***Thomas P. Peschak is the Chief Photographer of the Save our Seas Foundation and travels extensively in pursuit of marine wildlife and underwater stories. He was born in Germany, but has lead a near continuous nomadic existence and today spends the 100 or so days when he is not on the road in his adopted home of Cape Town, South Africa. He is a former marine biologist who specialized in kelp forest ecology and the impacts of illegal fishing, who left science to pursue a life in environmental photojournalism. He has won many awards including category wins in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year and Fuji Wildlife Photographer of the Year competitions as well as the Grand Prize (Portfolio) and Prix Jean et Maryse Chapeyroux at the World Festival of Underwater Images 2007 and 2008, and is also a Fellow with the iLCP.
Before Thomas took off for the Great Bear Rainforest last week, we had the chance to ask him a few questions about his assignment...
Why is it important to save the Great Bear Rainforest? What’s at stake?
The Great Bear Rainforest is one of the world’s last true coastal wildernesses. Coasts are magnets for development. There is a unique opportunity here to save one of the few areas in the world where you still have a wild ocean meeting a wild terrestrial ecosystem.How far did you travel to come and shed light on this?
It’s a showcase, a showpiece, one of the last places where that interface still exists.
I flew in all the way from Cape Town South Africa – the Great Bear Rainforest is about as far from Cape Town as you can get!Why do you personally care about the Great Bear Rainforest?
I first heard about the Great Bear Rainforest 20 years ago because I watched a documentary that really stuck with me. I remember the white spirit bears and wolves that roamed on beaches. That these animals were not afraid of people because this is a place where people hadn’t yet become destructors of nature in this area.What do you think the power behind a RAVE is?
Now that I can visit it and photograph it, I feel so privileged to be a part of something that will protect this area — that’s a pretty cool thing to be able to do.
If you want to document an area this complex, this size, you need lots of time — months if not years. Yet in threatened locations, you usually do not have the luxury of time. So we have a small group of adept photographers that will be able to create a comprehensive portrait of the Great Bear Rainforest in a short period of time. We will also be able to create an accurate and inspiring portrait of that landscape and it’s varied visual narrative, through many different perspectives and angles. This is something a single photographer wouldn’t be able to accomplish.Why is conservation photography such an essential element to the conservation movement as a whole, and this project in particular?
I believe that photography is one of, if not THE most important tool in the conservation toolbox. The area we are trying to protect, as is the case with all remote areas, is not easy to get to. Not everyone can visit the Great Bear Rainforest. And how can you expect people to care about something they don’t know? To protect someplace they do not connect to or love? Photography is the ambassador. iLCP photographers try to create the visual narrative that will get people who have never been to the Great Bear Rainforest, to care and understand the threats and in the end help protect it!What is your assignment on the RAVE?
I am the underwater photographer on this RAVE. My assignment is to really document and portray the underwater world that lies adjacent to the terrestrial world.
I’ll be photographing a pod of whales that have developed a unique feeding culture called bubble netting where they are able to collectively herd fish. The whales bubble net in the exact place the tankers would drive through if the pipeline occurs. This area is also home to stellar sea lions. The stellar sea lion population is dropping worldwide and the tankers will also be going through the location where the stellar sea lions feed and pup and nurse their young. The orcas in the Great Bear Rainforest are not fleeting and transient — they are a keystone species in this environment and most of the research that has been done on orcas has been done on the Great Bear Rainforest orcas.
Along with, the wildlife, I will also be documenting the rich kelp forest ecosystem and the intertidal zone, which is very important — I’m very interested in this transient border between sea and land.What is the ultimate desired outcome?
The ultimate desired outcome is simple. It is that this pipeline is not built. I have two main reasons... One, having tankers use these estuaries will affect the ecosystem on many levels — worst-case scenario, there is potential for an oil spill. However, just the regular tanker traffic will disrupt the ecosystem irreversibly. Animals living in this coastal wilderness will be disturbed by noise pollution, tankers striking animals, as well as the threat of invasive species brought in with the tankers. This fragile ecosystem is does not need tankers going up these passages.
And two, the pipeline takes away the magic of wilderness. The pipeline must not be built and tankers traffic must not increase. That is the only outcome.