How do you get someone to care about a place that they’ve never been? A place they may never visit? And people they may never meet? You have to show them. For people to care about a place, they have to know it, and one of the best vehicles for doing so is through images.
“I believe that photography is one of, if not THE most important tool in the conservation toolbox,” world renowned underwater photographer of the Save Our Seas Foundation, Thomas Peschak, said.
Peschak and some of the world’s premiere nature photographers converged this month in the wilds of British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest to collectively save one of the planet’s most wild and special places. Photographers including Paul Nicklen, Florian Schultz, Daniel Beltra, Jack Dykinga, Tom Peschak, Joe Riis and Cristina Mittermeier and videographers including Andy Maser, Trip Jennings and Jason Sturgis took part in the International League of Conservation Photographer’s (iLCP) RAVE or Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition, a program designed to bolster conservation efforts with world-class imagery in order to protect the planet’s most unique ecosystems.
Connecting The Dots
After two weeks on the ground in this diverse corner of the world, iLCP’s team of photographers have emerged from the Great Bear Rainforest with an arsenal of compelling and provocative photographs and film that will help people connect the dots…
Home to white spirit bears, ancient forests, and stunning marine biodiversity, it is one of the planet’s most priceless treasures, but overseas oil interests wanting access to western Canada’s tar sands, the second largest known oil reserves in the world, have put the region in threat, prompting the action of conservation groups and the iLCP.
Enbridge Inc., the world’s largest pipeline construction company, has proposed to open export markets for Alberta’s tar sands oil outside the United States — most notably to China. To get it there, they plan to build a 1,200 km pipeline from the tar sands to British Columbia’s north Pacific coast, crossing more than 1,000 streams and rivers — including some of the world’s largest salmon producing watersheds — and introducing super oil tankers (revoking an existing moratorium on large ships) to transport oil through the pristine waters of the Great Bear Rainforest.
What’s wrong with this picture? The pipeline will carry 525,000 barrels of oil per day, and over the last decade, Enbridge has reported hundreds of spills, most recently in Michigan where more than 1 million gallons of oil flowed into the Kalamazoo River. And Great Bear is home to some of the world’s most treacherous and difficult waterways, the risk that supertankers would pose to the local environment is unimaginable.
At what point will we finally say “no”? You would think that three oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico and two pipeline spills in the Midwest (ahem, both were Enbridge pipelines moving oil from the tar sands) in the last six months would be our clarion warning that it’s time to move away from our incessant addiction to oil.
But Enbridge continues to claim that their pipeline will bring huge benefits to the region (i.e., their pockets). The project’s president, John Carruthers, says the pipeline would bring jobs, tax revenue and economic riches.
A Line In The Sand
The First Nations people have formed a united front to fight the Enbridge pipeline and oil tanker in their traditional territories. That’s right, First Nations, meaning they were here first. To them, they’re already rich. There are not many places where you have a completely pristine terrestrial and marine ecosystem. With plentiful salmon and halibut swimming in their waters and living in peaceful coexistence with bears and wolves, these communities have subsisted off the rich life in Great Bear for millenia. And they are prepared to fight.
“We have drawn a line in the sand. There will be no Enbridge Pipeline and there will be no crude oil tankers in our waters. This is not a battle we intend to lose,” said Gerald Amos, President of the Coastal First Nations. “This oil madness has to stop, and this is the place and time for us all to embrace our responsibilities. Now is time to stop the proposed supertankers from soiling our coast and robbing us of our livelihoods.”
Oil industry interests aren’t just a question of the health of the environment — it’s a question of the health of society. And for the First Nations in Great Bear, it’s a direct threat to their way of life.
Wally Bolton (right), of the Gitga’at people of Hartley Bay, feeds his family with the fish he pulls from the water near Kitimat.
“This is my bread and butter,” he said, adding a message for Enbridge: “Stop. Please, please, stop.”
And they’re not alone. A growing coalition of conservation groups, including heavy hitters from the iLCP have joined the battle, and they’re not backing down either.
“Enbridge’s bid to bring oil to BC’s north coast just got a whole lot more complicated,” said Ian McAllister, Executive Director of the BC non-profit Pacific Wild. “These are among the greatest nature images we have ever witnessed and they will soften even the most ardent supporter of Enbridge’s efforts to bring oil to our coast.”
Under the water, on land and in the air, this team of photographers is bringing the story of Great Bear home. Marine photographers and filmmakers submerged their cameras and themselves underwater to film whales, sea lions and other wildlife that stand to be lost from an oil spill. On land, photographers trekked through the rainforest to capture the iconic spirit bears, black bears, salmon, wolves and incredible landscapes on film. For the next several months, these images will be splashed across North America and Europe to give a face to this fight. And it will ultimately be up to us.
“What is the big deal in sacrificing the livelihoods, traditions and sustenance of entire indigenous communities, when the rest of us will not accept paying the full ecological and social price at the pump?” Cristina Mittermeier, iLCP’s founder and president said. “If all goes well, we will build a constituency of opposition to this project both in Canada and abroad. If we fail to be offended to our core by these type of projects, we will deserve every Gulf Oil Spill coming our way in the future.”
We have the opportunity to set an example with this place. To show how we deal with the last few wild places on our planet and for how we respect the rights of First Nations and all indigenous people across the globe. Will Canada, and all of us, do what is right for our society in the long run, or damn ourselves to a future with constant threat of oil spills and displacement of human and wildlife communities?
Sometimes it just takes a change in perspective to see that it’s not worth it. It’s not worth the risk. We have too much to lose. And too much to save.
To learn more and help to protect the Great Bear Rainforest, please visit www.ilcp.com.