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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Last Paradise

Using photography as a conservation tool, Ralph Lee Hopkins tells the story of the Galápagos Islands

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This Article Features Photo Zoom

Compact digital cameras are ideal for making close-ups and for shooting from low angles with subjects like this Galápagos giant tortoise, Santa Cruz Island.
In an effort to bring worldwide attention to the threats facing the archipelago, on July 15, 2007, the Galápagos Islands were placed on the endangered list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. On July 25, 2010, only three years later, they were removed from the list, recognizing the concerted efforts being made to develop a plan for a sustainable future for the islands. Although viewed as an icon for conservation success, the question still remains: Will the Galápagos always be at risk, despite everyone's best efforts? For example, the airport on Baltra Island is currently being expanded to handle more flights, bringing even more visitors to the islands.

Adopting A Project
To better understand the issues, I set out to photograph not only the rich biodiversity and threats facing the Galápagos, but also the people. The project was an outgrowth of my travels over the past decade and also was inspired by the book Galápagos at the Crossroads: Pirates, Biologists, Tourists, and Creationists Battle for Darwin's Cradle of Evolution (National Geographic Society Books, 2009). I became possessed by all things Galápagos, talking to everyone I knew and meeting new people who wanted to help at every turn. I made consecutive trips to the islands, photographing with local naturalists and videographers, and interviewing as many people as possible to understand the issues through the eyes of the locals.

Kids are always a great subject, willing and full of emotion.
Along the way, I discovered a growing network of government and nonprofit organizations working closely with Galapagueños on a number of fronts, from organic farming to recycling. With 97% of the land area set aside within the national park, there's only 3% for the growing population. Space on the islands is limited. Conservation in the Galápagos isn't just about the animals, it's also about people. Galapagueños are passionate about their home, working toward building a sustainable future that preserves the rich biodiversity of the islands. With this, comes hope.

Adopting a project is a great way to put your images to work, taking your photography to the next level. Adopting a project also will help you focus on photography like never before. Make it your own by challenging yourself, and don't be afraid to make mistakes along the way. Give yourself deadlines, make contacts, and search for venues to publish and display your work. Let passion be your guide.

From the air, everything looks different. Circling above Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, the town appears tiny and remote. The aerial perspective helps you see the big picture and how interconnected everything is—and also, how fragile.
Every Picture Tells A Story
Despite all the emphasis on video these days, the importance of still images shouldn't be underestimated. We're bombarded with tons of video every day, yet when you stop and think, what you really remember over time is just a few special images. Personally, the images that stick with me are "Earthrise" from the Apollo 8 mission because my Dad worked in the space program and Ansel Adams' "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico" because I live in New Mexico and learned photography with a 4x5 view camera.

Over the years, I've met many people who live and work in the Galápagos, those fortunate enough to call the islands home. Being in the right place at the right time, I had the opportunity to initiate a conservation photography project collaborating with the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP) and the Helmsley Charitable Trust, bringing like-minded groups together who cared about the future of the Galápagos.


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