Racing Extinction Changemakers: Shawn Heinrichs

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by: Staff
Shawn Heinrichs
Oceanic Preservation Society

There's a quote that has become a mantra in the film Racing Extinction - "Better to light one candle then curse the darkness," originally attributed to Rev. Seizan Kawakami. The quote recently resurfaced thanks Racing Extinction team member Shawn Heinrichs, who sees it as a beacon of inspiration in the dark shadow of endangered species.

An Emmy Award-winning cinematographer and marine conservationist, Heinrichs is an independent filmmaker and founder of Blue Sphere Media.

Who or what was your motivation to become an activist?

In the 90's I was working in the technology space in finance and international business development. I was also as an avid scuba diver and during my travels I began to witness firsthand the destruction, habit loss, and rapid depletion of marine life happening in our oceans. Underwater I found my field of view becoming ever narrower to block out the devastation from bomb fishing, drift netting and over fishing. Finally I hit a point that I couldn't take it anymore and I turned my camera to document the destruction. It was an incredibly liberating feeling and a defining moment in life.

What special or unique skill can you bring to help race extinction?

I am on a mission capture inspiring and dramatic imagery that connects the global community to the beauty and vulnerability of threatened marine species. And through this connection, I hope the world will ultimately share my passion for these creatures and be inspired to act before it is too late.

Why is this such an urgent issue for people living around the world today?

What was once considered an endless source of food to feed the planet is now on the brink of collapse...we are exhausting what we once thought to be inexhaustible. Many species of fish have now been depleted to less than 10% of their pre-industrial fishing levels in the past 50 years. Most of the delicate reefs that fringe the equatorial and tropical coastlines have been completely destroyed or are rapidly deteriorating.

What environmental issue is most important to you and why?

Of all the ocean creatures, sharks and rays are now facing the perhaps greatest treats. Targeted primarily for their fins for shark fin soup in Asia, in the past three decades we have wiped out as much as 90-99% of certain regional shark populations. For manta rays, the trade in their gills for Chinese medicine has eradicated some regional populations and driven others to the brink of extinction. The loss of these apex species impacts us in ways most of could never imagine. Consider this:

  • Over 2 billion people depend on the oceans as their primary source of protein.
  • Sharks evolved over 400 million years, surviving 4 major extinctions, keeping our oceans in balance.
  • No other marine animal has the biology and life history characteristics necessary to fill the role that sharks play.

I have made it my mission to every day to raise global awareness of the tragedy that is unfolding before us, and fighting to drive change before it is too late.

What is the one thing you would encourage everyone to do to make this planet a better place?

No longer can we blame others for these problems and wait for 'them' to fix it. It is up to all of us to seek out the truth, embrace it, and act upon it. Only when we all become part of the solution will the tides finally turn. My mission is not to raise awareness, but rather to inspire action and drive change.

What is your favorite animal?

My favorite animal is the manta ray. Words cannot describe the connection one experiences in the company of a manta. These are highly intelligent, curious and social creatures and when they approach you, look you in eye, and gently bush you with their massive wings, you are forever transformed by the experience.

Favorite inspirational quote?

"Be the change you wish to see in the world" - Gandhi

We need to take a stand for our planet before it's too late.
Click here to find out how you can #StartWith1Thing and make a difference.

Racing Extinction horizontal key art


On Wednesday, December 2nd, Discovery will present a global broadcast of Racing Extinction, a powerful eco-thriller that exposes issues of endangered species and mass extinction. Visit for more information.


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