24 imagesFew animals in the world can claim to be both asleep and awake in the same breath. Unlike humans and other land mammals, whales and dolphins must breath voluntarily in their marine environments. They have evolved the ability to allow one half of their brains to rest, while the other side is awake. One eye is closed and the other remains open. Every so often they switch and repeat the process. In Hurghada, a picturesque Red Sea resort in Egypt, there lives a small group of about 200 bottle-nose dolphins that traverse the reefs dotting the coastline. Each day while sleeping in small groups, they slowly wander through the numerous shallow coral lagoons, occasionally rising for air and to inspect any objects that peak their curiosity. This predictability, combined with their familiarity with divers, have made them excellent research subjects for a local conservation group, ‘Dolphin Watch Alliance’. Leading efforts are two young marine biologists. Courageous and perseverant, over five years they have observed, gathered data and educated. Each dive provides an opportunity to study the cumulative effects of changes in their environment and how this affects the dolphin's health and behavior. Unfortunately, the dolphins natural curiosity and daily routine have made them a popular tourist attraction. Recognizing an opportunity, a large number of tour operators have developed a small industry supporting in-water encounters. With tourist numbers falling, competition amongst operators can reach a fevered pitch. At times upwards of 50 boats have been observed, competing for position in an attempt to chorale the dolphins and provide their snorkelers with the best chance of an encounter. Some operators employ strict standards, but many are more focused on profitability through these difficult economic times. This situation has led to many instances of dangerous boat traffic, poorly trained staff and groups of tourists inadvertently disturbing resting groups of dolphins. As often is the case, it is a small collection of individuals, dedicated and hopeful, that are helping to raise awareness and conserve one of the planet’s most recognizable and threatened species. This story was an editorial commission with RedbullMediaHouse 'Terramater' Magazine.
31 imagesSouth Africa is facing a crisis. Home to 80% of the world's remaining White and Black Rhino populations, poaching has reached critical levels. Demand in Asia for Rhino horn, used in traditional medicine and as a status symbol, is causing a serious resurgence in poaching activities in an around the Kruger National Park and its adjoining private game reserves. Since 2013, a group of private game reserves has established a coordinated effort known as 'Game Reserves United (GRU)'. The GRU collectively manages over 305,000 hectares and a 350km western boundary with the Kruger National Park. With reserves contributing annual subscription fees and with additional funding from private donors, private security forces made up of local men and women, have been trained and deployed on the ground to stem poaching. The vast size of the area makes intelligence gathering, evidence collection and capture of poachers exceptionally difficult. Armed response units, primarily made of local men who complete an in-depth training program, are deployed on multi-week patrols within the reserve area, providing a front-line response. Additionally, a unique and courageous group of local women, a first of it's kind in South Africa, known as the 'Black Mambas', provide ground support, intelligence gathering and work within the community to educate. Their commitment, determination and soft skills have made them role models for young women around the country. As poachers often come from the most impoverished townships, the supply of young men who are willing to take the risk for such a high reward, continues to grow. Although efforts are having an impact, overseas demand and organized crime often out pace security. With almost 5-10% of the remaining Rhino population affected by poaching each year, unless corruption is meted out and cross-border institutional coordination is increased, the fate of Rhino's in the wild is sincerely troubling.
49 imagesIn January of 2015, three concerned activists, Troy Glover, Franz Fuls and Brett Merchant began an adventure that has helped bring awareness to one of South Africa’s largest conservation issues. Together the team attempted to kayak from the source of the Vaal River to the Atlantic Ocean via the Orange River, hoping to complete the largest continuous body of water within the country. Their journey took them almost 2,500 kilometres across one of the world’s last truly wild places. Their mission began with knowledge that agriculture, mining and commercial industry were causing a detrimental affect to the country’s water systems. Key to understanding and raising awareness was educating local riverside communities about the biodiversity in their environments, along with teaching them to monitor water quality. Utilizing the established mini-SASS initiative, they engaged with communities, schools, farmers and leaders, helping to create monitoring programs which will establish a baseline for river health across the country. We followed the team half way through their expedition. Tracking them via 4x4 across the Kalahari desert and through the Richersveld UNESCO World Heritage site, until we arrived at the Atlantic Ocean in Alexander Bay. Beginning at the confluence of the Vaal and Orange Rivers, we located the kayakers and learned of the hardships they had faced during the first half of the expedition. Water levels across the country had been very low, caused by drought and excessive industry. They had dragged their kayaks hundreds of kilometres on foot, in order to pass sections of unmanageable river. In the end, they completed the remaining Orange River via a combination of paddling and overland transport. The result of this expedition was to bring together diverse communities around a common and shared issue. Helping to establish a dialogue and raising awareness across the country, the three adventures laid the groundwork for a sustainable future for the river systems in South Africa. To learn more, please visit: www.triwaterstours.com The expedition was also cover by ‘Carte Blanche’, a leading investigative journalism program. The story is available here: http://carteblanche.dstv.com/player/864014
41 imagesHosting over 700,000 visitors per year, the Aquarium de Paris showcases the rarely seen underwater landscapes and marine life that inhabit French territorial waters around the globe. Spanning the cold, desolate depths of the Northern Atlantic to the azure blues and purples of French Polynesia and New Caledonia, the carefully prepared exhibits and educational programs open spectator’s eyes to the diversity of our oceans. Most importantly, they highlight their need for conservation and sustainable cultivation. Behind the scenes, a small army of dedicated biologists, aquaculturists, engineers and business people negotiate a maze of hot, humid passageways, filled with duct work and piping, connecting industrial filtration systems with millions of litres of fresh and saltwater, in varying temperatures and salinities. On one side, enthusiast educators deliver messages of marine conservation to wide-eyed school children, while just feet away, behind biometric security, over a ton of fresh seafood is being procured, prepared and hand fed to aquarium residents each month. For many children, a visit to the aquarium is their first face-to-face experience with this wonderful and critical facet of our planet. This balance of economics, education and conservation places aquariums around the world in a unique position. They serve as both a conduit for empowering future generations and ensuring the well-being of our marine wildlife and eco-systems.