By Tyler Stiem
Claudio studied biology in the National Autonomous University of Mexico but decided to work as a nature photographer instead. He has spent the last 23 years travelling and documenting nature and wildlife in Mexico. During that time he has become ever more involved in conservation-related projects both in his home country and abroad. He joined iLCP in 2009 were he is currently an associate fellow. Also works as a picture editor for conservation and nature-related books.
Claudio, what made you decide to join Expedition: Danajon Bank?
As a teenager I became involved with the science faculty diving group in my university. Part of our duties were to gather scientific data in the field that in time translated into the scientific information used to establish marine protected areas we now have in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. So I do understand the power of this team effort and more recently I have been able to see the power that photography has to advance important conservation causes like the Danajon Bank. It’s a privilege to be a part of this effort with Project Seahorse and iLCP.
What are some of the challenges of nature photography?
Salt and humidity kills the electronics of the equipment, and bugs and other little critters make it hard sometimes to maintain sanity… but sadly in more recent times the hardest thing to overcome is the fear of human violence we are experiencing in Mexico.
Tell us the story of getting one of your favourite images.
Well, the photo of the military macaws made some time ago is still probably my most well-known image. It was a runner-up in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. Back then this place [Tehuacan Valley, Mexico] was completely unknown and macaws had just started to be monitored by biologists. Although inside a Natural Protected Area, there was a risk that these creatures could be lost to pet traders. I was sent there to document them and our work aimed to promote awareness and protection to the site.
Standing at the edge of the cliff as macaws passed flying by with their raucous voices was an unforgettable moment, I’ve never been back to that canyon but as far as I know, the nearby community has taken pride of their macaws and have established ecotourism visits to view the macaws.
How have you seen your past work make a difference to conservation?
I participated in the iLCP’s Sacred Headwaters RAVE expedition in northern British Columbia, Canada. It’s a sacred place to many First Nations people. It is also the region were three undammed salmon-bearing rivers are born.
Wade Davis made a book with the images we were able to obtain and handed a copy to all the members of the Canadian Parliament. It was just one more step in the hard struggle that local people and NGOs are making to protect that prisitine region they call home.
What are you most looking forward to about the expedition?
I sincerely hope that as a team we will be able to produce a portfolio strong enough to convince the Filipino government of the need to increase protections for Danajon Bank.
To see more of Claudio's photos, visit http://www.claudiocontreras.com.