Longleaf pine forest in Blackwater River State Forest, Florida by Todd Amacker
Images and text by Todd Amacker
One of North America’s most biodiverse forests, the longleaf pine forest of the Southeast, is missing from 97% of its historic range. As a proud Southerner, I’ve spent a great deal of time ambling through pine forests in the Florida panhandle. Recently, I’ve made an effort to use my photography and my words to portray exactly what has disappeared along with the forests themselves.
There are a lot of treasures in longleaf pine forests that make them special, both aesthetically and scientifically. It all starts with the longleaf pine tree itself, Pinus palustris. It’s resistant to fire, and that’s important when frequent fires sweep through the understory and flames lap at the trees’ exteriors. Layers of specially evolved, crusty bark protect its delicate innards. It is actually unhindered fire that gives life to the longleaf ecosystem and contributes to its aesthetic beauty. Because of the fire, the undergrowth is burned away and you can see between trees. (This is quite refreshing for forest enthusiasts, as most forests hamper your ability to enjoy the view.) Continue reading →
Vast stretches of azure blue waters thinly vail a dark secret. It’s been happening ever since the melting of the Wisconsin glacier some 12,000 years ago, but now occurs at a hastened pace and with a new cause. Meanwhile, Margaritaville plays, tourists stroll, and wading birds perch on mangrove shores as the slow pace of everyday life in the Florida Keys continues. Scientists, government entities, and even the public are coming to a grim reality. Change is here. It’s not abstract, distant, or easily pushed aside but prevalent, pervasive, and imminent—and the evidence is everywhere. The vast stretches of post card blue waters are a result of recently submerged lands. Even the upland forests here can hardly conceal their ancient marine past. Just millimeters below the leaf litter lies weathered coral reef. One of the oldest permanent tidal monitoring stations in the United States is located in Key West, Florida. Without hyperbole, it states the bare truth. Nearly nine inches of sea level rise has occurred since 1913. That may not sound like much, but for perspective, the average elevation is less than four feet. This effect is amplified by the fact that the slope of the shoreline is near flat, imperceptible to the human eye in most cases. For this reason, a couple inches of rise can translate to hundreds of feet of land lost. In just a few decades the changes to the ecosystems have been staggering, rapidly shifting as the mangroves march inwards. Ancient buttonwoods stand like tombstones of a once proud forest. At times, mangroves, the most halophytic of all flora, can’t keep up the pace. Continue reading →
I made my first leap into multimedia storytelling after following, with considerable interest, the work of MediaStorm, a video production company founded by Brian Storm. Their videos wove together interviews, music, ambient sounds, and still photographs into artful, dynamic stories. As I watched them, I realized that hearing the ambient sounds and interviewee’s voice created a stronger emotional connection to the story—it just seemed more real than a photo slideshow with captions. I wanted to be able to produce my own multimedia video, but I was intimidated… I had never recorded audio before or used a video editing program.
In the spring of 2009, a client asked me if I would be interested in documenting a month-long undergraduate research experience in the Siberian Arctic. I immediately jumped at the opportunity, with one requirement: the chance to produce a multimedia video.
That July, I found myself in Siberia, wading through knee-deep permafrost goo, battling legions of abnormally large mosquitoes (audio recorder in one hand, DSLR in the other). At the end of that month, my hard drive brimmed with over 20,000 images and about a hundred pages of interview transcriptions. The thought of the next step nearly overwhelmed me: how to create a coherent, compelling story from this mountain of material. I decided to enlist the experts at MediaStorm for some one-on-one training.
A month later, I knocked on the brushed-aluminum door of MediaStorm’s office in New York. Storm introduced me to my mentors for the week: Bob Sacha, an award-winning photographer-turned-multimedia-producer, and Maisie Crow, a talented up-and-coming multimedia journalist. In five short days, we needed to turn my pile of photographs and interviews into a living, breathing, multimedia story.
Sacha quickly introduced me to the MediaStorm process. First, we poured over the material, starting with the interview transcripts. The edited interviews, he explained to me, would form the backbone to the story. Once the interviews were on the timeline, Sacha showed me how to choose music and integrate ambient sound recordings I had collected in the field. Lastly, we added my photographs and credit slides—it was complete!
Looking back, those five days at MediaStorm really changed my trajectory as a photographer. From a pragmatic standpoint, my new skills opened up a whole new avenue of funding opportunities, allowing me to keep photographing the stories I love. Since 2009, I have produced dozens of multimedia stories and worked as the lead cinematographer on an hour-long documentary production. Some of the videos have simply been a series of images set to music or a voiceover. Others have been more complicated, such as a series of videos on ocean robotics that involved filming interviews in front of a green screen and incorporating historical underwater footage. An unexpected benefit to my multimedia training is that my photography skills have improved as well. Now, it’s easier for me to break down a story idea into the elements I need to illustrate with my photographs. In essence, I have evolved into a better storyteller.
At the 2015 NANPA Summit, I will be co-presenting a Breakout Session with fellow photographer and filmmaker Morgan Heim on the lessons we’ve learned producing multimedia. There you can find out our most critical multimedia storytelling tips, like: whatever you do, don’t forget the…
The 2015 NANPA Summit takes place in San Diego, California from February 19th – 22nd. To learn more about the Summit and to register for this exciting and inspirational event, please visit www.naturephotographysummit.com. Early bird registration ends on October 31st!
Chris Linder works part-time at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution as an Expedition Multimedia Specialist and runs a freelance photography and filmmaking business. Chris focuses on communicating the stories of scientists working in the field. In the last ten years, he has documented over 40 scientific expeditions from Antarctica to the Congo. Chris’s images have appeared in museum exhibits, books, calendars, documentary films, and magazines worldwide. He is the author of Science on Ice: Four Polar Expeditions.
As cold weather approaches in northern climes, a nature photographer’s thoughts often turn to warm destinations for a winter photo trip.
Everglades National Park stays warm year-round. It includes 1.5 million acres on the southernmost tip of the Florida peninsula. Established just after World War II, Everglades protects the last remnant of a precious primal wetland from the land-hungry development and agriculture that has gobbled up the rest of South Florida.
The major characteristics here are dictated by the primordial flooding and resulting overflow of Lake Okeechobee every summer. All of this water makes its way southwest as the venerable and slow-moving “River of Grass.” More a shallow sheet of water than a conventional river, the life-giving liquid has created vast areas of sedges, tropical grasses and countless raised hammocks. Tiny islands of loose land pop up from the swampy river and support small trees that take advantage of the increased drainage provided by their slightly increased elevation.
Great Blue Heron
This fertile land is home to a variety of wild creatures. First among them are many species of birds: herons, egrets, ibises, hawks, anhingas, cormorants, coots, moorhens, gallinules, pelicans and the occasional osprey and roseate spoonbill. Many of these birds can be found and photographed nearly anywhere in the park.
In the relatively dry months of winter, water levels are low, and many birds congregate in and around the ponds along the roads. Check Mrazek and Eco ponds, Florida Bay and Snake Bight for spoonbills and the western islands and sandbars off Chokoluskee for white pelicans.
Royal Palm Alligator
After the birds come the famous reptiles. While most folks are familiar with the alligators that populate this area, less well-known are the crocodiles. Both are near the limits of their ranges here, and the two comingle in the brackish waters—a unique combination of salt and fresh waters. A word of warning: While appearing slow and somewhat sluggish, these carnivores are capable of moving very quickly, so keep your distance!
Gators often hang out in the sloughs along the Anhinga Trail in the Royal Palm area, Nine Mile Lake, and along the tram roadway in Shark Valley. Crocodiles are seen infrequently. Your best bet is the waterways in the Flamingo area.
The fabled Florida panther with its severely dwindling numbers may or may not be present in the park. The likelihood of seeing one in the wild is virtually non-existent.
At any time of year, the best photography is available during the low-light hours of early morning and early evening. Winter is the dry season, so true storm light will likely be hard to come by. Still, these subtropical skies can be dramatic at any time. Some of the best spots for sunrise and early morning light are West Lake, Nine Mile Lake, Florida Bay and right along the road to Flamingo, the southernmost headquarters of the park. For late afternoon light, I favor Paurotis Pond and Eco Pond.
During your time in the Everglades, try taking the tram ride through Shark Valley and a boat tour from the visitor center in Everglades City. Explore Big Cypress National Preserve and less well-known (but worthwhile) Biscayne National Park, only a few minutes east of Homestead.
The close-by section of US highway 1 through Florida City and Homestead offers a good choice of lodgings and restaurants. Rent any regular passenger car in Ft. Lauderdale or Miami Airport if arriving by air. Don’t forget to pack sunscreen and insect repellent.
Note: There has been a recent infestation of deadly Burmese pythons in the Everglades, so exercise extreme care.
Jerry Ginsberg is a widely published freelance photographer and co-founder of Master Image Workshops. He has photographed all 59 U.S. national parks as well as most of the parks of South America using medium-format cameras. More of Jerry’s work can be seen at www.JerryGinsberg.com. Email – firstname.lastname@example.org.
I thought I knew all there was to know about strip mining, since I grew up in coal country in a mining family and even spent some time selling truck parts to the mining industry early in my career. Then in 2009, I was invited by members of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and St. Vincent’s Mission to go on a tour of a mountaintop removal (MTR) site in Floyd County, Kentucky, with a group of students from Berea College. I was not prepared for what I saw that morning.
Yes, it was a strip mine. But it was a strip mine on steroids. It went on for miles. At the end of the tour, I was asked by Sister Kathleen Weigand from St Vincent’s Mission if I would consider doing a book on MTR, and I immediately said yes.
New River 1
Approximately 500 mountains and more than 2,000 miles of streams already had been destroyed by MTR throughout the southern Appalachians. My research revealed that MTR was not an isolated problem in Kentucky. It had affected all of coal country. Furthermore, legislation passed to accommodate the coal industry had the potential to affect water quality across the United States, making MTR a national problem.
A number of scientific papers were published in 2009 on the impact MTR was having on the waters of Appalachia and public health. President Obama had just taken office, and I expected that the EPA would finally be allowed to do its job and put an end to this mining practice. I was wrong, and six years later, MTR is still going strong.
Since the purpose of my project was to raise awareness and educate the public about MTR, I decided that a book—added to several books and powerful documentaries I knew were already in production—might not be the best way for me to get the story out. I decided to take my project in a slightly different direction: a fine art exhibit that would focus on the beauty of the region and what could be lost.
I reasoned that a traveling art exhibit could reach a different and broader audience and have a better chance to be viewed—not only by those against MTR, but also by those supportive of the mining industry. I partnered with Appalachian Voices and The New River Conservancy, two organizations working to protect the region, and with SouthWings—an NGO (nongovernmental organization) located in Asheville, North Carolina, which provided my flights. Funding for the exhibit came from grants provided by Art for Conservation and The Blessings Project Foundation.
Joseph’s and my collaboration continues, and he has agreed to write poems about more of the prints in the exhibit. We are currently working on exhibit scheduling for 2015-2016. Oh, and remember the book that got the project going? We’re revisiting that idea as well.
Carl Galie is a North Carolina photographer who has worked on conservation issues for the past 19 years. Carl was awarded the first Art for Conservation Grant in August 2010 for his project “Lost on the Road to Oblivion, The Vanishing Beauty of Coal Country.” In March 2014, Carl received Wild South’s Roosevelt-Ashe conservation award for journalism for his work documenting mountaintop removal of coal in the Appalachians.
Proposed Wilderness in the Clearwater Basin of Idaho’s Bitterroot Mountains.
By Krista Schlyer
This week marks the 50th anniversary of The Wilderness Act. Americans will be greeting this occasion in myriad ways. Wilderness lovers and protectors will be lauding our foresight as a nation to recognize the value of wilderness and codify that value with strong protections; many will be celebrating the 750-plus wilderness areas now protected under the act. Some will assess the uncounted acres of wilderness that have been lost to development, exploitation, and political failure, as well as the floundering health of this landmark legislation. A few members of Congress will be devising new ways to skirt or dissolve the act, along with every other environmental safeguard. And many Americans will watch the week pass never knowing there was anything special about it.
To me, The Wilderness Act may be the most hopeful piece of legislation ever passed, based on one of the noblest ideas humanity has ever conjured. Wilderness as a valued concept, as a state of being that must be protected, acknowledges three important realities: that untouched, undeveloped, forever-wild land has value in and of itself; that we as a species if given the opportunity will destroy it; and that for so many reasons, impossible to articulate, we need to live in a world where large areas of wild land exist outside of our reach and exploitation. We need it, as Wallace Stegner said, for “our sanity as creatures.”
When President Lyndon Johnson signed The Wilderness Act into law September 3, 1964, he stated: “If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.”
I have worked for more than a decade as a conservation photographer and writer, and during that time I have documented numerous locations that epitomize Johnson’s divergent states of the land, “the world as it was in the beginning” and the world “after we got through with it.” The wilderness, and the once-wilderness, and some places that exist in sad limbo somewhere in between. Each has something to offer to the story of wilderness.
The Anacostia River, in Washington DC, was once a wild paradise of rich diversity that nurtured a sustainable civilization of native people and abundant wild plants and animals. By the time we were finished with it, the native people were extinct, the river’s waters were so toxic and filled with human waste that 2/3 of the catfish now have cancerous tumors, and swimming in the river was pronounced illegal out of public health concerns. The building of a nation brought the Anacostia wilderness to its knees almost two centuries before The Wilderness Act was signed. It didn’t stand a chance.
Brown bullhead catfish with a cancerous lesion in the Anacostia watershed, Washington DC.
But a handful of designated wilderness areas along the US-Mexico borderlands, did stand a chance, and still do, in theory. Lines drawn by Congress, or at least approved by them, continue to demarcate roadless wild lands under the Wilderness Act, but in name only. Since 2005 and the Real ID Act, the borderlands have been stripped of environmental protections by the US Congress. The Wilderness Act no longer applies along 2000 miles of some of the wildest most biodiverse lands in the United States. It was a matter of political expediency. Despite the presence of many endangered species and imperiled ecosystems, (and despite ample evidence that border walls and militarization do not stop human migration), the government didn’t want environmental safeguards slowing down the military machine.
Desert cottontail rabbit at the US-Mexico border wall under construction in southern Arizona.
A different type of machinery stands at the door of a third location, the Clearwater Basin in Idaho, one of the United States’ wildest remaining mountain landscapes yet to receive protections under the Wilderness Act. Advocates began proposing a wilderness designation for the Clearwater decades ago, only to see the acreage whittled away in the interest of timber extraction, road construction and off-road vehicle use.
Salmon heading upstream to spawn in the Clearwater Basin.
All three of these places present a different struggle and opportunity within the discourse about wilderness. The Anacostia offers a cautionary tale about what often becomes of a wilderness unprotected. In this watershed the most economically disadvantaged citizens of the nation’s capital continue to eat fish and swim in a river long ago abandoned by most as a toxic waste pit. But even now, despite centuries of abuse and neglect, there are opportunities to undo some of the harm we have done and re-create this river through restoration and in some places re-wilding.
Kayaker on the Anacostia River.
In the borderlands, where every day the US government is eroding The Wilderness Act and wilderness itself, environmental protections could be returned to the land, if Congress were just to act in good faith and honor our most treasured environmental laws.
Kit foxes in the US-Mexico borderlands.
The Clearwater, its crystalline waters, salmon runs and old growth cedar forests, are on the precipice of protection, awaiting the state and local communities to express their faith in the importance of clean water and air and open wild spaces where people can get lost and learn to love the land in a way no other experience can afford them.
And all three of these places offer one singular hope for the wild species that inhabit them, the hope of a future to live their lives in this great ecosystem of Earth. The beaver, catfish and cedar waxwings of the Anacostia River; the jackrabbits, green jays and kit foxes of the borderlands; and the salmon, black bears and wolves of the Clearwater, all depend on us. Our pact with wilderness, made 50 years ago this week, and our commitment to honor that pact, will determine their future, and ours.
Beaver on the Anacostia River.
Krista Schlyer is a photographer and writer living in the Washington DC area. She is a senior fellow in the International League of Conservation Photographers, and author of the book Continental Divide: Wildlife, People and the Border Wall, winner of the 2013 National Outdoor Book Award. View more her work on her website at www.KristaSchlyer.com.
Schlyer will give a presentation on “Nature At The Borderlands” in one of the breakout sessions at the2015 NANPA Summit taking place in San Diego, California from February 19th – 22nd. To learn more about the Summit and to register for this exciting and inspirational event, please visit www.naturephotographysummit.com. Early bird registration ends on October 31st!
During the revolution Martín Luis Guzmán rode the train through Navojoa and looked over at the sierra and felt what we all do when we see its green folds rising up off the desert. We all wonder what is up there and in some part of us, that rich part where our mind plays beyond our commands, we all dread and lust for what is up there.
–Charles Bowden, The Secret Forest
In 2009 the Tucson based environmental group “Sky Island Alliance” launched a visionary initiative to explore, document and protect one of the world’s premier biodiversity hotspots, the Madrean Archipelago of the North American continent. This 70,000 square-mile region of sky-island mountain ranges, surrounded by “seas” of desertscrub and grasslands, straddles the borderlands of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico.
Commonly referred to as the Sky Islands, the Madrean Archipelago is a globally unique region where several major biogeographic provinces overlap, creating a region of biological richness found nowhere else on Earth. This richness caused Conservation International to name the region one of the world’s Biodiversity Hotspots in 2004. Despite its proximity to the U.S. border, the Mexican portion of this remote and rugged area has received little biological study; thus the Madrean Archipelago Biodiversity Assessment (MABA) was born, an international effort to study a globally important region.
With support from U.S. and Mexican experts in the fields of botany, entomology, ornithology, herpetology, mammalogy, and other disciplines, MABA expeditions are truly international and provide an opportunity to collect critical biodiversity data, foster graduate and undergraduate research, raise awareness about conservation in the region and develop important relationships with landowners, and land managers, on both sides of the border.
I have had the good fortune of being invited to participate in the MABA expeditions as the lead photographer since its inception. I often accompany a herpetologist into the field and provide photographic vouchers of the reptiles and amphibians we encounter. In addition, I document habitat types and capture images of the biologist at work.
After a day in the field, I continue to photograph herpetological, botanical, and entomological specimens brought back to camp by other teams of biologists. These animals must all be photographed that evening so that they may be returned, unharmed, to their point of capture the next morning. My images not only help document the diversity of life found in these remote mountain ranges, but also help to tell the story of this amazing project, its expeditions, and the many people involved.
Major findings from MABA expeditions include the discovery ofseveral new plant species as well as documenting many plant species previously unknown to the state of Sonora. MABA entomologists continue to make new discoveries, documenting more than 10 species of invertebrates that are new to science. Range extensions for a variety of species are frequently recorded.
One of the greatest achievements of the Madrean Archipelago Biodiversity Assessment has been the development of a growing, online database of biodiversity. It is a remarkable natural history tool that provides access to the region’s foremost collection of specimen records and species observations for anyone seeking to learn more about the Sky Islands. This database currently contains nearly 78,000 animal records and almost 35,000 plant records for the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Sonora, and Chihuahua. These data represent the products of MABA research expeditions as well as data from herbaria, museum collections, agencies and scientific literature. The database (www.madrean.org) is freely accessible to all.
Charles Hedgcock will share his experiences working with the MABA project and discuss some of the techiques he uses to document the amazing diversity of life found during the numerous MABA expeditions at the 2015 NANPA Summit taking place in San Diego, California from February 19th – 22nd. To learn more about the Summit and to register for this program and others like it, please visit www.naturephotographysummit.com.
We hear all the time that little things make a difference.Sometimes it’s hard to believe; other times, it couldn’t ring truer. Throughout my career I’ve combined photography with conservation, since a concern for our planet and its inhabitants has always been important to me. For the past few years, the Natural Exposures Invitational Photo Tours has taken guests to the Pantanal in the wilds of Brazil. Here, we do our best to incorporate the same philosophy of integrating photography and conservation, much like any of our travel destinations. Continue reading →
Check out The Web of Water Project – A Collaboration between NANPA Members jon holloway, Ben Geer Keys, Clay Bolt, and Tom Blagden
The Web of Water project is a unique partnership with Upstate Forever, Fujifilm, Hub City Press renowned writer John Lane, photographers jon holloway, Ben Geer Keys, Clay Bolt, and Tom Blagden and corporate sponsors. The goal of highlighting through fine art photography the beauty, fragility, and critical importance of the Saluda-Reedy watershed and Lake Greenwood was a five year undertaking.
The Web of Water project tells the story of the watershed and those that depend on it for food, water, business, or recreation. A unique combination of beautiful and alarming images raise awareness about the watershed’s importance to the surrounding landscape and communities, current threats to the watershed’s health, and steps that citizens can take to preserve this precious natural resource in their midst.
This project will provide Upstate Forever with new opportunities to educate the community. Photography is one of the most powerful communication tools in assigning a higher sense of value to our environment. Often in the field of research, the visual connection between science and community is the untold story. This project will help bridge the gap and become a catalyst for community responsibility, awareness of cause and effect, and provide the public with unique opportunity to directly make a difference in the future of South Carolina.
Serengeti—it’s one of the most famous names in the world, an icon of wild places.
The Serengeti ecosystem, almost 10,000 square miles in area, includes Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, and adjacent reserves such as Loliondo, Maswa, Ikorongo, Grumeti and Kenya’s Masai Mara. It is one of the few large, protected ecosystems left on earth. Each year, more than two million animals—wildebeest, zebras and other herbivores—migrate from the eastern plains through central Serengeti and northward to Masai Mara and back, in a search for water and fresh grasses. It is the largest land mammal migration on earth.
I’ve been traveling to the Serengeti ecosystem annually for 30 years, leading photo tours, and working on book and magazine assignments. I always assumed that national park and World Heritage Site designations would protect this ecosystem. I was wrong.
In May 2010 I learned from Masai friends that the Tanzanian government planned a major commercial highway that would cut across the northern part of the park like a knife wound. Hundreds of trucks would speed daily from Lake Victoria in the west to the Indian Ocean coast. In addition to cutting off the migration route, the highway would become an avenue for poachers.
Within days of my discovery, I contacted a handful of other frequent Serengeti travelers and we started a Facebook page, Stop the Serengeti Highway. Word spread, and today that page has more than 60,000 followers worldwide. In addition, ecotourism consultant Dave Blanton and I started a tax-deductible non-profit called Serengeti Watch to rally support to save Serengeti and to inform select news media around the globe about the threat. Click the link to join and/or make a donation.
In December 2010, Richard Engel of NBC News traveled to Serengeti. He uncovered the culprit funding the highway: China. Engel asserted that China was after coltan, an important mineral in cell phones, and certain rare-earth minerals.
The situation has grown more complex because of oil in Uganda and South Sudan. Plans are now being discussed by the Tanzanian government for a “transportation corridor” that might include a railroad as well as a highway. Either would mark the end of the migration and the total unravelling of the Serengeti ecosystem.
Serengeti Watch has proposed an alternate southern route, one that bypasses Serengeti entirely. Parts of this road already exist and are being upgraded for major transport. The Tanzanian government has ignored funding offers for a southern route, and to date the Serengeti Highway remains a threat.
Building local support is vital. Through donations, Serengeti Watch has made educational grants locally to raise awareness about the importance of preserving Serengeti. The overall aim is to fund projects in media and education that encourage young Tanzanians to become involved in conservation. Through photography, journalism, video and social media, Serengeti Watch will give local people the ability to communicate the importance of protecting their reserves and parks.
This may be the best way to protect Serengeti for the future.
Boyd Norton is the author/photographer of 16 books. His most recent, Serengeti: The Eternal Beginning, has received accolades from primatologist and researcher Jane Goodall and Richard Engel of NBC News, among others. For more than 45 years Boyd has used his photography and writing to save and protect wilderness and wildlife worldwide, testifying at numerous congressional hearings. He has served on the Board of Trustees for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. He is a Fellow of NANPA, a former NANPA board member, charter Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers, and founder and Fellow of the International League of Conservation Writers. His next photo safari to Serengeti will be in February, 2015. www.boydnorton.com; www.wildernessphotography.com. See a recent legal development: http://newsle.com/article/0/162431923/