Photographs by Jennifer Adler
Interview by David C. Lester
Jennifer Adler has been obsessed with the ocean all of her life. She has spent hours and days either on it or in it. She has turned her passion into a profession with a background in marine biology, and in 2018, will earn a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Ecology at the University of Florida. Jennifer has spent time with the U.S. Geological Survey in Florida as a biologist, in Gainesville, Florida where she first started learning about the freshwater springs in the state. These springs are direct connections to the underlying aquifer that provides 92 percent of Floridians with their drinking water.
Jennifer has developed and implemented an immersive environmental educational program called “Walking On Water,” that aims to teach the next generation about the freshwater beneath their feet. The program is funded by the University of Florida, the National Geographic Society, and Florida Sea Grant. There are three parts to the program — first, a field trip to the springs where students are able to swim in, explore, and photograph the springs; next, Jennifer visits to the classroom to teach students more about the springs through a 360 degree virtual tour of the aquifer she shot last year, and finally the students’ photos are featured in an exhibit in the local community and online.
A key focus for Jennifer, besides working with kids, is using her imagery to communicate both science and conservation. She has shot underwater in the springs for the past six years and has an extensive scientific understanding of these ecosystems that helps her tell visual stories that effectively communicate science and help Floridians understand and connect with their freshwater. She has shared her work on the TEDx stage and her photography documenting a complex dye trace study at Silver River was picked up by National Geographic.
“One of the main goals of my work is to help people understand where their freshwater comes from and why it matters,” Jennifer says. “Documenting science and conservation projects helps bring research and stories to a wider audience who may not usually read peer-reviewed journals, and spending long hours underwater documenting fresh water ecosystems allows me to take people places that they will never see or perhaps show them a familiar place in a new light.”
Jennifer, along with many other Floridians, is concerned about the proliferation of algae in springs, and her work aims to communicate about this complex ecological problem that impacts the state’s critical freshwater ecosystems. Lyngbya is a type of nuisance algae in the springs that can produce toxins and even build up a sheath that makes it hard for grazers such as snails to consume. “The causes of algal growth in flowing waters like the springs is incredibly complex, and there isn’t a simple, quick-fix solution like people want to believe,” Jennifer says. “One of the largest problems is that people don’t necessarily understand how their everyday actions are connected to the aquifer beneath their feet. If we can help people connect with their freshwater and raise the next generation with a new relationship with water, or water ethic, we’ll be on the right track.
Asked about her association with NANPA, Jennifer says that “I found out about NANPA through Gabby Salazar two years ago in Alaska during the Art Wolfe Next Generation Photographers Grant. Most other grantees were NANPA members and it seemed like a great group to join.” She adds that having a supportive community of like-minded people has been helpful over the past few years.. Jennifer was also awarded an opportunity to participate in NANPA’s college student program (which is available to graduate students), and this solidified her commitment to the organization There were a number of Ph.D. candidates who attended the workshop. Jennifer is represented by National Geographic Creative. You can find more of her work here.