We’ve spent lots of time with Ian Somerhalder in covering his work on “The Vampire Diaries,” and while he clearly loves his job and loves Damon Salvatore just as much as we do, the only way to truly see him light up is to talk to him about the ocean.
It’s unavoidable, really — if you’ve been in his presence for more than a few hours, the conversation always comes back to the water in one way or another. He’ll mention an article he read about the impact of plastic on the ocean’s surface temperature, or he’ll happily recount his childhood in Louisiana, fishing with his family in the Gulf of Mexico, or he’ll offer you a seaweed snack with a colorful story about the various other creatures who enjoy that particular plant.
We all know that the human body is up to 70% water. If you told us that the water in Somerhalder’s body runs straight from the Gulf of Mexico, we’d be inclined to believe you.
On Sunday night, you can see some of that passion as Somerhalder hosts Planet Green’s “Blue August,” beginning at 8 p.m. EST. “Blue August” is a week-long series of specials exploring the ocean and aquatic life — in addition to Somerhalder’s work, it will also feature encore presentations of “Blue Planet,” “Oceans Blue,” “Blood Dolphins,” and the epic “Planet Earth.”
After wrapping Season 2 of “The Vampire Diaries,” Somerhalder headed to Trinidad with Discovery’s Planet Green team. On the beaches there, he had the chance to observe the leatherback sea turtles he’s been vocally fighting to protect. He participated in transforming a beach into a nesting ground for the endangered turtles, which are the largest remaining species of turtle.
Somerhalder’s reverence for the animals is impossible to miss as he describes the experience. “Oh my God,” he says. “There’s like a forty-second video that I shot of one of the sea turtles climbing out of the sand — I shot it with my iPhone. It’s so cool. It’s so damn cute and so beautiful to see, just the idea of watching this creature start its life.”
Leatherback sea turtles generally grow to between four and six feet
long, weighing between 500 and 1500 lbs. “If everyone could see these
creatures, and interact with them, things would be very different,” he
says. “I was on the beach with this thousand-pound sea turtle, longer
than I am tall, and I just put my forehead right up against its face. It
was probably fifty years old. You can’t help but think about the damage
that human beings have done in those fifty years, the way that the
ocean has changed during this one turtle’s lifespan.”
You’ll be able to see plenty of footage from Somerhalder’s summer trip to Trinidad as he hosts “Blue August” — and trust us, if you’re a fan, you won’t want to miss a moment. We love watching him on “The Vampire Diaries,” and even seeing him charm viewers when he stops by awards shows or does press to promote the show. But watching the “Blue August” footage is one of the first times fans will be able to see Somerhalder truly in his element, in the environment where he feels most inspired and passionate.
A couple months after returning from Trinidad, Somerhalder had the opportunity to testify before Congress in support of legislation that will help fund conservation efforts for many species, including the turtles. (You can read and watch his testimony at this link.)
Obviously, given Somerhalder’s profession, he’s not the kind of person who gets stage fright. But we had to wonder whether the high-stakes nature of his testimony gave him butterflies.
“I don’t remember the feeling of being nervous, I just remember wanting it to be right,” he tells us. “It didn’t go perfectly. You get five minutes, and my oral ended up reading
longer than I expected it to, so I
couldn’t get it all out. There are things I wish I would have said, but
in the end, I wanted to make sure I did it right. It wasn’t about ego or
a performance. It was about, ‘Ian, you’ve got to get this right.
There’s way too much riding on this if you screw this up.'”
When he sat down in front of his microphone, his mind went back to that beach in Trinidad and the turtles that he saw there — both at the beginning and nearing the end of their life cycles. The connection between the beautiful beach and the historic building he was about to testify in was suddenly clear. “I didn’t realize until I was literally sitting in that chair talking to
Congress and I was talking about how cool it was to have been there and
see these turtles coming out of the sand, it all kind of came full
circle. I remember this moment, that moment, realizing that things were
coming full circle, and it’ll really come full circle when we get this
legislation passed by the end of the year.”
After he finished, he was able to speak with members of Congress, some of whom didn’t have particularly environmentally friendly voting records. “People who weren’t likely to be a part of this realized that this
legislation is important, it’s necessary,” he says. “That’s what’s really cool about everything I’ve been doing over the last year with ISF. I never wanted to be a political figure or to push a political agenda, but it’s amazing to be a part of people realizing the impact that they have and the impact that we all have on this planet. The amount of
support that we’ve got, seeing these great initiatives. It’s been really
Though he’s always been passionate about conservation and habitat, Somerhalder was ignited further while filming “Blue August.”
“It was an amazing wake up call that species protection is one of the most important things that we should do at this point. The loss of one species will, inexorably, always mean the loss of a multitude of other species, and we just can’t afford that,” he says.
He hopes to see his young fans and the youth that have become involved with the Ian Somerhalder Foundation inspired by “Blue August.”
“That’s what’s so great about this whole youth component, is empowering the people that you and I talk to and interact with as the fanbase of ‘The Vampire Diaries,’ and sharing the information that clean water, clean food, and clean air and the balance of species on this planet is absolutely 100% vital not only to our survival, but to them growing up and being able to see a sea turtle. If the leatherback sea turtles go extinct, jellyfish plumes will have basically taken over the ocean in the next fifty years. It’s already started, it’s something that’s going to impact the next generation profoundly.”
Check your local listings for Sunday’s “Blue August” premiere, and make sure to tune in all week to see extraordinary footage from Somerhalder’s summer trip. Then, tune in to The CW on Sept. 15 at 8 p.m. EST for Somerhalder’s return as Damon Salvatore on “The Vampire Diaries.”