What’s so special about a photo of five penguins? You could get that at a local zoo. Certainly, during NANPA member and travel and photographer Cindy Miller Hopkin’s trip last year to the far reaches of the South Atlantic, she had plenty of photos of penguins. But one shot, from off the South Sandwich Islands, turned out to be unique.
As she was editing and captioning her shots, Cindy noticed that there were five different species of penguins in one frame. That seemed unusual and she brought it to the attention of an ornithologist on the tour who told her he’d never seen an image with five species in the same place, at the same time. Further research revealed that no one else had either.
While South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are home to about a quarter of the world’s penguins, finding Gentoo, Chinstrap, Macaroni, Adelie and King penguins together is highly unusual. And having the subantarctic King with the true Antarctic Adelie is incredibly rare. The South Sandwich Islands are one of the few places where that is even possible, but even so, there are only ten Kings in the area.
Working with Jain Lemos, a book producer and photography publishing expert, they consulted internationally-known penguin experts and the true value of this rare photo started to become apparent.
The Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project has been working to increase the number of fully protected ocean parks around the world, and one of their target areas was the wildlife hotspot of the South Sandwich Islands. The Project licensed Cindy’s photo for use in their campaign and both the photo and the story of how Cindy Miller Hopkins captured it have appeared in a number of media outlets, including Forbes.
As nature photographers, we know the power of an image, and how imagery can support critical conservation initiatives. Cindy’s five penguins photo seems destined to become one of those iconic conservation photos. As she told the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project, “I sincerely feel that [humans] only protect things that we love and feel connected to. But how do we connect people to an area that is so remote, so removed from our everyday life? We can talk about the importance of conservation all day long, but if we can’t paint an accurate picture in people’s minds, it remains a fuzzy concept. I hope my image can sharpen this vision and spark curiosity, a better understanding [of the region’s importance] and, ultimately, a love of this remote area. Only when people can see what’s at stake, what we’re in danger of losing, will they make it a priority to try and conserve it.”
On December 12, 2018, the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands announced a package of significant additional measures to enhance the protection and conservation of its Marine Protected Area.
Tip of the hat to Jain Lemos and Bruce Haley for bringing this story to our attention.
See more of Cindy Miller Hopkins work on her website.