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CONSERVATION PHOTOGRAPHY

Photography plays an important role that extends beyond the creation of beautiful imagery. Use your photography to empower change, inspire others and support conservation. Learn how you can support initiatives around the world to raise awareness on environmental issues and even contribute scientific research with your photography.


Photo above: Me removing plastic from the water where a manta is feeding, Ningaloo Coast in 2022.


RAISE AWARENESS THROUGH PHOTOGRAPHY

There is no denying the power of imagery when it comes to sharing important messages around the globe. Many catastrophic events that occur can simply not be described accurately with words. Even if they could the messaging may not hit it the same way. Art and photography create a visual bridge between real life events and people who aren't there to witness it first hand. This is something that became apparent to me early on in my career as a photographer when I documented marine pollution off the coast of Bali in 2018 (see image below). The photos I took got picked up quickly by international news outlets after I shared them online. People were out raged and in pure disbelief that this was going on. These kinds of environmental issues are very 'out of sight out of mind' in western cultures where waste removal and disposal systems are in place. Yet in many developing countries lack waste management simple doesn't existent or is struggling to cope. Lack of awareness and education around plastic disposal is also an issue. After my photos of a manta ray filter feeding in a plastic soup went viral online, I had people messaging me in absolute shock, some even doubting if they were real images. Yet those scenes I captured were the norm during wet season across SE Asia and it gets worse each year. It was a shock to me that people couldn't believe this was really going on. It just goes to show how important those photos became to illustrate what is really happening out there in our oceans.



Photo above: Manta ray feeding amongst trash of the coast of Nusa Penida, Bali in 2018.


SUPPORT SCIENCE WITH PHOTOGRAPHY

Photography is not only a great tool for visual messaging, but can also support ongoing research projects. There are many ways you can do this such as submitting to citizen science and recording species sightings around the world with your shots. A perfect example for this would be the use of photographs as IDs to track individual animals like whale sharks or manta rays. Many animals have unique markings which are like a finger print. Photos can be collected and used to create a catalogue database which researchers can use to track individuals, population distribution and movement. These photos and database sets are invaluable to researchers and there are many PHD candidates around the world who are using them on some very important projects.


Let's take manta rays as an example. On a manta's belly they have a unique spot pattern, just like a finger print. If you have ever had the privilege to encounter a manta on a dive and you have a photos or video, you can submit these to science. It doesn't have to be a professional shot, even GoPro footage will do. You just need the date and location of the footage and upload it to the database at https://mantamatcher.org/. For whale shark (and other shark species) you can send your photos and videos to https://www.sharkbook.ai/ To give you an understanding of how important these photos can be, this particular data base for manta rays was used by researchers in Indonesia which eventually lead to them getting blanket protection in 2014. This made it illegal to fish mantas in the whole of Indonesia, which for many years was one of the biggest fisheries for shark and rays in the world. This was due to the fact that they could use the data to prove that individual mantas traversed large distances between islands, meaning isolated areas of protection would not work. A huge win for manta conservation! And it couldn't have been achieved with out the use of those ID photos.


Over the last few years many of my photos have been used to accompany various scientific papers, conservation articles and environmental campaigns. I have now submitted 1000's of whale shark and manta ID's which contribute to the conservation of some of my favourite marine animals. This for me is so rewarding. Being able to give back in some small way makes me feel like I am doing something to make the world a little bit of a better place. And being on the front lines, witnessing first hand environmental destruction is not easy. But sharing those messages and stories with the world brings us one step closer to solving so many issues.





CONNECT OTHERS WITH NATURE THROUGH YOUR IMAGERY

With much of the worlds population living in cities far away from any kind of real wilderness it can be difficult for them to feel connected with nature. Photography plays a big role in connecting people with nature, it’s a powerful link for those who maybe don’t have a direct contact with natural spaces, yet they feel some connection to it from imagery. I think I can speak for most people when I say we need nature and wild places physical and mental well bing. Photography is the perfect tool to inspire people to travel, to explore and want to experience wildlife encounters for themselves. If covid lock downs have taught us anything, it is that we need to be outside and feel the natural world around us, it is a part of who we are.


If a viewer my photography and sees an image of someone swimming along side a whale shark, I hope that they feel inspired to experience it for them selves. And I can tell you this works from my personal experience, which is one of the most rewarding parts of this job for me. I very often receive feedback from followers of my work that my imagery is what inspired them to book a trip to the Ningaloo, to take their diving course or to try snorkelling for the first time. I've even had people tell me that after seeing my work and the messages I share they even gave up eating sea food. Others tell me they have decided to study marine science and have taken up wildlife photography after feeling inspired by my career. This for me is so empowering as creative and it in turn pushes me to continue doing what I do.


“Knowing is the key to caring, and with caring there is hope that people will be motivated to take positive actions. They might not care even if they know, but they can’t care if they are unaware.” ― Sylvia A. Earle,


Photo: A whale shark with fresh injuries from a boat propeller strike, Ningaloo Coast 2022.





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