As a wildlife and nature conservation photographer I have travelled the world to document the effects of climate change and global warming. My travels have taken me from the northernmost reaches of the Arctic, where polar bears are threatened with starvation, to the vast savannahs of the Serengeti, where elephants and rhinos are on the verge of extinction from poaching. My aim is to create artistic yet realistic photographs that will bring attention to the problems we face and effect change – changing the world one image at a time.
“ changing the world one image at a time ”
I was therefore thrilled to be able to travel to Antarctica last year, on board the Russian expedition ship, the Akademik Ioffe. I travelled around the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica studying the effects of global warming on the penguin colonies, alongside researchers from Oceanites, a non-profit organization that gathers data on Antarctic penguins and other wildlife. They use global satellite imaging to locate penguin colonies and then physically travel to these locations and count the nests. Over the last 24 seasons they have made 1,713 site visits and collected data from 223 Antarctic Peninsula locations, creating a global database showing the changes in penguin populations in accordance with ice, temperature and other climatological conditions.
“ They have made 1,713 site visits and collected data from 223 Antarctic Peninsula locations ”
During our trip we followed along closely with the Oceanites researchers as they counted penguin nests at each research location. They shared information about their detailed research with us and discussed the delicate life balance of the Antarctic ecosystems and food chain. There are often depressing declines in numbers of penguins to report and unfortunately there was no shortage of subject matter for my self-imposed photography brief: penguins making nests in the mud, carcasses on the beach, and earth and rocks exposed for the first time in millions of years by receding glaciers. While we were there the famous Larsen C ice shelf cracked and dislodged from the main ice pack creating the world’s largest iceberg the size of Washington state!
However, whilst we may be familiar with gloomy stories about declining penguin populations, it is not as clear-cut as that. Whilst some species appear to be hard hit by climate change (Adelie and chinstrap populations have seen sharp declines in some areas), other species have adapted to changes and are thriving (gentoo penguins have switched from eating krill to fish and numbers are therefore increasing). What is certain is that the research undertaken by Oceanites is building a clearer picture of penguin populations, which will hopefully lead to insights into how we can better protect them in the future.
“ Whilst some species appear to be hard hit by climate change, others have adapted to changes and are thriving ”
On our return, following up on promises and obligations to those who helped sponsor our trip, we arranged for a gallery show, print exhibition and 90-minute talk about our adventure, with the aims of fundraising and raising awareness of the unique challenges facing Antarctica’s ecosystem. We (optimistically, so we thought) hired a theatre for our talk – our optimism paid off, and from ticket, print and book sales, combined with the proceeds of a silent auction, we raised an astonishing $21,000, which we donated to the World Wildlife Fund and Oceanites.
“ We raised an astonishing $21,000, which we donated to the World Wildlife Fund and Oceanites ”
The funds we donated to Oceanites went towards continuing a satellite imaging study, which ultimately resulted in the discovery in early 2018 of a previously unknown mega-colony of Adelies, 1.5 million strong, on the Danger Islands (in the eastern area of Antarctica), an area thick with ice that has not yet begun to melt and hence is very hard to get to (as their name attests!) This wonderful discovery will help to identify specific causes of the decline of the Adelie population, but it is hoped that it will also help generate possible solutions for saving the remaining population.
I am delighted that by sharing our experience and photographic images we were able to contribute directly to such a vital cause. In February 2019 I will be returning to Antarctica with a group of 15 photographers, again in conjunction with Oceanites penguin research.