Though we couldn’t join her for the hundred hours she spent in a homemade submarine, underwater photographer Lia Barrett took last year’s audience on a journey down into “that dark place that one really never has to think about”

with her talk “Human Connection for Ocean Protection”. Her photos guided us to a place that occupies over seventy percent of our planet, a place “so vast, so unknown, so unseen.” She urged us to know it, see it, and stop disconnecting ourselves. Barrett emphasized that only five percent of the world’s oceans are explored, and we were lucky enough to glimpse just a bit of that through her lens.

But Barrett wanted to do more than an oceanic show-and-tell, for she is determined that there is a power in the underwater interactions that so few of us will ever see: “Bobbing along the dark ocean floor gives you a perspective of your existence that will change your perception of what is normal.”


Barrett loves photographing the underwater animals themselves. One of her talk’s first photos is an incredible close-up of a pygmy seahorse that is no bigger than a fingernail tip. But she also has a passion for putting humans in the picture, both literally and as global protectors. People become anchors in her images. Barrett says this “natural narcissism”—particularly viewing humans with animals that are perceived as harmful—changes the conversation. “It inserts us directly in this world of vulnerability that we don’t know.”

Watch her talk to hear more about how Barrett created this unique image—hint: no photoshop!

Despite diving to the floor of the ocean or spending seven hours at the mouth of a crocodile, Barrett told us that speaking at TED was a “challenge like no other I’ve experienced. I typically hide myself underwater with the sharks and the fish…[but] an installation of awareness and passion for conservation in others is probably the best reward I could ask for.” Along with the challenge, Barrett had a blast during her first visit to Nashville. While it’s no ocean floor, she found it “a weird and wonderful place in all of the best senses.”

With this photo, Barrett reminded us that “grumpiness is simply a universal feeling

With this photo, Barrett reminded us that “grumpiness is simply a universal feeling.”

You can find Barrett somewhere in the world—in water—collaborating with free-divers, swimming with pilot whales, dolphins, schools of akule, and exploring underwater caves or lava tubes. All with her camera, of course. “With [that] and a pair of fins, this is my little part that I can do to show the public this beautiful, misunderstood, yet wonderful environment that we so depend upon for our survival.” To explore more with Barrett, visit her photos at Or, when not behind the lens, she keeps her eye on Dr. Sylvia Earle as a voice for the oceans, Sir David Attenborough for revealing unimaginable corners of the globe, fellow photographer David Doubilet, and educational organizations like 5 Gyres and the Upstream Policy Institute.