When underwater filmmaker Ziggy Livnat took his very first diving course in the Red Sea almost three decades ago, he couldn’t have known it would inspire a lifetime dedicated to underwater filmmaking and ocean conservancy. His charming and award-winning films have educated millions about coral reef and underwater ecosystems from Hawai’i and the Caribbean to his beloved Red Sea, and his dedication has been rewarded in his recent selection as a National Geographic Explorer. But over the years of diving he has watched the world’s oceans become seriously degraded with plastic pollution, and he knew he had to do something to save his underwater friends. Enter Heather Nisbett-Lowenstein, a founder of the renowned StoneLion Puppet Theatre, creator of adorable puppet characters, and an artist ready to take on a new challenge. Add in a team of social scientists looking for effective ways to educate the public on real changes that can help stop the flow of plastic into the world’s oceans, and recent generous grants from the National Geographic Society and the U.S. Embassy in Israel– and voila! Plastic Free Red Sea, the public mascot campaign to stop single-use plastic from flowing into the Red Sea coral reef ecosystem from Eilat, Israel, was born.

The absolutely unique and innovative collaboration, which officially begins shooting in October 2019, deploys underwater marine puppetry and the latest in underwater filmmaking technology to launch a mascot campaign across social and traditional media platforms. Red Sea Plastic Free will tackle the global plastic pollution problem at the local level – with charm and humor to spare. The initial prototypes will enter the Red Sea for the first underwater test shoot in early June, when the very first puppet will be filmed within the marine environment interacting with marine life both large and small, and interviewed as a lively and animated character – who can participate in public events throughout the campaign driving public interaction. With partners including The National Geographic Channel, Israel, The Municipality of Eilat, the U.S. Embassy in Israel, The Arava Institute, and The Underwater Observatory Marine Park, Eilat (Coral World), the project seeks to create global impact, starting at the local level, through this collaboration.

The puppet prototype is already ready for his closeup!

Creating underwater puppets that can interact with marine life in their environments is a unique challenge – one that Livnat and Nisbett-Lowenstein are already tackling both on land and under the water in the lead-up to their pilot puppetry dive in June. Early pool dives have already begun testing out puppet design, as well as the underwater communications system necessary to the puppetry performance and interviews with Livnat. In June, when the completed puppet dives into the Red Sea, along with puppeteer Nisbett-Lowenstein and Livnat, this early prototype will introduce the world to the idea of a puppet mascot campaign, and serve as the campaign’s Master of Ceremonies. By October, all the puppet characters will hit the water to give an urgent voice to the sea life facing imminent threat to their ecosystem as potential mascots for a plastic free Red Sea, and begin compassionately and humorously engaging audiences to encourage new and positive changes to their use and disposal of plastic. They will make appearances through the campaign at 8 public schools, meet with businesses and municipal leaders about real alternatives to single-use plastic and educating the public in proper disposal of all waste near shorelines and beaches.

Recognizing that the ocean plastics pollution problem is both complex and multi-national, the puppets will playfully educate and advocate in multiple languages giving communities positive solutions for lasting change. They will campaign on ways the public, local businesses, and municipalities can take action to end the flow of single use plastic pollution into local waters. These charming and captivating puppet characters solicit an empathetic investment in the future of the complex Red Sea ecosystem, acknowledging its unique and precious marine role is vital to everyone in the nations sharing the shoreline around this intercontinental sea and the world.

Follow the project on Facebook @PlasticFreeRedSea, on Twitter @FortheSea, or Instagram @for_the_sea.