Exploring the jungles of Costa Rica with Conservation Photography

By Leslie Bothwell (ArtSci ’ 14)

Not many people can say they earned an Environmental Science university credit by trekking through the jungle with a digital SLR in hand, but thanks to the field course I took this summer, I can gladly say that I partook in such a unique experience!

I participated in the Tropical Ecology and Conservation Photography field course offered by the Ontario University Field Biology program where I stayed in the Cano Palma field station in Costa Rica. Our 10 day course was held in the heart of the jungle, amidst the monkeys jumping through trees, iguanas meandering down branches and lizards darting about the walls … it was awesome. I encountered species I never knew existed and got to experience and see the environment from a micro-perspective.

Our course focused on the benefits of using visual media to bridge the gap between natural conservation efforts and general public knowledge. Our professor Neil Osborne, member of the International League of Conservation Photographers introduced the concept of ʻConservation Photographyʼ; an up-and-coming field combining photography and visual media with environmental conservation efforts.

For an environmental studies student, this course introduced ideas that I had never thought of or been exposed to before. How can you even begin to communicate problems such as deforestation and habitat loss to a society that is so disconnected from the natural world? Photography, according to conservation photographers, is the answer. In one image, you can create a connection, a feeling. You can effectively communicate understanding. No words are necessary — the message is just there. This course showed me first hand the power of imagery.

I came out of the course having gained basic photography skills, a broadened understanding of media presentation for social and environmental activism, and a huge portfolio of wicked nature shots. I would highly recommend this course to anyone who has the prerequisites (first year biology and stats (I’ll get the course codes)). Check out Ontario Universities Program in Field Biology for a complete list of field courses that are available!

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