Celebrate Nature Photography Day!

Sequoia National Park, California

Sequoias in the snow, Sequoia National Park, California

Today, June 15th, is Nature Photography Day! This day was designated by the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) 11 years ago “to promote the enjoyment of nature photography, and to explain how images have been used to advance the cause of conservation and protect plants, wildlife, and landscapes locally and worldwide.”

Sequoia National Park, California

Me hanging out in a Sequoia, Kings Canyon National Park, California

To celebrate Nature Photography Day, I’m headed out to my local park today for a hike with my camera. I also thought I’d share some of my favorite nature images from the last few months, most of which have been created in U.S. National Parks. This year, rather than roaming around tropical jungles and remote islands, I’ve been exploring wilderness areas in the United States. Despite being a self-proclaimed “nature photographer”, I’ve spent relatively little time in America’s iconic parks. I’ve never visited the Grand Canyon or Arches or Yellowstone, and my few trips to the West Coast have been for conferences. This spring, to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the U.S. National Park Service, Rick and I decided to fly out west for a National Parks road trip from Las Vegas to San Francisco. The trip, which lasted three weeks, took us to Death Valley, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks. We hiked mountains, climbed sand dunes, and gazed up at redwoods. Looking down over Yosemite Valley at dusk, I was reminded of how lucky I am to live in a country that values wild places.

In a time when we can hop on a plane and visit national parks around the world, from Namibia to Peru to Indonesia, it is easy to forget how special our own parks are. In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant made Yellowstone National Park the first national park in the world. Over forty years later, in 1916, the U.S. National Park Service was created to care for our national parks. Thanks to these systems, there are still places where we can escape urbanization, where we can make eye contact with bobcats and bears, and where we can feel small.

I hope everyone gets outside today with a camera (or a camera phone) to a local park, an urban green space, or even to a national park. Happy Nature Photography Day! Learn more at NANPA Nature Photography Day.

 

 

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Cloud Forests: Orchids in the Wild

I’ve been enchanted by montane cloud forests since my first visit to a cloud forest in Ecuador over seven years ago. I still remember walking up the shrouded trail and seeing colorful orchids hanging above me like a living chandelier. Since that time, I’ve been fortunate to visit cloud forests in Peru, Costa Rica, Madagascar, Malaysia, and Indonesia. I have often planned entire trips around visits to these special ecosystems.

On January 15th, I had a solo photo exhibit open at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, Missouri. The exhibit, called “Cloud Forests: Orchids in the Wild,” features images from cloud forests around the world and it is part of an ongoing passion project that I’ve been working on for almost six years. The exhibit features 18 large prints, many of which are 30 x 40 inches. The images were adjusted by my father, Paul Salazar, and printed by My Kolors printing in Winston Salem, North Carolina. I had to prepare the exhibit while I was abroad in Mauritius, so I was very grateful for their help.

Since the images of the exhibit show the prints far away, here is a small gallery of some of the images featured in the exhibit and some of my other cloud forest favorites. I hope they show just how rich and special these forests are.

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Exhibit panel text: 

Tropical cloud forests are as enchanting as they are rare. Almost continuously shrouded in mist, these high-elevation rainforests cover less than 0.14% of the world’s land surface. It is the high moisture content in the air that makes these forests so unique: the humidity fosters the growth of incredible plant communities, including an astonishing diversity of wild orchids. Many cloud forest species are found nowhere else on Earth, and these fragile ecosystems are threatened by deforestation and climate change.

Exhibit at Missouri Botanical Garden

Exhibit at Missouri Botanical Garden

 

Cloud forests are critically important ecosystems. They are like sponges – they pull water out of the air and that water drips to the ground, feeding rivers at lower elevations. In Peru and Ecuador, cloud forests in the Andes help feed the Amazon River. They are a critical part of the water cycle and are also home to many incredible species that are found nowhere else on Earth.

If these images inspire you to visit a cloud forest, one of easiest places to get to from the United States is Costa Rica’s famous Monteverde cloud forest: http://www.monteverdeinfo.com. Bring binoculars!

Exhibit at Missouri Botanical Garden

Exhibit at Missouri Botanical Garden

Gabby One

Me in front of one of the exhibit walls. Photo by Burt Remis

To see more of my cloud forest images, please visit my website: Cloud Forest Gallery.

 

Mauritius Beyond the Dodo Exhibit

Opening of Mauritius Beyond the Dodo Exhibit at Rogers House in Port Louis, Mauritius. The traveling exhibit is sponsored by the United States Embassy in Mauritius.

Opening of Mauritius Beyond the Dodo Exhibit at Rogers House in Port Louis, Mauritius. The traveling exhibit is sponsored by the United States Embassy in Mauritius.

For the last few months, I have been based in Mauritius while my partner, Rick Stanley, takes a course on Endangered Species Recovery with the Durrell Conservation Trust. While he has been studying, I have been photographing. Early on, I contacted The Mauritian Wildlife Foundation to see if they would be willing to collaborate with me on a project to document the unique wildlife and nature of Mauritius and its surrounding islets. Thus, the idea for the project “Mauritius Beyond the Dodo” was born. We received funding for the project from the U.S. Embassy in Mauritius and I have been hard at work for the past three months – photographing wildlife, plants, and research trips. The National Parks and Conservation Service staff here in Mauritius have also been very helpful.

Last week, our 30-image photo exhibit opened in the capital city of Mauritius (Port Louis). It included five images from the Mauritian photographer Jacques de Spéville. Our honored guests were the President of the Republic of Mauritius, Her Excellency Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, and the U.S. Ambassador to Mauritius, Shari Villarosa. Her Excellency spoke about the history of conservation in Mauritius and officially “opened” the exhibit, which will travel around the country over the next few months. It is already scheduled to make a stop at two museums, the university, a high school, and a shopping center.

Banner 2 Design FINAL_forwebHere is the story from the exhibit board:

Mauritius Beyond the Dodo

The dodo is everywhere and nowhere in Mauritius. It is seen on billboards, on t-shirts, and as curios, and yet it has been extinct for over 300 years. While the dodo has become a mascot of the island, many of the country’s remaining endemic species stand on the brink of extinction. Just a few decades ago, the Mauritius Kestrel, the Rodrigues mandrinette and the Echo Parakeet had declined to a handful of individuals and seemed destined to go the way of the Dodo. Fortunately, they were saved in the eleventh hour thanks to the pioneering work of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and its partners. This exhibit, featuring photographs by Gabby Salazar and Jacques de Spéville, highlights some of the lesser known endemic and threatened species found in Mauritius and Rodrigues – such as the lowland forest day gecko or the Mauritius olive white-eye. Many of these species are found nowhere else on our planet and they represent the unique natural heritage of Mauritius. It is our hope that this exhibit can help shift the conversation away from what Mauritius has already lost – the dodo – to all of the incredible plants and animals that Mauritius and Rodrigues still has.

About The Mauritian Wildlife Foundation:
The Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF) is the only non-governmental organization in Mauritius to be exclusively concerned with the conservation and preservation of the nation’s endangered plant and animal species.Our hands-on conservation projects are carried out in Mauritius, Rodrigues, and offshore islets. We work closely with local and international partners, with the long-term aim of recreating lost ecosystems by saving some of our rarest species from extinction and restoring the native ecosystems.

See some images from Mauritius (the exhibit images will be up soon): Mauritius Images

You can support the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation here: http://www.mauritian-wildlife.org/application/

Gabby Salazar presenting a photo print to the President of the Republic of Mauritius, Her Excellency Ameenah Gurib-Fakim. Photographed at the opening of the Mauritius Beyond the Dodo Photo Exhibit at Rogers House, Port Louis, Mauritius. The exhibit was sponsored by the United States Embassy in Mauritius and was created in partnership with The Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. It features images of the endemic and threatened species of Mauritius.

Me presenting a photo print to the President of the Republic of Mauritius, Her Excellency Ameenah Gurib-Fakim. Photographed at the opening of the Mauritius Beyond the Dodo Photo Exhibit at Rogers House, Port Louis, Mauritius. The exhibit was sponsored by the United States Embassy in Mauritius and was created in partnership with The Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. 

Gabby Salazar, photographer, with the President of Mauritius, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, and US Ambassador Shari Villarosa at the exhibit opening of Mauritius Beyond the Dodo in Port Louis, Mauritius. The exhibit, Mauritius Beyond the Dodo, features images of the island’s endemic and threatened species. It was created in partnership with the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and was sponsored by the United States Embassy.

Me with the President of Mauritius, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, and US Ambassador Shari Villarosa at the exhibit opening of Mauritius Beyond the Dodo in Port Louis, Mauritius. The exhibit, Mauritius Beyond the Dodo, features images of the island’s endemic and threatened species. 

Island out of Time

The rugged coastline of Round Island, a volcanic island made of basalt.

The rugged coastline of Round Island, a volcanic island made of basalt.

Visiting Round Island felt a bit like going back in time. I had waited for almost seven weeks for permission to travel to this small volcanic island to the north of Mauritius, and I was finally sitting on the rocky coastline, peeling off my wet socks. My camera bag was surprisingly dry after being subjected to over two hours of sea spray and essentially tossed on to the shore from the boat. I was less than dry, with salt caked around my lips and eyes, and my clothes drenched in seawater. I pulled out my camera to photograph the boat as it pulled away from the shore. With only five days to document this tiny slice of paradise, I did not have any time to waste.

Round Island is an uninhabited island to the north of Mauritius that was classified as a nature reserve back in 1957. Off limit to tourists, access to the island is restricted to researchers and government officials. It is jointly managed by the National Parks and Conservation Service and the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, the country’s oldest environmental organization. The sea is so rough around the island, that getting on to the shore is a challenge in and of itself. There is no dock, so boats have to carefully approach the rocks, allowing passengers to leap onto the rocky coast. This feat is best attempted in dry socks, which provide some traction on the often-slimy basalt.

Food is delievered to Round Island by the Mauritian Natioanl Coast Guard every week or two throughout the year. The supplies are sent in tightly sealed barrels to protect contents from the rough seas.

Food is delivered to Round Island by the Mauritian Natioanl Coast Guard every week or two throughout the year. The supplies are sent in tightly sealed barrels to protect contents from the rough seas.

As soon as I landed, I understood why human access is limited. Walking on the island is a treacherous affair, both because of the uneven and slippery ground and because wildlife is constantly underfoot. Seabirds, including the red-tailed tropicbird, the Round Island petrel, and the wedge-tailed shearwater, nest on the open rock. Lizards scurry underfoot, more curious than scared of the human giants exploring their turf. The island is internationally famous for its reptile community with seven species of reptiles that are endemic to Mauritius. Some of the creatures, including the Round Island boa and the Durrell’s night gecko, are only found on this tiny island, having been extirpated from mainland Mauritius.

We had to hike from the landing rock to the tiny field station with barrels of supplies strapped to our backs. The coast guard, which brought me to the island, also brings food to the researchers every two weeks. The food and our possessions are sealed in these barrels to protect them from the seawater and to protect the island from unwanted visitors. My clothes had been sealed in a barrel a few days before, after undergoing a strict quarantine. I had to check each inch of fabric for unwanted seeds, ants, and other creatures that might hitch a ride to the pristine wilderness of Round Island. The island’s ecosystem could be forever altered by just one pregnant rat or by a particularly invasive plant species. Having pulled over 100 hidden seeds from the seams and zippers of my “clean” clothing, I had a better understanding of the impact of globalization on sensitive places. Without even realizing it, we humans bring hitchhikers with us wherever we go.

The field station on Round Island is a tiny wooden building that is nestled at the base of the island’s summit. There are four bunks inside and a tiny kitchen. The small light bulbs are powered by a solar panel, which is intermittently reliable. I picked a top bunk and was told by one of the researchers that I had made a good choice – she had never heard of anyone finding scorpions or boas in that particular bed. In the kitchen, I found two of the island’s endangered reptiles exploring the counter. A Telfair’s skink was nibbling on cheese scraps left in a grater and a Gunther’s gecko was happily licking away at the spout on a bottle of honey. As I often feel more comfortable with animals than with humans, this made me feel right at home.

A Telfair's skink hangs out in the kitchen of the tiny field station on Round Island, Mauritius

A Telfair’s skink hangs out in the kitchen of the tiny field station on Round Island, Mauritius

My exploration began at sunset, when Jean, the island’s warden, offered to hike with me to the Summit. At 21 years old, Jean is in charge or protecting the island and its wildlife. After a couple of years in the French Foreign Legion, he decided to return to Mauritius to fight a different kind of battle – one as a conservationist. Knowing that I only have a few days on the island, he has offered to serve as my guide and has already suggested a number of routes that would be good for photos. Our first stop is the island’s peak, where I can get a 360-degree view of the surrounding ocean and hopefully see a few of the island’s 500 giant Aldabra tortoises.

Jean, the warden of Round Island, Mauritius

Jean, the warden of Round Island, Mauritius

While it only took about 30 minutes, the hike to the top was steep and slippery. Since most of the route is along a bare rock face, the hike can only be attempted when it is not raining. When wet, the rock is essentially a waterfall with a slope of about 35 degrees. Thankfully, there had not been any rain and the clouds forebode a nice sunset rather than a downpour.

From the top, I could see mainland Mauritius to my left and an endless expanse of ocean to my right. Giant tortoises were trudging around the exposed rock face and the occasional tropicbird swooped in front of the setting sun. The island was unlike any other place I had ever seen. At any moment, I expected a pterodactyl to rise in front of me or a dinosaur to lift its head above the towering rocks. The island, isolated from the impacts of humans, seemed to have escaped the ravages of time.

The Aldabra giant tortoise, from the islands of the Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles, is one of the largest tortoises in the world. It was introduced to Mauritius in the late 19th century as part of an effort led by Charles Darwin to help save the tortoise. At that time, the two species of tortoise that were originally found in Mauritius were already extinct. It was introduced on Round Island as an ecological replacement. Now, over 500 tortoises roam free on the small island.

The Aldabra giant tortoise, from the islands of the Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles, is one of the largest tortoises in the world. It was introduced to Mauritius in the late 19th century as part of an effort led by Charles Darwin to help save the tortoise. At that time, the two species of tortoise that were originally found in Mauritius were already extinct. It was introduced on Round Island as an ecological replacement. Now, over 500 tortoises roam free on the small island.

Sunset was purple and lavender and magenta. From above, the tumultuous ocean flattened into a sea of glass and reflected the light show in the sky. I watched in awe as a tortoise ambled in front of the setting sun and as another tucked under a rock to wait out the night. Standing in the breeze, I felt renewed as I was reminded why I do what I do – I want places like this one to continue to exist, and I hope, that in some small way, the images I create will contribute to their protection.

To see more images form Mauritius, visit my website here or follow me on Instagram @gabbyrsalazar.

Sunset from the Summit of Round Island, Mauritius

Sunset from the Summit of Round Island, Mauritius

A red-tailed tropicbird nests on the ground of Round Island, Mauritius

A red-tailed tropicbird nests on the ground of Round Island, Mauritius

Me on Round Island, Mauritius

Me on Round Island, Mauritius

Sunrise on Round Island, Mauritius

Sunrise on Round Island, Mauritius

Rodrigues Island

For the past two weeks, I have been joined in Mauritius by a friend from high school, Trae Middlebrooks. A couple of months ago I had sent him a message that started “Do you want to go on an adventure . . . ?” He responded in the affirmative, no questions asked.

Although we stayed a few days on the main island of Mauritius, the bulk of our trip was  spent on the island of Rodrigues. Rodrigues, part of the Republic of Mauritius, is a small island with about 40,000 residents. It takes 90 minutes to fly to it from Mauritius, and yet you can drive across the whole island in less than half an hour. It is perhaps the quietist place I have ever been.

Like Mauritius, Rodrigues is known for its Chambre d’Hotes, or guesthouses. Most of these establishments are owned by a family and provide family style breakfast and dinner to their guests. This style of guesthouse is the best way to get to know a place as you have a constant travel resource in the owners and in the the other guests. At Chez Jeanette, where we stayed for two nights, we enjoyed the company of a host of Rodriguans. One young man who joined us worked in family planning and told us all about the challenges of birth control and women’s health on the island. This led to a blush-inducing conversation about love and relationships on Rodrigues – a place where the dating scene seems to top that of Boston and other major US cities.

View from Residence Vue d'Horizon, one of the guesthouses we stayed at.

View from Residence Vue d’Horizon, one of the guesthouses we stayed at.

After checking into our hotel, we set off to the capital city. Viewed from an overlook on the way, we observed that it was charmingly small and would qualify only as a village in any other part of the world. Our driver had laughed when we said we might want a few hours to explore before he picked us up again. Our circuit around the town lasted about 45 minutes, but exposed us to a local craft market, a little bakery and a series of interesting shops. Near the beach we watched as a young boy of 10 or 12 chopped open coconuts with a machete. We bought two to drink, cringing with each chop. I asked him to hold up his hands so I could count his remaining fingers, but he did not get the joke.

A young boy cuts open a coconut in Port Mathurin, the capital city of Rodrigues Island, Mauritius.

A young boy cuts open a coconut in Port Mathurin, the capital city of Rodrigues Island, Mauritius.

We met our driver back in town and asked him to take us to Trou d’Argent, a beach that had been recommended to me by everyone who knew I was going to Rodrigues. Instead of taking us directly there, he dropped us off at the beginning of a trail that winds along the coast, passing by Trou d’Argent and a series of other small coves. The plan was for him to pick us up on the other side. My logistical questions – “How long is the trail?” “Is there cell service?” “Will we know when it ends?” “Where will we meet you?” – fell on deaf ears. He would met us on the beach we were told.

View from the coast walk along the Southern Coast of Rodrigues, Mauritius

View from the coast walk along the Southern Coast of Rodrigues, Mauritius

Thus we set off with no map or guide on a walk along the Eastern coast of Rodrigues. The trail turned out to be one of the most enchanting walks I have ever taken. It passed along rocky cliffs and led down into a series of secluded beaches. There were intermittent bursts of rain and sun, which led to brilliant rainbows above these secret havens. Trae dipped in the chilly ocean while I crawled around with my camera, photographing the little caves and chasing after crabs. We only saw one other couple during our three hours, a pattern that would continue throughout our time on the island.

View of Trou d'Argent Beach, Rodrigues, Mauritius

View of Trou d’Argent Beach, Rodrigues, Mauritius

We climbed a high cliff to watch the ocean crash against the reef and were soaked by a sudden rain shower. In between beaches there were pockets of native coastal forest filled with bizarre trees and bushes. As the sun started to set we began to wonder exactly where we were on the path and exactly which beach (of many) the driver would be on. Just as I began to lose hope, we spotted him ahead, silhouetted against the dusk. On the drive back to the hotel, Trae and I agreed that the walk was better than a nap.

In between our outdoor excursions, we have done our best to soak up a bit of the local culture. On our first night, we went to a different hotel to see a live performance of Sega Tambour, the version of Sega that is special to Rodrigues. Sega music is a wonderful mix of reggae, African spirituals, and island music. The band we saw was called Manniok and it is one of over 200 Sega bands on the island – a pretty large number considering the population. We sat on the beach as the band danced, moving between guitar, drums, accordion, and tambour. My favorite song told the sad story of the Solitaire, a bird very much like the dodo that was once found in Rodrigues.

Manniok Sega Band, Rodrigues Island, Mauritius

Manniok Sega Band, Rodrigues Island, Mauritius

Another highlight was a stop at a local bakery owned by a woman named Valerie. I had read about her shop and was drawn to it by the promise of passion fruit cake. What was meant to a be a brief stop turned into a longer visit as Valerie herself guided us around the shop, explaining the process of creating jams, achards, and bread. Incredibly, Valerie makes all these products by hand despite having lost her sight a few years back. She graciously allowed me to come in her kitchen and photograph her while she rolled out loaves of starfruit bread. While shaping a perfectly oblong loaf, she explained that she is able to feel when bread and other products are ready and relies on her bare hands to guide her.

Valerie's, a local bakery and confiture shop in the town of Citronelle, Rodrigues, Mauritius.

Valerie’s, a local bakery and confiture shop in the town of Citronelle, Rodrigues, Mauritius.

Rodrigues was completely charming. If you are looking for a place to escape that is not full of large resorts and fences, it is certainly an out of the way place to consider. As I told many people on the island, I had never even heard of it before we arrived in Mauritius. Now, I’m happy to spread the word . . .

View from the Southern Coast of Rodrigues, Mauritius

View from the Southern Coast of Rodrigues, Mauritius

A pirogue in the Indian Ocean near Rodrigues Island

A pirogue in the Indian Ocean near Rodrigues Island

Stay tuned for an upcoming post on the natural areas we visited, from Francois Leguat Tortoise Reserve to the beautiful Ile aux Coco nature reserve . . . .

Island of Rare Things

The island of Ile aux Aigrettes as seen from Pointe d'Esny, Mauritius.

The island of Ile aux Aigrettes as seen from Pointe d’Esny, Mauritius.

The last few weeks have been a blur of spicy curries, afternoons in unrelenting sun, and turquoise waters. My freckles are glowing and new ones emerge each day, despite my best efforts to cover up.

I tend to keep up such a pace on these trips that I often forget to take notes, so I am happy to take a day off to chronicle my experiences and to reflect on all of the things I have seen. So far I have summited three mountains, snorkeled in two bays, visited a handful of nature reserves, observed rare and endemic bird species, and had my fill of street foods, from heavy faratas to fried balls of arrowroot.

One of my favorite places to visit is Ile aux Aigrettes (Egret Island), a tiny island off the East Coast of Mauritius. Visiting the island is like walking back in time. While mainland Mauritius is overrun with exotic and invasive species, Ile aux Aigrettes (IAA) is a haven for the rare and the endemic – a glimpse back to what Mauritius would have looked like before colonization.

In 1985, the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation began restoring native plants on IAA. The first step was removing all of the exotic species – fast-growing plants that towered over rare endemics and introduced animals that competed with (or ate) native birds and reptiles. After that, MWF started to plant endemic trees and flowering plants and to gradually reintroduce species that needed a safe haven.

On the tiny island, you can find 21 giant Aldabra tortoises, originally from the Seychelles. Mauritius had it’s own species of giant tortoise, but it was driven to extinction due to overharvesting by the Dutch and French settlers who first visited the island. It was actually Charles Darwin (who visited Mauritius) who helped move some Aldabra tortoises to Mauritius toward the end of the 19th century. Now, IAA is one of the few places where you can see these species in the wild.

An Aldabra giant tortoise on Ile aux Aigrettes, Mauritius.

An Aldabra giant tortoise on Ile aux Aigrettes, Mauritius.

The other reptiles are equally interesting – from the jewel-like Phelsuma day geckos to the endangered giant skinks. The day geckos are some of the most brilliantly colored creatures I have ever encountered. They hang out in the palms, often tucked away between the leaves. Day geckos are really only found in the Indian Ocean islands and mostly on Mauritius and Madagascar (there are two exceptions to this rule – one species on the East Coast of Africa and one in the Andaman Islands). Mauritus has four species, and the one found on IAA is called the Mauritius ornate day gecko (Phelsuma ornata). They look like they are grinning if you catch them at the right angle.

A Mauritius ornate day gecko (Phelsuma ornata) on a species of Pandanus.

A Mauritius ornate day gecko (Phelsuma ornata) on a species of Pandanus.

In addition to the animals, there are a host of rare plants. The island has become a kind of living museum and a reservoir in case the plants are wiped out in other parts of Mauritius. You can see the Round Island bottle palm, which has been transplanted from a small island of the northeastern coast of Mauritius. The palm is endemic to Round Island and is critically endangered – thankfully a few now grow on IAA. A plant nursery on the island also serves as a repository of rare and endangered species and attempts are being made to propagate other rare plants to aid in their conservation.

An endemic species of hibiscus. Hibiscus is used as an ornamental plant around the world, but many of the species come from Mauritius originally.

An endemic species of hibiscus. Hibiscus is used as an ornamental plant around the world, but many of the species come from Mauritius originally.

Beyond the incredible wildlife, what I most love about Ile aux Aigrettes is that it is open to the public. Tours can be arranged through the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation so that both tourists and locals can learn about Mauritius’ endangered species. While the story of the dodo is a fascinating one, I am frustrated by how much attention it gets relative to the island’s remaining species. The island is full of incredible animals and plants that are found nowhere else on earth – it is time for Mauritius to be known for what it has rather than for what it has lost.

A dodo statue on the island reminds everyone of what has been lost.

A dodo statue on the island reminds everyone of what has been lost.

A view of Ile aux Aigrettes with Lion Mountain in the background.

A view of Ile aux Aigrettes with Lion Mountain in the background.

Pandanus vandermeeschii, a native plant species on Ile aux Aigrettes, Mauritius.

Pandanus vandermeeschii, a native plant species on Ile aux Aigrettes, Mauritius.

Beyond the Beaches

Bamboo orchids (Arundina graminifolia) growing along the side of a reservoir in Black River Gorges National Park, Mauritius.

Bamboo orchids (Arundina graminifolia) growing along the side of a reservoir in Black River Gorges National Park, Mauritius.

After a few days basking on the white sand beaches of Mauritius, I was ready to explore the interior. With my tiny orange rental car, I have spent the last two weeks crisscrossing the island, stopping to photograph a colorful graveyard next to the ocean or to watch the sunset over a waterfall.

A rainbow spreads across the Chamaral Waterfall in Black River, Mauritius.

A rainbow spreads across the Chamaral Waterfall in Black River, Mauritius.

Throughout my meanderings, I carry a notebook with me and mark down places I should return to with a different lens or at a different time of day. My notes read “Giant fruit bats swoop at dusk – bring 70-200mm lens and flash” or “Return in one week to catch hibiscus in full bloom.” I have amassed quite a list of possibilities and hope to bring Rick along to the best spots when he has time off from his classes.

In addition to exploring on my own, I have found a great travel companion. A few months ago, I met a Mauritian woman named Stephanie Manuel on Facebook through a delightful happenstance. A colleague had started a discussion about the lack of female wildlife photojournalists and Stephanie responded and shared a bit of her story. I reached out to her and we’ve been corresponding since that time. This week, we met up for two days of hiking and photographing and I’m thrilled to have found such a sweet and talented travel companion (check out more of Stephanie’s work on her website: http://www.stephaniemanuelphotography.com).

Stephanie Manuel hikes through a grove of guava trees in Black River Gorges National Park, Mauritius.

Stephanie Manuel hikes through a grove of guava trees in Black River Gorges National Park, Mauritius.

One of the highlights of my week was hiking to the Summit of Piton du Canot, one of the easier peaks to access here in Mauritius. Four of Rick’s classmates went with me on the hike and they were great sports as I lingered to photograph the landscape and the last rays of sunlight. We got on the trail around 4:30pm and were able to make the Summit – a short, but rigorous hike – in about 45 minutes. From there, we had a 360-degree view of the island – from never-ending turquoise water on one side to rolling mountain ranges in the interior. As the sun cast rays over a small offshore island, I breathed deep and took some time to be thankful.

Sunset over Ile aux Benitiers as seen from the Summit of Pinot du Canot mountain in Mauritius.

Sunset over Ile aux Benitiers as seen from the Summit of Pinot du Canot mountain in Mauritius.

On our way down from Piton du Canot, we were also surprised when a giant fruit bat swooped by just a few feet over our heads. It banked in the wind and we were able to see its red fur glowing in the last rays of sunlight. From a nearby overlook we watched as dozens of bats circled over the forest canopy, silhouetted against the ocean. The Mauritian fruit bat is an endangered species, so it was pretty magical to see it so close, juxtaposed against the ocean and villages below. I’ll be returning there soon in hopes of photographing the bats at close range.

I will share more soon from my adventures. For now, here are a few favorite images from the past week. This week’s plans include a visit to Ile aux Aigrettes (an offshore island run by Mauritian Wildlife Foundation) and a search for jewel-like day geckos.

Want to see daily updates from the field? Follow me on Instagram at @gabbyrsalazar.

Trees near Bois Cheri Tea Plantation in the highlands near Black River, Mauritius.

Trees near Bois Cheri Tea Plantation in the highlands near Black River, Mauritius.

Sunset as seen from the Summit of Pinto du Canot Mountain in Mauritius.

Sunset as seen from the Summit of Pinto du Canot Mountain in Mauritius.

Chamaral Waterfall in the late evening, Black River, Mauritius.

Chamaral Waterfall in the late evening, Black River, Mauritius.

Rick and his classmates play ball on La Preneuse Beach at sunset in Mauritius.

Rick and his classmates play ball on La Preneuse Beach at sunset in Mauritius.

Land of the Dodo

Le Morne Brabant, Mauritius

I have escaped to a tropical paradise just as it was starting to get warm in Maryland. A little over a week ago, Rick and I packed our considerable luggage and made the long journey to the country of Mauritius – a small island in the Indian Ocean (see map). We have set up camp (in an apartment) near the beach and are gradually adjusting to island life.

Map of Mauritius - see red dot.

Map of Mauritius – see red dot.

Most of you have probably never even heard of Mauritius – while it draws over 1,000,000 tourists each year, only around 10,000 of those are Americans. It is famous for its beautiful white-sand beaches, its tropical climate, and its mountainous landscape. It is also known as the former home of the dodo – the large, flightless bird that was driven to extinction within 100 years of its discovery by Europeans.

Central Market in Port Louis, Mauritius

La Preneuse Beach near our apartment in Mauritius.

 

We will be here on and off for the next six months while Rick participates in a post-graduate course in Endangered Species Recovery. The course is organized by Durrell Conservation Trust and the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF) to teach students about the challenges of biodiversity conservation in the field.

This week Rick has already come face-to-face with a number of the islands critically endangered species – pink pigeons, fruit bats, and fodys. These species are only found in Mauritius and were on the brink of extinction when Durrell and MWF stepped in to aid in their recovery. Just a few years ago, three of the island’s endemic bird species had less than 20 individuals living in the wild – now their populations are in the hundreds. While Rick works on his course, I hope to document some of this pioneering conservation work as a volunteer with MWF.

So what is life like in Mauritius? I must admit that we aren’t exactly roughing it. Our apartment is about 100 feet from the beach and a short walk from a grocery store. There seem to be wine shops and patisseries on every corner – clear evidence of the island’s long relationship with France. If you don’t want European fare, the island has wonderful Indian and Mauritian cuisine. On street corners you can buy rotis (flat Indian bread) stuffed with homemade chutneys for around $0.30 USD.

Food for sale at a market in Port Louis.

Food for sale at a market in Port Louis.

The people here are wonderfully friendly. In one week, I’ve gotten to know more of my immediate neighbors than I did in two years in Pennsylvania. I already have plans to play tennis with one neighbor, to hike with another, and to have dinner with a nice family across the street. In the evenings, everyone ventures out to the beach to watch the sunset, greeting each other with a friendly “Bonjour” and a smile.

We have also ventured out beyond our charming little village in our tiny rental car. They drive on the other side of the road here, so that has taken a bit of an adjustment. They also seem to have  imported their driving patterns from India, so each trip feels like a true-life version of Mario Kart.

Yesterday I woke up at 4:30am and joined a local group on a sunrise hike in Le Morne Cultural Landscape. Le Morne is a UNESCO World Heritage site both for its environmental and cultural history. During the 18th and 19th centuries, it served as a haven for runaway slaves and has since become a symbol of freedom in Mauritius. I’ll write more about the hike later, but suffice it to say that the views simply took my breath away.

I’ll write more soon about this little slice of paradise. Although I may just stay away from my computer – there is nothing like island life to cure the constant checking of emails and the stress of city life. I don’t yet know the word for it here, but I’m confident that “mañana” is one of the most used words/concepts on tropical islands.

Want to see more photos? Follow me on Instagram at @gabbyrsalazar.

La Preneuse Public Beach in Black River, Mauritius.

La Preneuse Public Beach in Black River, Mauritius.

The seven colored earth of the Chamaral - a geological formation (basaltic rock turned into clay) that is a popular tourist attraction.

The seven colored earth of the Chamaral – a geological formation (basaltic rock turned into clay) that is a popular tourist attraction.

 

 

Beyond the Beaches

As I write this, I’m sitting on a balcony in the Dominican Republic, listening to the wind rustle through the palm trees. It is peaceful – the quiet only broken when I slap a mosquito off my bare arms.

Tomorrow morning, Rick and I leave for a week-long trip in the Sierra de Bahoruco, a mountain range in the western Dominican Republic. We will be joining a group of coleopterists (beetle biologists) as they search for new beetles. The expedition is part of a longer-term project to create a field guide to the longhorn beetles of the Dominican Republic. Rick is helping with the guide, both as a photographer and co-author, and I get to tag along with my camera. It is great to be back out in the field!

Sasha, a beetle biologist, uses an aspirator to suck tiny beetles off a sheet in the forest

Sasha, a beetle biologist, uses an aspirator to suck tiny beetles off a sheet in the forest

I plan to make a few posts about this trip when I return, but I thought I’d share some exciting news before I go off into the mountains:

  • iLCP: I was recently accepted into the Emerging League of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP). I’ll be a part of the Emerging League for the next three years and hope that this incredible mentoring program will help me make my conservation photography projects more effective. You can learn more about iLCP here: http://www.ilcp.com
  • National Geographic Creative: My work is now represented by National Geographic Creative, the stock photography branch of National Geographic: http://www.natgeocreative.com/ngs/
  • Instagram and Twitter: You can now follow me on Instagram at @gabbyrsalazar and Twitter at @gabbyrsalazar.
  • Gardens & Grilles Workshop in Richmond, Virginia: I will be teaching a photography workshop in Richmond, Virginia from March 19th – 22nd, 2015 with Jamie Konarski Davidson of New Life Photos. The workshop will be both classroom and field-based and will be limited to 10 participants for more personalized instruction. If you are interested in learning more, please email me at gabby.r.salazar@gmail.com or download flyer here: front and back.

Garden Grilles Promo Box

Happy Holidays!

Gabby

After the rain storm, a view from gardens by the ocean in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.

After the rain storm, a view from gardens by the ocean in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.

Self-portrait, while I am writing this post!

Self-portrait, while I am writing this post!

Orchids, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Orchids, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian

 

A few weeks ago I had the great honor of having a 30-image photo exhibit on display at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian. The exhibit was titled “From the Andes to the Amazon: Conservation, Culture and Diversity” and was produced in partnership with the Amazon Conservation Association and the Peruvian Embassy. The prints were up for 8-days in the entrance hall to the museum and an estimated 36,000 people visited the museum during that time. It was an incredible opportunity to share the story of local conservation efforts in the Andes to Amazon region of Southeastern Peru. As a complement to the exhibit, I gave a 45-minute lecture at the museum on my photographic work in Peru, highlighting a few of my favorite conservation projects, from Brazil nut harvesting to Peruvian-run ecotourism efforts.

Here are a few images of the exhibit for my friends across the world:

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