Conservation and Indigenous Cultures
A LIFE COMMITTED TO THE CONSERVATION OF ENDANGERED SPECIES AND PRESERVATION OF INDIGENOUS CULTURES.
In the year 2000 I began my photojournalism career by volunteering on conservation projects. Since then I have participated in many different environmental projects and pilot ecotourism programs where I have worked alongside some of the most inspiring scientific people studying some of the world’s rarest species of animals and plants.
Conservation, including habitat rehabilitation, captive breeding programs, genetic viability studies, longitudinal studies, species counts, breeding ground surveys, weed removal projects and multi-pronged projects involving collaborations between indigenous cultures and science have underpinned my entire career.
I have also worked on some very unique collaborative projects that tie conservation and ecology science in with the knowledge of indigenous people.
For as much as I love the natural world and its stunning diversity, I am equally fascinated by people who live gently within it. I see indigenous people as key to conservation rather than contra to it.
Preservation of the world’s tribal people, including their customs and sensitive adjustment to our modern world is a personal passion of mine that stems from my childhood. My mother’s passion for indigenous people was passed on to me at a very early age and I have been blessed to work with over twelve different tribal groups in Australia, with nomadic herders on the Tibetan Plateau, with the Fulani, Tuareg and Himba people in Africa.
I believe that photography and accurate photojournalism are vital tools to the survival of these two entities. If people do not see the beauty of the wilderness and people I share my world with or read an engaging story describing their character, how on earth will anyone be moved enough to protect them?
From breeding programs of Corroboree Frogs and Brush-tailed Rock Wallabies, to longitudinal seabird studies and Bull Shark migration tracking. From habitat rehabilitation to broad scale pest eradication projects, from looking at the way tourism is conducted around Polar Bears to comprehensive conservation projects involving public education, livestock protection and changing people’s perception, worldwide I have participated in over thirty different conservation projects.
I have also been blessed to work with over fifteen different indigenous minorities in Australia, Asia and Africa.
ANARE – In 2012 I became a member of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions (ANARE) Club for my work on the pest eradication program on Macquarie Island and for being the first female photographer in the world to work professionally on Heard Island in remote Antarctica.
SOSSA – In 2003 I became a board member for my work with the Southern Oceans Seabird Study Association (SOSSA). This role continues to this day and I remain one of the longest standing female board members in a conservation organisation in Australia.
AWARDS FOR THE PRESERVATION OF INDIGENOUS CULTURES
EXPLORER’S CLUB – In 2013 I was awarded membership to the Explorer’s Club in New York for my work in documenting the vanishing cultures of Tibet. This award was upgraded with a Fellowship in 2015.
THE VANISHING CULTURES OF TIBET
My love affair with the Himalayas stems from the first time I visited Nepal in 1994. Since then I have been blessed to visit Nepal many times, Tibet three times and I have worked extensively in the Indian Himalaya.
In 2013 I led a highly successful expedition to remote Western Tibet. Our final destination lay around 700km west of the fabled Mount Kailash. We traversed the headwaters of the mighty Sutlej river in a valley dotted with Bon Buddhist temples and spectacular limestone terraces. It was so far off the beaten track that the Tibetan people we met there had barely met western travellers so we were treated as a great curiosity! The images I shot of this region and the nomadic Tibetan pastoralists were recognised worldwide before the expedition had even concluded. I fed them out live to the world when we crossed the border into Nepal and I was recognised as a member of the Explorer’s Club in New York for my work on this expedition.
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Geographical – The Journal of the Royal Geographical Society (United Kingdom) – Hidden Tibet
Heard Island and McDonald Islands are two of the most remote islands in the world. Lying more than 4000 kilometres south west of Perth, Australia and stopping short of the Antarctic pack ice by around 700 kilometres, these islands are isolated and rarely visited by anyone either on a research or commercial basis. In 2012 I visited these islands as part of the first commercial expedition to sail to them in over a decade. It was a thirty day expedition to spend only 1.5 days on Heard Island. I was part of a multidisciplinary team of scientists, expedition members and I was the only stills photographer on board. I was also blessed to travel with Graeme Budd, the legendary mountaineer who climbed Big Ben on Heard Island, Australia’s largest peak.
We were also there to conduct comprehensive avifauna surveys, check glacier edge recession and a team of expedition members was also involved in removing asbestos from the former research station on the island.
My work in documenting this expedition was widely published both in Australia and overseas. Through this work I became a member of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions (ANARE) Club and to date I am the only female photographer who has ever worked in this wild and remote corner of Antarctica.
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Ocean Geographic (Singapore)_ – Islands of Fire and Ice
Birdlife (Australia) – Birding at the Edge of the World
Wild Magazine (Australia) – The Final Frontier
POLAR BEAR TOURISM AND CONSERVATION
Although I lived in a town that saw infrequent polar bear encounters when I lived in Tromso, Norway, I didn’t actually start working with them until 2014 when I visited the largest polar bear denning site in the world on Wrangel Island. On the expedition I had the great privilege of working alongside renowned Russian polar bear researcher Professor Nikita Ovsyanikov where I learned so much about the pressures that polar bears face from climate change and the peopled lands they inhabit across the Arctic. Nikita takes a view, which I have since adopted, that guns are not required in the management of tourists and polar bears. On Wrangel Island, the foremost sanctuary for polar bears in the Arctic, guns have only ever been used by researchers once in polar bear country and only one bear has ever died there. In contrast, the significantly larger number of polar bear deaths on the popular island of Spitsbergen can be largely attributed to the culture of gun ownership and poorly controlled tourism on the island.
Thankfully when I visited remote Hudson Bay and I did a walk out on to the pack ice alongside wild polar bears, I was thrilled to see the operators of our foot safari adopting Nikita’s principles of polar bear tourism management.
Polar bears are in catastrophic decline across the Arctic. I take the view that every bear counts. Educated and mindful tourism is what is required to reduce the pressure on polar bears in their domain. No bear should be hunted and similarly, no guns should be used to protect people from polar bear attacks. They face enough pressure from starvation, receding pack ice and longer summers on land without people contributing to their demise in other ways.
I personally don’t want to live in a world without polar bears. I have been lucky enough to feel their breath on my face, travel in vehicles that have been vandalised by them, I’ve watched them playing with Arctic foxes and also seen them hunting for seals in the pack ice. They are curious, intelligent, magnificent creatures and we need to do everything in our power to make sure we do not lose them from our world forever.
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Ocean Geographic (Singapore) – The Polar Bears’ Final Sanctuary
Geographic Expeditions (United Kingdom) – In the Footsteps of the Woolly Mammoth
In early March 2015 I visited Ladakh in northern India to try and photograph Snow Leopards. It was my second attempt at photographing one of the world’s most elusive wild cats, my partner’s third and we had a client with us who had searched the Hunza region of Pakistan for 40 days without seeing a wild Snow Leopard. We were optimistic about this trip, but realistically so. Our only advantage would be that we were going to be searching for them during the pit of the Himalayan winter, when the daytime temperatures rise to only -10C and during the night they plummet to -25C!
What started off as a routine expedition, quickly turned into an adrenaline filled rush to visit a small Ladakhi town where a Snow Leopard had broken into a local livestock enclosure, killed six sheep and had not yet escaped. We arrived at the village to find over a hundred people from the local area swarming around the enclosure. The capture of this leopard was the start of a trip that saw us tracking wild Snow Leopards across two mountain ranges, finding a dead Snow Leopard, analysing scent markers and analysing scrapes and paw prints in the snow. It ended in a highly unusual five days of close range encounters with three leopards – a female courting two male cats – which culminated in a close range series of photographs that I shot of a male Snow Leopard hunting Blue Sheep in an extremely remote corner of the Indian Himalaya.
Upon my return the international media catapulted my images and stories of the trip around the world, to media outlets including newspapers, websites, blogs, print newspapers and billboard advertising.
I was honoured to become one of the campaign photographers for the World Wildlife Fund’s Trans-Himalayan Snow Leopard Conservation Program and my images from this trip also support the work of the Snow Leopard Conservancy (India) Trust (SLCIT), based in Leh.
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Wild (Australia) – Finding A Ghost
Earth Touch (South Africa) – Crazy Camouflage! Spot the Wild Snow Leopard!
The Southern Oceans Seabird Study Association (SOSSA) based in Wollongong, Australia, is the longest continual study of the Wandering Albatross at sea in the world.
I took my ﬁrst journey with SOSSA in 2000, had an Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross placed on my lap while scientists worked with it and I fell in love.
Since then I have done countless sea trips with SOSSA, handling albatrosses and other tube-nosed seabirds, rescuing injured animals and participating in counts of marine megafauna including Humpback whales, dolphins, Sunﬁsh and other pelagic creatures. In 2003 I was appointed to the board of SOSSA as their publicity ofﬁcer and I retain a position on their board to this day.
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Club Marine (Australia) – Sailors of the Southern Skies
The Bird Observer (Australia) – Pelagic Peril
CHRISTMAS AND COCOS KEELING ISLANDS (INDIAN OCEAN)
Lying closer to Indonesia and Sri Lanka than Australia, the remote Australian offshore territories of Christmas and Cocos Keeling Islands so very few tourists each year. Physically they are totally different places. Christmas Island is a volcanic sea mount, crowned by phosphate and enclosed by a rugged, sharp shoreline. Cocos Keeling Islands is more like the Maldives before tourism hit it with a necklace of coral atolls surrounding a pristine, turquoise lagoon.
On Christmas Island I covered stories for tourism, I led natural history tours on the island and I worked closely with the Parks Office in the control of invasive crazy ants, the removal of feral cats and the habitat rehabilitation of native forests to cover up the scars of phosphate mining.
On Cocos Keeling Islands I also covered tourism projects on the islands including the start up of soap, coconut and traditional artesan products made by the people of Home Island. I was also involved in the training of young people to become natural history guides on the islands.
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Asian Geographic Passport (Singapore) – Christmas Crawlers
The tiny aboriginal community of Aurukun in western Cape York, Australia, has seen its fair share of issues including domestic violence, alcohol and substance abuse and welfare dependency. In 2005 I covered a story on a series of indigenous small business start ups for Australian Geographic. These included a communal market garden, a native honey project and the establishment of a community arts project and gallery.
The most ambitious project undertaken by the community was the construction of the Pikkuw, a custom built motor vessel designed to run fishing charters on the Archer River, which flows past Aurukun on its way to sea.
These initiatives had multiple outcomes that enhanced the community including the creation of jobs, better diet choices and they enhanced social mobility within a group of people who had experienced decades of social dysfunction. Sadly some of them have since failed but others have prevailed and my hope is that Aurukun will forge a new future that will be underpinned by the support of the Wik people living in it.
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Australian Geographic (Australia) – Destination Dreaming
Wildlife (Australia) – Changing Worlds
MACQUARIE ISLAND RAT AND RABBIT ERADICATION PROJECT
In 2007 I visited Macquarie Island, one of Australiaʼs Sub-Antarctic territories, lying half way between Tasmania and the Antarctic pack ice.
As I arrived there I was stunned to watch the air become clear of seabirds. After visiting the seabird rich breeding islands of Sub-Antarctic New Zealand, I wondered what was wrong. Then I landed and saw the devastation. The hillside of Macquarie were completely eroded, a consequence of overgrazing from rabbits.
These naked hills were causing landslides that killed wildlife, destroyed research platforms and the rabbits had begun to use seabird burrows as their warrens, effectively pushing endangered seabirds out of their breeding grounds. In 2011, a successful ongoing program to eradicate the rats and rabbits off Macquarie began.
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Wildlife (Australia) – Reclaiming Macquarie
CAPE YORK TURTLE RESCUE
The Gulf of Carpentaria in northern Australia is effectively one of Australiaʼs largest ocean gyres. Its large, bay-like geography creates a spiral current that traps tonnes of marine rubbish and ﬁshing debris every year. The bulk of this rubbish is drift or ʻghostʼ nets and non-biodegradable plastics which have created havoc for the marine wildlife living in the gulf.
Drifting aimlessly around the ocean, ghost nets indiscriminately trap wildlife like dolphins and turtles. Plastics in the same environment subject many creatures to ingestion that can cause death. Sadly the peril doesnʼt ﬁnish at the high tide mark. For nesting sea turtles the Gulf of Carpentaria, its remote beaches and its shallow seagrass beds provide a lush habitat for breeding. Patrolling the beach, however are feral dogs and pigs that raid sea turtle nests for eggs or attack females laying eggs.
I covered an innovative collaboration between indigenous people and scientists working to protect sea turtle nests from feral pests, removing ghost nets from the beach and monitoring numbers of sea turtles using a remote beach on Western Cape York to breed.
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Australasia Scuba Diver (Singapore) – Survival Struggle
NEW SOUTH WALES COASTAL ISLAND SURVEYS
During my work with SOSSA and Conservation Volunteers Australia (CVA) I have been blessed to work on every coastal island in New South Wales from Sydney, south to the border of Victoria.
These rugged and difﬁcult to access islands are important seabird breeding areas and protected habitat for marine life including the Grey Nurse Shark. I have participated in numerous surveys on these islands including littoral zone monitoring, water quality surveys, seabird breeding surveys and I also took part in the pilot ecotourism project on Montague Island, home to the second largest breeding colony of Little Penguins in Australia.
My articles on Montague Island and the other islands of New South Wales have appeared in Australian Geographic, Club Marine magazine, Cruising Helmsman, Shorebird News and The Albatross.
My images of these islands have endorsed public education campaigns designed to extend the green zones around each island and the campaigns to protect individual islands as important biospheres for wildlife.
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Cruising Helmsman (Australia) – The Islands of Murramarang
BRUSH-TAILED ROCK WALLABY PROJECT
Brush-tailed Rock Wallabies used to be common in Australia. Due to a number of terrestrial threats, sadly they have declined to the point where they are classiﬁed as Critically Endangered in Victoria and Vulnerable in New South Wales.
I have worked with the Victorian population of Brush-tailed Rock Wallabies that used to have a stronghold in the Grampians National Park. Involving broad scale habitat rehabilitation, captive breeding programs, surrogacy, fox pad monitoring, replanting, ﬂora species surveys and satellite tracking, the Brush-tailed Rock Wallaby project in Victoria was comprehensive, considered and represented the last hope for these beautiful animals in the wild.
I travelled to breeding facilities in Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory and Dunkeld in the Grampians. I also participated in habitat rehabilitation, small mammal monitoring, fox pad monitoring and den site surveys during my work on this program.
My stories from the Brush-tailed Rock Wallaby Program appeared in Wildlife Australia, Transitions Abroad (USA) and Australian Traveller. My photographs endorsed public education campaigns across the entire range of this species, websites, brochures, media kits and posters.
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Transitions Abroad (USA) – Mammal Monitoring in Australia
Wildlife (Australia) – Securing The Shadow
In 2011 I ﬂew to the remote outpost airstrip of Melaleuca in the stunning region of South West Tasmania. Melaleuca is the last known wild habitat for one of the worldʼs rarest parrots, the Orange-bellied Parrot. Flying in to Melaleuca in a tiny Cessna, the sheer magnitude of the landscape unfolding below the plane, I struggled to imagine how a tiny, rainbow coloured parrot could survive in such a rugged and isolated place.
Even in summer, sleet storms and squally winds can descend on you in seconds and plunge the world of the Orange-bellied Parrots into a mysterious fog.
Numbering less than 50 individuals in the wild, Orange-bellied Parrots migrate annually to escape the winter. Their ﬁnal destination is the somewhat warmer climes of mainland Australia. Sadly it is this migration that causes these tiny parrots the most harm.
When they reach their destination they encounter wind farms, burgeoning population growth on their coastal habitat and climate induced higher tides swallowing their salt marsh feeding grounds.
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Australian Geographic (Australia) – The Plight of the Orange-bellied Parrot