Young Jacques Cousteaus at PS 236 got an up-close look at the creatures of the deep-blue sea thanks to a marine photographer and author who wants to inspire them to explore the earth’s oceans.
Photographer and writer Michael Patrick O’Neill visited students at the school on Avenue U in Mill Basin on June 1 to discuss his many books about deep-sea creatures.
O’Neill, who specializes in non-fiction children’s books about marine biology, has written seven books, featuring sharks, turtles, and other ocean animals. He held three different presentations at PS 236, explaining his craft to the inquisitive young students who were blown away by his photos from under the sea.
“He was able to capture images that you can only take by getting really close to the animals,” said Suzy Oljado, a faculty member at the school. “The students were really amazed by how close he could get to the sharks.”
O’Neill also conducted a workshop for the older students, who enjoyed a lunch with the writer and asked plenty of questions — a majority of which were, of course, shark related.
“I visit about 50 to 60 schools a year, and they always ask about sharks. They’re scared of sharks, but they also think they’re cool and mysterious,” O’Neill explained.
The students had been looking forward to the visit, said staff at the school. The kids tried on scuba-diving suits, saw the under-water camera O’Neill uses, and were genuinely interested in ocean life.
“It’s a place you don’t really belong, and we only have a small glimpse of it,” O’ Neill says. “I have thousands of hours underwater, and it’s still very little.”
O’Neill worked as a photographer for publications such as National Geographics, the New York Times, and the Smithsonian in his free time for 19 years before quitting his office job and focusing full time on writing. He said he wanted to design a book that would encourage children to get involved in reading, writing, science, and conservation.
“The teachers thought it was great. He talked about the importance of reading and writing to our students, which we always enjoy,” Oljado said.