Stephanie Whiston, an underwater photographer who conquered her fear of sharks by swimming with and photographing them all over the world, has established the Marine Education Foundation and now has an exhibit on view for schoolchildren and others at Ashawagh Hall in Springs.
The purpose of the display, which went up last week, is to encourage conservation and preservation of marine life. The first visitors to see “Oceans Matter” will be students from schools in East Hampton Town, including Montauk, Springs, and the Ross School.
Ms. Whiston has been shooting underwater pictures since 1993 and lives in Montauk. Her work became notable locally when she secured the exhibit space at the Montauk Library through the month of August, a time when Montauk hosts its biggest shark tournaments.
“I’m not a tree hugger. I just wanted to show people what’s in the ocean,” she said.
To her, the biggest mystery is why the ocean remains uncharted territory for the world’s scientists and other explorers. “We have explored and mapped the moon, Mars . . . but only 5 percent of the ocean,” she said.
The colorful pictures depict sharks, turtles, and a wide variety of fish and coral reefs taken from very close range. The photographer said she believes that if people see what they are being asked to protect, they might be more apt to join the conservation movement.
“I’m using underwater photography and my experiences to create awareness,” she said, explaining that “Oceans Matter” is also a multimedia show with video of marine life in its own habitat.
Like a lot of people, Ms. Whiston often hears the theme song to Steven Spielberg’s movie “Jaws” in her head when she sees a shark. On one of her first trips, a shark swam past her and then turned around, heading right toward her. She said she almost had a panic attack. She stayed very still, practiced deep breathing, and held on to a piece of coral to steady herself until she realized the shark had no interest in her. “They’re not predators; it’s humans who are the predators,” she said.
A fund-raising benefit for the Marine Education Foundation was held at Ashawagh Hall on Tuesday evening. The exhibit is open to all ages from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Private sessions with Ms. Whiston are also available, and you can visit her Facebook page for more news about the foundation.