On Assignment | SOSF Marine Conservation Photography Grant 2016
Justin Gilligan and Sirachai (Shin) Arunrugstichai, the two winners of the second Save Our Seas Foundation Photography Grant, were assigned the tasks of documenting the interface between urban and marine life in South Florida (Justin) and recording changes to the Bimini ecosystem when commercial development moves in (Shin). Conservation Media Unit staffer Jade Schultz describes their experiences.
Jade Schultz reflects on her experience at Bimini and the Shark Lab while in the field with Marine Conservation Photography grantee ‘Shin’ Arunrugstichai.
We sat in still suspense, submerged in the shallow water, the crowns of our heads just breaking the water’s surface. Our masks and snorkels had become part of our anatomy for that afternoon and there was an unspoken code that we would leave the sanctuary of the water only when the excitement of having seen one of Bimini’s cherished juvenile lemon sharks became too much to take. What evil were we trying to evade? Sand fleas. These minute critters were out in full force after a brief afternoon thunderstorm and each of us was very aware that if one of these tiny menaces managed to sink their teeth into us, we would be itching relentlessly for the next week.
Together with five others from the Shark Lab, I was deep in the middle of the mangroves at Aya’s Spot, one of the lab’s favourite locations for juvenile lemon shark sightings. We were here accompanying Shin on a trip to this remote spot where he was hoping to get the ‘kickass natural history shot’ that would help him tell the story about how vital the mangroves of Bimini are as a nursery area for sharks and many other species. Like statues we waited patiently, suspended between the sea grass and the water’s glassy surface, keeping our eyes peeled for a glimpse of a lemon shark.
Below the surface, time seemed to stand still. The only reminder that a reality existed outside this underwater wonderland was my audible breathing through the snorkel. I was totally mesmerised by the warm, crystal-clear water and the shadows of the mangrove trees that created a black backdrop for tiny particles of organic matter and the fallen orange and yellow leaves dancing above us as they floated past with the incoming tide.
Dappled light permeated through the canopy of the mangroves and shafts of golden sunlight streamed through the natural columns of the trees’ roots. Between those roots wove curious schoolmaster snappers and other underwater residents, cautiously coming closer to investigate the alien visitors. And then I would glance up and realise that everything that was taking place right in front of my eyes was being reflected back to me on the still water’s mirror-like surface.
The Save Our Seas Foundation believes that photography is a powerful tool for marine conservation. We invite emerging conservation and wildlife photographers who have a passion for marine subjects to apply for our 2016 grant. This is a unique opportunity for photographers to go on assignment, earn an income and gain experience under the guidance of National Geographic photographer Thomas Peschak.