white women did not look good in braids and that it would be terrible for her to sit for five hours in the scorching heat. My friend Bára was more active. "Here, they offer diving here," she said. She really liked the instructor, a handsome Frenchman who led the diving course in the pool. We paid for lessons, passed the basic course and then a real dive followed. I totally fell in love with diving and decided to do diving exams and start diving

How many years ago?

This was when I came to Canada, so twenty years ago. It was the first or second year I was in Canada. Yes, the first year, I think. Diving was just a step away from taking photos underwater. I photographed on land and I thought about how it could be combined. I bought my first gear and started making the first attempts at photographing and filming under water.

And now you photograph sharks and film crocodiles.

It happened completely by accident. I subscribed to two diving magazines, looked at the photos of professional photographers and places where to dive. Coincidentally, during one month there was an article in two separate magazines about a place called Cocos Island. There were beautiful pictures. I found out that the island is by Costa Rica and it's very hard to get there. The journey by boat is about 36 hours to this uninhabited island. Only 4 boats operate on site. One can buy a cabin and dive there. For me at that time, a completely inaccessible affair. One important part of the ship's equipment is a submarine. An hour in the submarine cost about $ 2800, if I remember correctly. National Geographic and all major televisions rent this submarine boat for research and shooting.

Obviously, you managed to get there...

I really wanted to get there, but I didn't know how. So I kept sending emails and calling everywhere. I found out who owned the ship. It was a big group named Undersea Hunter. I tried to contact them for three months. They always went to the island for ten days and then went back to their offices. They switched in one day and then went back.

There was no one in the office answering emails and phones. Everything was booked online. Once I happened to call and the captain of one of the boats picked up the phone. I told him that my dream is to go there, but unfortunately I do not have the money to buy a cabin. I told him everything I know about the place, how I studied everything about the marine species that live there, and about everything that is there. He listened to me and slightly jokingly told me that if I became a dive master, which was one diving qualification higher than I had, and if I learned basic Spanish, he would give me a job on his boat for ten days. He said if I paid the flight ticket, I could come and help the divers and in the kitchen. In my free time I could dive.

He threw down the gauntlet!

He probably didn't believe I would do it, but I flew to the Bahamas, where I did the diving exams and hired a Spanish teacher. I called him about fourteen days before I got there, saying I was ready to go. I had a ticket to Costa Rica where I wanted to board his boat. Upon arrival, I found out that there are seven cabins on the boat and three of them were occupied by tourists. In the other four, the National Geographic team would be filming a document for 10 days. Within a few days, all of us became friends. Then maybe it was the work of fate. During the second half of our trip, one of the cameraman's assistants became ill, could not dive, and I offered to help. I knew how to use a camera and I had diving exams, so they gave me a chance. That's how our first, but not the last, cooperation began.

When you dive with sharks, are you not afraid?

I am not afraid of sharks, but I have a great respect for them. When people respect and behave in harmony with nature, when they don't bring things like bait in the water and they don't provoke them, they are calm. Sometimes it's not even easy to film them, because they're very scared. For example, filming a hammerhead, my favorite shark, often requires holding you breath in to avoid producing bubbles, because even those scare him and he will not swim close to you. I do not think sharks are particularly dangerous. But with crocodiles it's completely different, they are unpredictable in many ways. I have a greater fear of them, and I am very careful, because it has happened to me in the past that we were filming in the shallows and a crocodile came. I was filming it, not paying attention, and another one came. He swam over my knees as I was kneeling, and suddenly decided to rest. He stood with his legs and tail on me with his entire weight. The water became turbid, because he dug into the sand. We couldn't tell if he was wrapped around me. Where his head was and how long it would take. It was the longest 45 seconds in life. He then rose and swam away again.

Have you ever suffered any injuries?

I was once bitten by a grouper, a fish. It was more or less my fault because I was looking out for sharks and didn't pay attention to the groupers that were present. It was during one of my first shootings, where bait was used to lure a shark. In the beginning we did it a lot and now I try to avoid it during shooting because I think feeding is a bit against nature. Predominantly, the predators then wander. They see the bait, they swim around you, find where the bait is, and sometimes they bite. I saw them bite a colleague of mine in his hand. Luckily, I was only bitten by a grouper. There was blood, but it is a myth that sharks go after blood. No shark was interested in me bleeding there.

Prodej funkcionalistické vily Praha - 360m
Prodej funkcionalistické vily Praha - 360m, Praha 8

How did you start working for the organization Sea Shepherd?

I joined Sea Shepherd just when I was on Cocos Island. During the shooting, I managed to get into the submarine. We sank to the bottom of the ocean, roughly to a depth of eleven hundred feet, where it is completely dark. Only a few white crabs and various luminous microorganisms live there. The lights are turned on and you look at the ocean bed. We were at one of the most remote places on the planet. When we were at the bottom of the sea, we shone the light around and looked at what was there, and I suddenly saw a can of beer. At such a depth and in such a remote place! For me, it was the first awakening that the oceans should probably be helped. Then it continued. In five, six years I went back to dive to the places where I had already been, and I saw dramatic changes in the ocean. Even in the number of coral, fish and sharks. Wherever we had dived with fifty sharks, they were now barely three. Corals were dying. It was wrong, dying marine life and plastic in the water.

I told myself we should all start doing doing something. It was a coincidence that I was on a ship where a girl had a diving mask case with the Sea Shepherd logo on the back. I asked her about it. She began to explain to me that it is an organization that protects the oceans and all marine animals against all evil. From Japanese whale hunters, to plastic pollution and protecting endangered species. The organization was founded by Paul Watson. First I became their supporter. I bought their sales items, the profit goes to their campaigns. Then I started to look around if there was a branch in Toronto. I wrote them, was interviewed and started to work for this charitable organization. Over the course of three and a half years, I have promoted and now run the Toronto branch, and I work with Paul Watson and all the leaders. That's how I got into different campaigns. We do a lot of good things.

You recently shot one interesting campaign.

Because I film, photograph and use a drone, I was selected as the media team leader for a campaign called Operation Ice Watch. It was held in March 2017 on the eastern coast of Canada in the provinces of New Brunswick, Newfoundland, where the Gulf of Saint Lawrence is located. The largest number of Greenland seals live here on the ice, unfortunately, every year, they are legally hunted in Canada for fur and oil from which food supplements are produced. Sea Shepherd has been actively striving to ban hunting for several years. In the past, we managed to stop for a while because, about forty years ago, French actress Brigitte Bardot had made a series of photos with a baby Greenland seal on the frozen area of Saint Lawrence. The photographs were on the cover of several magazines, and thanks to this publicity the issue of seals was given worldwide attention and hunting rules changed. Last year's campaign included a celebrity again. Hollywood actress Michelle Rodriguez, known mostly from the Fast and Furious series, became a member of our team for a week. A similar series of photographs was taken. Again, it took the media to let people know it was still happening. Many Canadians and people around the world have no idea that such massive destruction of Greenland seals takes place every year. This year, 56,900 have died. The

second goal of the campaign was to document global warming and its impact on the population of the Greenland seals. It is the only type of seal that cannot adapt and give birth to offspring elsewhere than on ice. The ice is melting, they have a seventy percent mortality, and in combination with global warming and commercial hunting, it seems like this species will become extinct because of us.

That's crazy! What other expedition awaits you?

Sea Shepherd fights against various things, and unfortunately there are many countries that do not treat the ocean very well. Iceland has now, for example, restored whale-hunting. It's a big problem, because they started in mid-June and now in the middle of August they have already killed 64 of them, so our next campaign is currently there. Let's document and show the world what's going on. Sea Shepherd owns a fleet of 12 ships that do not have the real weapons on board. Paul Watson says the best weapon in the world is a camera.

What do you do when you're not fighting?

I enjoy life, I do triathlons, I enjoy that very much. I travel a lot for fun, not just for work. Every summer I fly to Europe for seven weeks to see family and friends who cannot stop by to see me in Canada. I also look after the various social networks of several luxury restaurants in Toronto. I have just opened a small exhibition. There are really a lot of projects. I'm also filming my first documentary from the triathlon environment. The poignant life story of 70-year-old brilliant athlete Bob Knuckey, whose life dream is to beat the world record in his age category in Hawaii at the Ironman World Championship. I think I'm lucky. I can live a life that I really enjoy. I would not change anything.

Thank you very much for the interview, good luck on your future journeys.

Fast confession:

Fast Confession: Why did you decide to actively fight to save the seas and oceans?

Oceans are the primary source of life on earth, and if we destroy the ocean, humanity will die.

Why did you decide to be a vegetarian?

One would be slightly hypocrite if one helped saved the planet on the one hand, and on the other hand was a part of the industry that destroys it most.

Why Canada and not the Czech Republic?

More beautiful nature, better political relations, and relationships among people in general.

Which sport helps you relax the most?

I enjoy several sports, so I decided to do triathlon.

The biggest adrenaline you've ever experienced during photography?

There has been a lot of that, but I would probably mention one experience – when we were filming crocodiles, one decided to take a nap and rest on me. It was the longest minute of my life.

What is your favorite place in the world to photograph?

Definitely Africa.

Where are you planning your next expedition?

We're going to Iceland, and it will not be a cheerful expedition, as Iceland has begun to hunt whales again, and I'll be there with the Sea Shepherd team to document this killing.

How did you feel when you saw the melting glaciers with your own eyes?

My feelings were not pleasant, because one realizes that global warming is not only a myth, but unfortunately a harsh reality.

Why should not we not use straws?

It's not just about straws, but all plastic products made for single use. If humanity does not limit its use, in 2050 there will be more plastic than the fish in the seas.

What animal would you like to photograph in the wild?

My great dream is to meet the Blue Whale, the largest living animal on the planet.

Which trip cost you the most money and how much?

Probably the Cocos Islands, where technology such as a submarine was used. The amounts then increase substantially, it was roughly 350/400 thousand crowns.

How do you survive winter in Canada?

I don't survive very well, so I always travel to hot places.

Do you feel more Czech or Canadian?

Definitely Czech.

What would you say to the Czech President?

I would tell him to stop putting us to shame globally and go and hide somewhere.
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