Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Perspectives on Marine Conservation from a Visually Impaired Nature Photo
By Rory Dinwoodie
The natural world exists as a remarkable network of relationships from the smallest of microorganisms to the largest mammals, the vast majority of these organisms are too small to be seen by the human eye. Pelagibacterales, for example, is the most abundant organism on earth, with up to half a million of these microbial cells found in every teaspoon of seawater. These tiny bacteria contribute to regulating the earth’s temperature through a symbiotic relationship with phytoplankton. Meanwhile, phytoplankton collectively produces 70-80% of the oxygen on earth compared to 20-30% from inland plants and trees. With powerful images of the burning Amazon rainforest, forest fires in California and ariel shots of mass deforestation in south-east Asia dominating the mainstream media, it’s easy to forget about the little guys in all this. We seem to be facing a problem of visibility surrounding the response to the climate crisis. Whether it be acknowledging the importance of a tiny phytoplankton compared to a massive mahogany in the Amazon or the importance of a plastic straw compared to the millions of specs of microplastics, we need to remember that size doesn’t always matter…
As a visually impaired nature photographer the small things, and quite often the very big things pass me by. Anyone who has been out in the natural world with me can attest to the numbers of birds that I haven’t seen, sharks that seem to just pass me by whilst on a dive, or whales that were just a bit too far away. It’s a bit of a shock whenever I manage to capture anything of note in my photos, and probably why a career in natural history photography remains a bit too ambitious. Nevertheless, when I come to look at my pictures or films in the post, I am able to scale things up and see these fine details, creatures, and plants that before were just a bit of a blur. The blurriness of it all presents me with a unique opportunity to compose shots in a different way that perhaps focuses on the bigger picture rather than the fine details. Not only does this mean that I shoot a lot of landscapes, but when I do have the rare opportunity of seeing a creature in its environment, I like to present it as part of something bigger than itself. All that said, I won’t be getting a picture of phytoplankton anytime soon, but every time I take a picture in the ocean, it’s nice to remember that there are millions of organisms within those tiny pixels or grains of film that help keep this planet alive.
The state of the climate is pretty daunting, and it is hard to know what to do in light of all the destruction going on around us. However, keeping our oceans healthy has to be a priority. We may not be able to see everything that lies beneath the surface but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth protecting and it doesn’t mean that we can use the ocean as a dumping ground. Much of the damage we are inflicting upon the ocean may be out of sight for most of us, but when we observe the big picture, we can’t be blind to the fact that healthy oceans are fundamental in this journey to live sustainable and environmentally conscious lives. So, embrace the things you can’t see. Trust me, it’s a trip.