This is the latest in a monthly series in which industry leaders describe the projects and products that give them the most joy and pride. This month, photographer Rick Sammon looks back on the undertaking that helped him discover (underwater) life.

It was a tough decision picking the best thing I ever created from all of my favorite projects (for which I have given my best): 30 books on photography and conservation, 6 children’s 3-D nature books, 11 iPhone and iPad apps (also on photography and conservation), dozens of online photography training courses, and several educational projects.

It came down to a project I developed in 1990. Now, I know that was a long time ago, but stay with me. That one project changed, and continues to affect, my life. The message: a single decision can have a tremendous affect on our lives — for a long time, and maybe even a lifetime. So think very carefully about the decisions you need to make.

My project: Seven Underwater Wonders of the World. My goal, as president and chief underwater photographer of CEDAM (Conservation, Education, Diving, and Marine Science) International was to create a project that would generate a greater awareness of the world’s fragile marine environment.

Rick Sammon scuba diving. Photo courtesy Rick Sammon.
Rick Sammon scuba diving. Photo courtesy Rick Sammon.

To give credibility to the project, I brought together top marine scientists and experts from National Geographic, the Smithsonian, NASA, Wildlife Conservation, and NOAA. To publicize the event, I invited actor Lloyd Bridges, who starred in the 1960s television program Sea Hunt, to participate in the project. Lloyd Bridges was a TV hero to millions, including me, back then.

After the panel selected seven underwater wonders, I set off to photograph and learn more about six of them: Lake Baikal, Siberia (scuba diving under ice, no less); Galapagos; Belize Barrier Reef; the Red Sea; Great Barrier Reef; and Palau, Micronesia. The seventh underwater wonder — the Deep Ocean Vents — was too deep for scuba diving, so I worked with National Geographic on that aspect of the project. The project was a three-year commitment.

My travels resulted in my book Seven Underwater Wonders of the World, which accomplished my goal, not only thought the book itself, but through all the worldwide media that surrounded the project.

Lombok, Indonesia. Photo © Rick Sammon
Lombok, Indonesia. Photo © Rick Sammon

In my travels, which took me to six of the official wonders, plus all the nominate wonders (including Truk Lagoon, Lombok, Indonesia, and the Maldives), I experienced different cultures and was fascinated by the people I met. I realized that the local people played a big role in the future of the local marine habitats. People photography became part of my project.

The challenge of photographing strangers in strange lands became very rewarding for me — and fun. I worked hard at becoming a good people photographer. I continued to scuba dive after the project, but I found that I spent more time photographing people than fish. So I began traveling with the main goal of photographing people.

I’m not sure I would be in the place I am in my life if I didn’t follow my heart back in 1990 and create the “Seven Underwater Wonders of the World” project. It was a huge undertaking, but I believed in myself, following the motto: “If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you can’t.”

So, my friend, follow your heart. Know that the best things you’ll create are the things about which you care passionately. They can change your life.

Top image: A whale shark in the Maldives by Rick Sammon.