Category Archives: Conservation & Environment

Featured in The Hum….

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I have the incredible good fortune to be the featured artist in the September issue of The Hum – a fabulous monthly arts, entertainment and ideas newspaper that promotes people and events in small towns and rural areas in the Ottawa Valley. You can subscribe to The Hum or pick it up for free at one of the many businesses in Almonte, Perth, Carleton Place, Westport, Pakenham, Carp, Arnprior, Smiths Falls, Burnstown, White Lake, Renfrew, Balderson and also Ottawa.

When I was contacted by The Hum journalist, Sally Hansen, I thought she’d ask me the typical questions about what kind of camera I use, what kinds of photography I like to do, my favourite lenses etc. Short and sweet. Instead I had the most wonderfully engaging time with Sally, sharing stories, and talking about deeper things such as my sources of photographic inspiration, what motivates me to make the images and do, and what I do with those images. She wanted to know ‘my story’. I was really thrilled to provide it as one thing I’ve always loved is to find out what makes people tick – what’s their story, their life experiences and the things that makes that photographer, writer, artist or whomever, produce the kind of work they do. It’s context. I still like to know the details of the medium they use (e.g. kind of camera they use, for photographers, lenses they shoot with, etc.). But knowing something about the person fosters a greater connection to their work and an understanding of why they produce what they do. So, a very big thank you to The Hum and to Sally Hansen, for the opportunity to share my story.

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I’m extremely grateful to Sally and The Hum for highlighting how I use my photography to enable my passion for environmental education, conservation, and environmental communication. Being able to combine my career and passion as a biologist, with my passions for photography and the environment is a dream come true and hopefully a pursuit that will continue for many more years.

The Hum article also highlights that I’ll have some of my work on exhibit and for sale as part of the Perth Autumn Studio Tour. I’ll be exhibiting at Rita Redner’s studio at 549 Brooke Valley Road. The studio tour will take place over the Thanksgiving weekend, October 11th, 12th, and 13th, from 10 am to 5 pm. Click here to see a map of the tour and here to see the tour’s Facebook page. I hope you’ll come along on the tour to see the work of a number of very talented artists who will be exhibiting everything from pottery, to paintings to hand-made chocolate…. and so much more. See you there!

Perth Autumn Studio Tour



Filed under Conservation & Environment, Creative Photography, Dreams, Exhibits, nature photography

Arctic Expedition 2014 – the story of our adventure… part I


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August 4, 2014 · 5:53 pm

Arctic Expedition 2014

Gee, I feel bad that it’s been forever since I last posted here. Especially bad when my intention was to post more regularly. Oops! But I have a good reason. Since March, I’ve been really busy fundraising, planning, organizing, and preparing. In 10 days I’m headed out on an arctic expedition. I’ll be one of 46 educators and support staff on a Students On Ice arctic expedition, with 86 high school students from around the world. Incredible!

It’s been a massive amount of work to organize and prepare, but I’ve loved every minute of it and am so excited that I’ll soon be on an amazing adventure. I’ll be teaching environmental communication to the students. Environmental communication uses photography and videography to creating environmental messaging – messages about the environmental issues our planet faces and what we can all do about it. I truly believe that the biggest impediment to making progress in addressing global climate change, habitat loss, species extinction, and other environment issues, is a lack of understanding and a lack of attention to the issues. Environmental communication strives to change that. The saying is, a picture is worth a thousand words and I think there is a lot of truth to that.

For the next little while, I’ll be cross-posting, putting the posts on my Biosphere Blog, here on my photography blog. I hope you’ll enjoy reading about my adventure and the launch of my Youth Environmental Ambassadors Program.

To read about the arctic expedition on the Biosphere Blog, click HERE.

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Filed under Conservation & Environment, Dreams, nature photography

How YOU can help change the world

As you may know, from following the posts on my blog, I’ve been completely ensconced in a crowd funding campaign for the past 5 weeks. I’m raising funds to help defer the cost of an arctic expedition this July. Vacation? Nope.  Education.

As a biologist, the environment is really important to me. I don’t have kids and so I could say, “who cares, I don’t have kids, I don’t have to worry about what the next generation will have to deal with”, but that’s just not me. I don’t roll that way. I think everyone has a certain responsibility to the next generation, and the generation after that, and… Let’s face it, it’s my generation, my parents generation, my grandparents generation and to an extent, my great-grandparents generation that has screwed up the environment so badly. Don’t you think we owe it to the next generation to mop up some of the mess we created?

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The past 5 weeks has been revealing for me. I knew it would be a hard, hard slog raising the funds. My campaign is in the education section of the Indiegogo crowd funding website. Strike number one. I know this sounds pathetic, but the vast majority of people who would even consider donating to a crowd funding project don’t give a rats furry bottom about projects in the education or environment section. I’m not trying to be rude. That’s just the way it is. If you have a cool electronic gizmo to develop and sell, you’re golden. Tons of donations come in if you have a half decent campaign. But education and environment have typically been poorly supported. But why? I’m an optimist and a realist, but my experience with crowd funding has allowed a shade of pessimism to creep in. The sad truth is that not many people truly care about the environment or about education. They say they do, but when it comes right down to it, most people would much sooner have a way-cool, cutting age piece of electronics in their pocket, rather than build a school in Africa or support something that helps the environment. And to me, that is really sad.

Yes, there are people out there who think education and the environment are important – thank goodness. And I am SO grateful for those people, regardless of whether they supported my funding campaign with a donation or someone else’s funding campaign. The fact that people care, matters to me a lot. But I still can’t get that bad taste out of my mouth about the lack of support or caring from the general public, about the environment or education. That just has to change if we’re to have future generations that don’t live in a cesspool.

Species like polar bears will go extinct unless we reverse global climate change to a large extent.

Species like polar bears will go extinct unless we reverse global climate change to a large extent.

As a scientists, I do believe that the earth has not yet reached her tipping point. I do believe that we can reverse a lot of the nasty things that we have done to the environment. And I do believe that it is possible for humans to live sustainably. But that means change. And let’s face it, most people hate change! I personally, thrive on it, but I know I’m a rarity. Most people despise change. They like things just the way they are. And so asking people to give something up, to change some aspect of their lifestyle to better the planet, is frankly, asking too much, it seems. At least for my generation. Frankly, I put my money on the next generation. They are the ones with their whole lives ahead. They are the ones that may have to live in the cesspool we leave for them. So they have to care. If they don’t, their lives will be a whole lot less pleasant than mine, or my parent’s, or my grandparent’s for that matter. And I hate that thought. It’s just downright wrong! But how do we get people to care?

I think I have a solution, well, actually, a small step toward a solution. And that’s why I’m fundraising. And it’s why I’m putting $8,000 of my own money (I hear retirement’s way over-rated anyway….) into paying my own way on an arctic expedition. Why? Some people think I’m nuts doing this. After all, I’m not getting paid to run my Youth Environmental Ambassadors Program on an arctic expedition. It’s purely volunteer. And I have to use my precious 2 weeks of annual vacation leave from work for it. But I choose to. Why? Because I care. Because I think each and every one of us, in some way or another, has to do something to reverse the damage our lifestyles have done to the planet.

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I’m a biologist, I’m passionate about nature, the environment. And photography. And so I created the Youth Environmental Ambassadors Program.  This is the program I’ll launch on the arctic expedition. It’s unique. I’ll be teaching 90 high school kids how to take photos and videos of the environment. The goal is for them to document the things they are seeing, the human impacts on it, and then share their thoughts, their concerns, and their hopes for the future, through their own images and videos. The goal is, at the end of the expedition, to have a video containing the student’s images and video and environmental messages. I’m also hoping to organize an exhibition of the student’s images. And I hope to publish some articles about the program and the students as well as an e-book. I want this program and experience to connect students with nature, to combat the ‘nature deficit disorder’ that Louv so adeptly describes. To encourage students to care about their planet and to inspire them to do something about it. That’s my hope. Whether it works or not remains to be seen. But I’m sure going to try.

Help to inspire kids to be the Generation of Positive Change - only they are the ones who can clean up the environmental mess we and the previous generations have created.

Help to inspire kids to be the Generation of Positive Change – only they are the ones who can clean up the environmental mess we and the previous generations have created.

Will I change the entire world with my program? Nope. But change happens one student at a time. Real change happens slowly. And my goal is simply to open up some eyes and some minds, make the students think, and then hand the reins over to them to let them decide what they will and won’t do to make the planet a better place. After all, if I’m lucky, I’ve got 30 or so good years of life left. But the next generation will have to live with the mess a whole lot longer. I wish they didn’t have a mess to clean up. But I’m happy to do my part to try to help and to make amends for my impacts on the environment. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not up on a soapbox. I drive a car. I burn wood in my fireplace. I use Propane to heat my house. My life does have an impact on the environment. I do what I can to lessen it. But society as a whole, has to change. And if I can convince part of society to think about changing the way they live and help them to convince others to do the same, then that will be worth everything that I’m putting into this program.

If you believe that we can and should make the world a better place and you have a few bucks to spare, I would love it if you could make a donation to our Youth Environmental Ambassadors Program. There are only 3 days left in our funding campaign. I’ve revised our goal, from $25,000 (for both me and my co-teacher to go on the expedition) to just me going and me contributing $8,000 of my own retirement money. If you can help get us to our revised goal of $4,500 (we’re less than $1,000 away from it), I would be immensely grateful to you. Donate by clicking on the link below.


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Using photography to teach environmental education

Campaign Screenshot_copyright

I haven’t had a chance to post on here in a while, but there’s a great reason why. I’ve been really busy working on a BIG project. One that involves photography, but in a different way.

I recently opened up my own environmental education organization Biosphere Environmental Education. And within it, I’ve created a unique environmental education program. It’s called the Youth Environmental Ambassadors Program or the YEAP.

What does the YEAP do?

Well, we’re just starting out, but our program will take kids on expeditions around the world, to experience nature first hand, to see its beauty, understand how it works and how valuable they are. They’ll learn about the human impacts on it and what their generation can do to reduce those impacts.

Our program is different than other environmental education programs out there. It uses photography and videography to teach environmental ed. We’ll be teaching high school students how to shoot and edit photos and videos with impact. They’ll be documenting the environments that we’ll be experiencing, what’s unique about them, what’s beautiful about them, what’s valuable about them and what the human impacts are on them. And then we’ll teach them how to use those stills and video to put together stunning visual presentations that they’ll give to their schools, their clubs, their communities and most of all, their peers. So, we’ll be teaching them how to become environmental ambassadors, sharing their own messages about the environment and how we need to make changes to lessen the human impacts on it.


Our mission…. is to mentor a new generation of leaders, innovators, and world citizens who believe that the long term health of earth’s environments is at least as important as profits and development, and who will guide their generation toward a sustainable way of living.

We’ve been given a golden opportunity. We’re collaborating with a fantastic organization called Students On Ice. They’re an award-winning organization that runs youth expeditions to the arctic and antarctic. They’ve been doing this for 14 years and have taken over 2,000 kids on these expeditions.

bergs zodiacs

Students On Ice has provided us with the opportunity to launch our Youth Environmental Ambassadors Program on their July 2014 expedition to the arctic. We’re so excited about this! But the expedition is expensive. It’ll cost over $10,000 each, for me an my co-teacher to be on that expedition, delivering our program. And so we’ve created an Indiegogo crowd funding campaign to raise the money we need to be on that expedition.

We would love your support! Click HERE to visit our funding campaign. Watch the video that tells you what we are doing. And then click on one of the ‘perks’ to donate. We have funding levels from $20 all the way up to $2500. Each and every dollar matters!


We really need your support. If you can donate to our campaign, we’d be extremely grateful. And we’d also love it if you could share the link to our campaign with your friends – either by clicking on one of the social media buttons on our campaign website. Or sharing this post. Or emailing your friends directly.

Our campaign will be running for another 38 days. We’d love your support. Visit our campaign website and let us know what you think.

As many of you are fellow photographers, I hope you can see how using photography and videography to teach environmental education, can provide a new way to interest and motivate youth to learn about our environment and to take action to be the generation that does something big about the human impacts on it.

Thanks so much for your support!


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Filed under conservation, Conservation & Environment, Digital Photography, Dreams, nature photography, photography

Up Close And Personal with Polar Bears…. thanks to technology

So you’ve always wanted to take a trip to Churchill, Manitoba – polar bear capital of the world – to see those massive white bears, up close and personal? For some people that trip becomes reality, but not for everyone. If it’s your dream to get up there to see polar bears up close, but haven’t been able to do it, don’t fret. Here’s the next best thing.

The non-profit conservation group, Polar Bear International and its two partners, Frontier North Adventures and, have provided a way to see polar bears, up close and personal, from the comfort of your recliner at home. Introducing…. The Polar Bear Cam.

 A look at the Polar Bear Cam in action… quiet at the moment, but it's late in the day, dusk is setting in….

A look at the Polar Bear Cam in action… quiet at the moment, but it’s late in the day, dusk is setting in….

This joint venture was created to let people around the world  have a window into the lives of the roughly 900 polar bears who call the Churchill area, home. There are four live polar bear cams running, scanning the area for polar bears on the move. You can tune in to whichever camera you want and take a screen shot of the image to share online. But the cameras are just for the entertainment and eduction of the public. The images are used for scientific research, contributing to our understanding of polar bear biology. For example, the images allow scientists to see weather bears are travelling alone or in family groups. If it’s a mother and her cubs, how many cubs are there? The images can also tell researchers what their physical health is like – do the bears look nice and plump or really thin, suggesting they aren’t getting enough food?

The project is funded largely by the Annenberg Foundation. Charlie Annenberg is the founder of, the organization hosting the polar bear cams.

To sit back and watch polar bears being polar bears, click on HERE to go to the website. For more information about the project, click HERE to read the CBC news article.

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So, how many polar bears are there?

Recently I wrote a blog post about the potential for negative impacts of mis-infomration about species and the environment. In my blog post, Do Species Suffer From Poor Communication?, I explained how someone at an arctic photography presentation I was at this past winter, commented that northern locals (Inuit) encountering more polar bears meant that there are more polar bears. In other words, if locals were encountering and seeing more bears on the land, this meant that the polar bear population was increasing and all the worry about the potential for polar bears to go extinct was bunk.

This bothered me. There is a huge and untested assumption implicit in this fellow’s assertion. He’s assuming that the frequency of encountering bears is directly related to the number of bears in the population. Just because you see more bears, doesn’t mean there are more bears. What if locals encounter/see more bears because bears are not getting enough food in the wild and so these hungry bears are coming closer to humans’ communities in search of food? In this scenario, there could actually be fewer bears in the local population, but people see them more frequently because they come close to humans more often.

I recently saw a really interesting webinar about polar bears. It was given by Natural Habitat Adventures, an adventure tour operator associated with the World Wildlife Fund. It was a great webinar. It included a talk by a polar bear biologist. What intrigued me about her talk was that she addressed the issue of the current status of polar bear populations around the globe. In this biologist’s presentation, she showed the figure below – a map of the world’s circumpolar region and the status of polar bear populations.

polar bear population graph

If you have a look at the map, you’ll see that of the 18 polar bear populations define on the map, 6 of them are listed as being in decline. Seven of them are listed as being data deficient, meaning that scientists just don’t have enough information about the populations to say what is happening to them.  Four populations are listed as stable, meaning they are neither increasing or decreasing. And finally,  3 populations are listed as increasing.

There are some notable take home messages from this figure showing polar bear populations status. For roughly half of the polar bear populations around the world, we have no idea what is happening to them. They span western Alaska, across Russia, to Greenland. That’s a huge part of the polar bear’s population for which we have no information.

A second notable take home message from the figure is that the populations in decline, shown in pink, are not small. They cover a substantial chunk of the polar bear population in Canada.

Perhaps most notable and relevant, is that the figure shows three populations in green, populations which are increasing. One large population is in the Labrador region; one small population and one medium-sized population in the central Canadian arctic are listed as increasing. So the question is, why are these three populations increasing? Aren’t polar bear populations around the world in trouble? Was this fellow right? Are Inuit seeing more bears because there are more?

Image by Bruce Raby, taken in Churchill, Manitoba.

Image by Bruce Raby, taken in Churchill, Manitoba.

Someone in the webinar asked to the biologist what the global status of polar bears really was. She explained that these three populations, shown in green, were increasing because of decreased hunting pressure. Bear quotas had been reduced to prevent these populations from declining. So at this point in time, these populations are increasing because fewer bears are being hunted. But by how much will they recover? And will that recovery be sustained? If these bears  experience the same issues of decreasing ice coverage, lack of ice floes for hunting, and therefore, lack of food and places to raise their cubs, reduced hunting pressure may not matter eventually. These increases may  just be a tiny blip on a graph.

The biologists’ comment was that on a global scale, polar bear populations are declining and we should be concerned. Clearly we need more data to understand what is happening to the populations across Russia. Thankfully, a few of our Canadian populations are rebounding from reduced hunting pressures, at least for a while. Sadly, one third of the polar bear populations around the globe are decreasing. This isn’t a rosy outlook for polar bears. We can only hope that actions taken now will ensure the persistence of polar bears throughout their range. But given their precarious status as a species, do we really want someone telling a room full of people who polar bears are doing just fine and that the concern over this species is purely hype? I think not.

Image by Bruce Raby, taken in Churchill, Manitoba.

Image by Bruce Raby, taken in Churchill, Manitoba.

With some populations stable and a few rebounding from hunting pressure, what this means is that it buys us some time. It gives us a chance to effect change while these populations are not in decline. So that means we don’t sit back on our heels or dust our hands, saying ‘no problem here!’ Not at all. It means we get even busier. It means we take advantage of this ‘buffer’ for polar bear populations and act now while there is still a chance to ensure the bear’s continued existence. Those green and blue patches on the map are not a reason to get lazy and do nothing.

I should also note that the biologist  mentioned that human-polar bear encounters were on the increase, as more people visit or live in the arctic and as the climate changes and bears alter their foraging behaviour.

Image by Bruce Raby, taken in Churchill, Manitoba.

Image by Bruce Raby, taken in Churchill, Manitoba.

We don’t have all the data we need and we don’t have all the answers. It takes time to get these things. But in the meantime, let’s focus on communicating the facts. Perpetuating mis-information can have negative consequences for species and for the environment. As scientists, we also need to do a better job of communicating the facts to the media and the general public. Let’s get it right, before it’s too late.

My friend and fellow photographer, Bruce Raby, kindly provided the polar bear photographs for this blog post. These images are from Bruce’s trip to Churchill, Manitoba a few years ago. To see more of Bruce’s wonderful photographs, please visit his website at

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Filed under conservation, Conservation & Environment, nature photography