No shield required: ‘Captain America’ star Anthony Mackie’s own super power is swimming with sharks

When National Geographic approached Anthony Mackie with an opportunity to swim with sharks to kick off its SharkFest programming, it was an easy yes for the Marvel star who is the new Captain America.

The water, says Mackie, is a “safe space” where he “can just tune everybody and everything else out.”

Mackie has been a certified scuba diver for nearly two decades. “I’ve swam with some crazy stuff, and I’ve swam with sharks before. I just swam with Great Whites in South Africa. I did whale sharks in Mexico. I swam with a blue whale off the coast of Cape Town.”

For “Shark Beach with Anthony Mackie,” debuting Thursday, he wanted cameras to visit the waters near his home in New Orleans, where he is a regular boater and fisherman. An increase of sharks in the area are swarming boats and eating fishermen’s catches, leading to a greater risk of hungry sharks becoming aggressive. This points to a larger environmental issue that the ecosystem is off-kilter.

Anthony Mackie fishes from his kayak on the bayous of Violet, La., during the filming of “Shark Beach with Anthony Mackie.” Courtesy of National Geographic

“If we eat all the fish, the sharks have nothing to eat,” said Mackie. “Sharks have babies in Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Catherine. When their babies come out, they’re full-grown pups. They’re three-foot sharks … They’re not predators, but they also need a substantial food source.”

Mackie says he was in the water for about four hours and “it’s not that hard to find a multitude of sharks in the Atlantic Ocean.” Seeing the sharks up-close reminded him “how majestic and powerful they are, but also you just see how beautiful they are.” He was accompanied by marine biologist Jasmine Graham, whom Mackie says was his “security blanket” if it got too intense.

“Every time it would get to be too much, I would grab her. I’m like, ‘They’ve got to pick one. So if one of us getting eaten, it better be you,’” he laughed. “She really looked out for me and gave me a lot of information that really opened my eyes to the community that we’re in and explaining the sharks' behavior.”

Mackie, whose show will be followed soon by Discovery’s Shark Week programing, also hopes to highlight the effects of global climate change on the coastline of New Orleans where the sea level is rising at an accelerated rate. Global warming has both caused snow and ice to melt and it’s led to more storms that cause flooding. Also, activity from the oil and gas industry weakens the soil.

Host Anthony Mackie, left, talks with scientists Dr. Marcus Drymon, center, and Ph.D. researcher Christian Walker as they tag a baby Bull Shark caught in Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana during the filming of “Shark Beach with Anthony Mackie.” Courtesy of National Geographic

“The area around New Orleans is slowly going away. You know, the water is starting to eat away at our habitat, our home,” said Mackie. “There are certain areas where I used to go as a kid, and those areas are gone now, like oyster farms.”

“We used to go fishing when I was little and my uncle would put me in the water. I would walk around and field for oysters with my feet, put them in a boat, and we would eat those oysters for lunch. Whole oyster beds are gone.”

For someone whose career has afforded him the opportunity to travel the globe both for work and pleasure, Mackie says there truly is no place like New Orleans.

“There’s nothing more beautiful than seeing the sun come up over the Gulf of Mexico. It’s literally breathtaking and I’ve seen the sun come up over everything. When you’re in a boat, going out to the Gulf or even Lake Catherine and you see the sun come up over that marsh and wetland, there’s nothing like it.”

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