Underwater photographer and marine conservation pioneer Ron Taylor O.A.M., best known for his shark documentaries with wife Valerie, has died, aged 78.
Taylor died at a private hospital in Sydney yesterday after battling myeloid leukaemia for two years.
Ron and Valerie Taylor were leaders in their chosen field of underwater photography for more than 40 years, developing new equipment, filming ground-breaking documentaries, and winning international awards for their work in marine conservation.
Their underwater footage of sharks was used in such films as Jaws, Orca and Sky Pirates. Their documentaries have aired across the globe.
Both the Taylors were avid spear-fishing champions. Ron’s first major underwater film production, Shark Hunters, made with diving and business partner Ben Cropp was 16 mm black and white, and was sold to Australian television in 1962. A year later it was sold to American television.
By 1969 Ron Taylor Film Productions Pty Limited was formed, the same year they filmed the feature film, Blue Water, White Death, swimming with hundreds of sharks in the Indian Ocean.
During 1970-71, they did the 2nd unit underwater filming and directing for the 39 episode Australian TV series Barrier Reef . But it was the underwater photography for 1974’s Jaws, a cinematic phenomenon, that catapulted their fame.
In 1979 Ron fully developed a chain mail suit which Valerie wore as sharks bit her, without damage, in the special Operation Shark Bite.
In 1991 they went to Antarctica. Ron later produced a one hour film In the Footsteps of Mawson. In 1992, they filmed the National Geographic Blue Wilderness series in South Africa, testing an electronic shark repelling barrier. They inadvertently became the first people to film white pointer sharks underwater without a cage, a necessity when the arranged cage was lost in a storm.
The documentary films In the Shadow of the Shark, which documents their diving, was sold to Channel Seven and to more than 100 countries.
He also filmed footage for Flipper, Skippy, The Blue Lagoon, Gallipoli and The Last Wave.
Their marine conservation achievements include preventing mining claims on several Coral Sea Islands, helping the Wreck of the Yongala become a protected area from fishing, lobbying the Queensland Government and National Parks to make the Potato Cod of Cormorant Pass near Lizard Island protected, preventing oil drilling at Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia and more.
Awards and accolades include Membership of the Order of Australia, the Wildlife Preservation Society of Australia’s Serventy Conservation Medal, International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame, Underwater Society of America, and World Spear fishing Championships.
In 2005 Taylor told the ABC, “Conservation was not, not spoken about much in those days. But we, we didn’t know where we were going but luckily in 1956, television came to Australia. Only in black and white and I was shooting black and white film, little news items. And I saw the potential for making documentaries and working on films.
“I think my big break was working with a 39 episode series called Barrier Reef. And that took a year. I feel very lucky that I teamed up with Valerie because she’s a woman with a true sense of adventure. And I probably wouldn’t have been so successful if I hadn’t teamed up with Valerie because she appears doing most of these dramatic things for my camera. You know, guys can get out and do things with sharks but so what? But when a woman does it, that’s really something special.”