'Meet Me Underwater' — A Photographer's Breathtaking Journey through Florida's Aquatic Wonders
WANT TO EXPERIENCE breathtaking in-your-face encounters with an alligator in a swamp or a hammerhead shark in the ocean or a manatee in a spring, all without getting wet or worrying about unwanted encounters with sharp teeth?
Meet Me Underwater: A Photographic Celebration of Florida’s Aquatic Wonders, the latest book by underwater photographer Michael Patrick O’Neill, offers an aquatic journey like no other through the wild waters in and around Florida.
The collection of stunning never-before-published photographs, detail-rich images from north Florida to the Keys, is the first book devoted to the Sunshine State’s aquatic habits from saltwater to freshwater and in between.
“I wanted to make the book not just for scuba divers but for everybody who loves the water and nature,’’ the Palm Beach Gardens-based photographer said.
Many of the photos, shot over the last 10 years and laid out over 96 pages, were shot in and around Palm Beach County, prompting O’Neill to initially embark on a local book.
But as he started sifting through his archives during the pandemic, his plans changed.
“When I conceptualized the idea, I wanted to do a book called ‘Below Palm Beach.’ But the more I travel across Florida, the more I see what a fascinating place it is. It became Meet Me Underwater,’’ he said.
A book launch party is scheduled for Sept. 25 at Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach. But the book is available now at O’Neill’s website, batfishbooks.com.
O’Neill, 55, acquired a love of animals and nature while growing up in Brazil, where he explored the Amazon and coastal jungles.
He moved to the United States when he was 18 to attend Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, where he earned a degree in international relations.
His career started on a path that couldn't have been further from his passion. He worked as an analyst for companies like VISA and WR Grace, studying the spending trends of credit cards.
“I used to call it ‘death by powerpoint,’ these boring presentations for boards of directors analyzing trends,’’ he said.
Under water was where he spent his time out of the office, scuba diving and taking photographs for fun, a passion that started in 1993 when he rented an underwater camera on a dive trip to Honduras.
“I like to joke that my career went underwater in a good way,’’ he said.
In 2001, he left the corporate world to pursue his passion and write his first children’s book. Fishy Friends came out in March 2002.
He eventually would publish seven more non-fiction marine life books designed to encourage children to read and get involved with conservation. Many are distributed in schools across the United States.
He has given presentations to over 500,000 kids in more than 400 schools in the last 14 years. His images have appeared in BBC Wildlife, National Geographic Magazine, Smithsonian, The Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, to name a few.
He has won numerous awards. His image of a goliath grouper, photographed off Jupiter in 2006, was displayed in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., as part of a six-month exhibit of nature photographs in 2006.
In August, he was honored by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for “contributing to Florida’s conservation through artistic expression,’’ as the dedication on his plaque says.
For O’Neill, the greatest reward is using his photographs to educate the public on the wonders of the earth’s fragile ecosystem.
Meet Me Underwater is just his latest educational tool.
It’s divided into seven chapters.
One of his favorites is called “Blackwater’’ and shows photographs taken at night seven miles off shore of “planktonic creatures and vertebrae that rise up to feed on the surface,’’ he said
“It’s pitch black,’’ he said. “It’s like being an astronaut in outer space untethered with an underwater camera in your hand and a scuba tank on your back. It’s surreal.’’
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