Last week, in collaboration with Philanthropy New York and the Environmental Grantmakers Association, we held a special screening and discussion of the award-winning film Sea of Shadows, a new film by National Geographic that serves as a blueprint for how a conservation effort can come together in spite of widespread institutional corruption and dangerous cartels.

In the Gulf of California, totoaba fish are being illegally overfished by Mexican cartels and Chinese traffickers because of a belief among some in China that their bladders possess healing powers. But the deadly methods of harvesting totoaba, also a critically endangered fish, are threatening to wipe out the vaquita—the world’s smallest whale. In fact, it’s estimated that fewer than 15 vaquitas remain. Sea of Shadows follows undercover investigators, environmentalists, journalists and the Mexican Navy in their efforts to rescue the vaquita from total extinction.


It’s encouraging to see an impact campaign that starts with the documentary but has plans to continue long after the release of the film. Ru Mahoney, the film’s impact producer, credits National Geographic for its commitment to distributing the film worldwide and “continuing to invest in the impact campaign as a central piece of the film’s marketing.”

Some of the goals of the campaign include saving the vaquita from imminent extinction, securing the environmental integrity of the Upper Gulf of the Sea of Cortez (a UNESCO World Heritage site), increasing global awareness of the links between wildlife trafficking and global security threats, and rallying support for sustainable fishing and alternative livelihoods in the Upper Gulf.

“Sea of Shadows is an example of what is possible when impact strategy, creative vision and global reach collide,” Mahoney says. “Director Richard Ladkani and Terra Mater Factual Studios had the vision and talent to craft an eco-thriller with heart and high stakes that really captivates audiences in a way that helps them tackle the complexity of this issue.”

Mahoney adds that the film offers a holistic approach, “where impact strategies are at the heart of your narrative choices, the characters you choose, the film’s marketing plan and of course the outreach and action efforts that follow.”

Sea of Shadows is in select theaters now. Learn more.

In response to the increasingly urgent need to address global climate change, Media Impact Funders will be prioritizing programming around the environment. We’re committed to helping funders engage in conversations around the narrative change needed to shift policy, behavior and culture. In convening funders both in person and online, we will create opportunities to talk, learn, share and collaborate. We are inviting all funders, whether you expressly support media or not, to join us in this cause. Learn more.

About the Author
Nina Sachdev

Nina Sachdev

Communications Director

Nina is a many-hat-wearing multitasking extraordinaire. She brings more than 15 years of journalism, news editing and marketing experience to her role as MIF’s communications director. Before joining MIF in 2016, Nina worked on the brand creative team at the corporate offices of Petco Animal Supplies, editing and auditing internal and external marketing communications. In her career as a journalist, Nina has worked at The Dallas Morning News, The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, The Philadelphia Daily News and The Philadelphia Weekly in almost every editorial capacity imaginable, including senior editor. Nina is the creator and co-editor of the award-winning The Survivors Project: Telling the Truth About Life After Sexual Abuse, a book-length work of nonfiction that utilizes first-person storytelling to address the reality of healing from the effects of sexual abuse. Nina holds an M.A. in journalism from Temple University.