Proust Nature Questionnaire – David Nihill

DAVID NIHILL is the author of the best-selling book Do You Talk Funny? and the Founder of FunnyBizz, a community, writer platform, and conference series, where business meets humor to abolish boring content. His work has been featured in Inc., Lifehacker, The Huffington Post, Fast Company, The Irish Times, WSJ, and Forbes. A graduate of the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School he calls San Francisco home when immigration officials permit, and was named on the 2017 Irish America 100 List, which recognizes the accomplishments of the best and the brightest Irish-American and Irish-born leaders.

3 words to describe Nature? 

Inspiring, awe, wonder

3 things Nature taught you? 

Patience, appreciation, fear

3 most treasured Nature spots? 

Annanpurna Nepal, Tofu Mozambique, Salt Flats Bolivia

When you look at the ocean, it makes you feel…? 

Like kiteboarding or swimming

When you see a forest, it makes you feel…?  

Like running but also like stopping

When you see a volcano, it makes you feel…? 

In awe

When you see a sunrise or sunset, it makes you feel…? 

Grateful

When you hear thunder, it makes you feel…? 

Alive

When you hear the wind howling, it makes you feel…? 

Like kiteboarding

Are you an Ocean, Mountain, Forest, or Desert person? 

Ocean

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Nature to your well-being? 

9..but why not 10, it should be 10 🙂

Share with us a childhood nature memory.

When I was 7 years old I went fishing for tadpoles by a small river. I urinated without surveying my surroundings and had an argument with an electrical fence. Exactly as memorable…and painful as it sounds 🙂

Proust Nature Questionnaire – Praveen Varshney

PRAVEEN VARSHNEY has been a principal of Varshney Capital Corp., a Vancouver based merchant banking, venture capital and corporate advisory services firm, since 1991. He is a director or officer of various publicly traded companies including Mogo (Co-Founder) and BetterU Education Corp. He is a Co-Founder of G-PAK and former CFO of Carmanah Technologies Corp. which became Canada’s largest solar company. He was Co-Founder of a predecessor of Mountain Province Diamonds who’s Gahcho Kué in September 2016 became the world’s largest new diamond mine since 2003 & De Beers’ second-largest producer behind its Jwaneng mine in Botswana.

Mr. Varshney is a Toniic member and a long-time member of both EO Entrepreneurs Organization & TiE (Founding Director). He’s on a number of non-profit boards such as The Varshney Family Charitable Foundation, OneProsper.org and a Founding Member of instrumentbeyondborders.org. Mr. Varshney is a SVP Vancouver Partner, a Vancouver Police Foundation Trustee, and on the Advisory boards of Room to Read – Vancouver and The Thomas Edison Innovation Foundation in New Jersey, USA.

Mr. Varshney is a past recipient of Business in Vancouver’s 40 Under 40 Awards.

3 words to describe Nature? 

Amazing, beautiful, wonderful.

3 things Nature taught you? 

To be grateful for the things in life that are free & can provide so much happiness – grass, flowers, trees.

Can also be a force to be reckoned with so to be respectful of that & situations that can arise.

There has to be a God, who else & how else could all this have been created!

3 most treasured Nature spots? 

Any beach on the planet, especially in Pt.Roberts, WA, USA where we have a small cabin by the ocean.

Walking through Pacific Spirit Regional Park near our home in Vancouver with our labradoodle dog, Ozzy.

Anywhere in Hawaii like on the Big Island where we have a home.

When you look at the ocean, it makes you feel…? 

Wonderful!

When you see a forest, it makes you feel…? 

Alive!

When you see a volcano, it makes you feel…? 

In awe!

When you see a sunrise or sunset, it makes you feel…? 

Thankful to be alive & happy.

When you hear thunder, it makes you feel…? 

A bit scared & a bit in awe.

When you hear the wind howling, it makes you feel…? 

A bit scared & a bit in awe.

Are you an Ocean, Mountain, Forest, or Desert person? 

Wow tough choice, I’m going to go with Ocean.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Nature to your well-being? 

10 but 12 if you’ll let me go with it.

Share with us a childhood nature memory? 

Growing up during the younger years, because our parents didn’t have much money, we did a lot of picnics so I have vivid amazing memories of all the various parks in the city & neighboring areas we’d visit, my siblings & I would toss a baseball around & even play hockey on the grass with street hockey sticks!

Proust Nature Questionnaire – Hiroko Demichelis

HIROKO I. DEMICHELIS  holds a Master of Science in Clinical Psychology and one in an Applied Positive Psychology (University of East London, Uk). She is a Registered Clinical Counsellor, she is certified in neurofeedback and in EMDR. She is trained in Mindfulness (Bangor University) and she is an advocate for modern meditation. She is the owner of the Vancouver Brain Lab, a clinical practice dedicated to support individuals to heal, flourish and reach their potential. Also, She is the co-founder of Moment Meditation, a project based on science based meditation. She is the proud mom of Blanca, she loves good Italian fashion, design and gelato.

3 words to describe Nature? 

Pristine, astonishing, restorative.

3 things Nature taught you?

You cannot stop the wind with your hands, everything shifts and nothing stays the same. When in the quicksand, stop fighting and try to float

3 most treasured Nature spots?

Third Beach. Whyteclyff park (the little island you can only reach w low tide), a secret little fall on the way to Whistler

When you look at the ocean, it makes you feel…?

The sound of the waves calms whatever storm is happening in my brain. I swim in the ocean all year long. I go and I scream out loud (it is soo cold so to distract myself I scream: “it’s tropical!!!” ). It feels like a hug!

When you see a forest, it makes you feel…?

Forests feels like a crowd of friends!

When you see a volcano, it makes you feel…?

Volcano! I have only seen Mount Etna in Sicily from afar. It made me feel like I should always be humble!

When you see a sunrise or sunset, it makes you feel…?

A wonderful holiday in the BVI. Romantic. 😉

When you hear thunder, it makes you feel…?

Childhood in Venice, where everything shakes!

When you hear the wind howling, it makes you feel…?

Safe if I am cosy at home.

Are you an Ocean, Mountain, Forest, or Desert person?

Ocean, big time.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Nature to your well-being?

9. A lot.

Share with us a childhood nature memory?

My childhood was spent in Venice, Italy. We have a very special type of nature is Venice as it is surrounded by a lagoon. One of my best memories is being on my dad’s rowing boat, in the lagoon, my mom and dad chatting, playing guitar, drinking wine with friends, and us children watching the stars.

Proust Nature Questionnaire – My mother

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Families are complicated. After 15 years of tumultuous and often absent communication, my mother and I have mended our differences and picked up where we left off, back to a time when our relationship was what one of a mother-son should be. A lot of who I am today is because of her, even my love of nature.  As a young boy, she always made sure that we spent as much time exploring the shores of the St-Lawrence river or roaming the local woods. I am really grateful for the values and skills she taught me. Thank you mother.

3 words to describe Nature?

Beauty, Respect and Strength

3 things Nature taught you?

That beauty doesn’t cost a thing. That it is the best place for your mind to wander and meditate. That we need to respect it because, simply, we are part of it.

3 most treasured Nature spots?

Close to water so that I can hear the sound of waves or the sound of a running creek. Leaning against a tree so that I can feel its energy. Walking under the rain, even better when it is warm.

When you look at the ocean, it makes you feel…?

In peace, meditative, and small.

When you see a forest, it makes you feel…?

If alone, I am a bit worried. If I am with others, I feel in harmony, I feel the energy.

When you see a volcano, it makes you feel…?

In awe… from far away. But also insecure.

When you see a sunrise or sunset, it makes you feel…?

Happy, calm, mesmerized by the perfect beauty. I am fascinated by how it changes, how it evolves – the colors, shades and forms.

When you hear thunder, it makes you feel…?

I simply love hearing thunder! It is so delightful! It is exciting! I want to run outside and watch the storm… from sitting on a chair on a veranda though!

When you hear the wind howling, it makes you feel…?

I love falling asleep to the sound of the wind whistling. That said, I wouldn’t want to be in a hurricane or tornado – terrifying!

Are you an Ocean, Mountain, Forest, or Desert person?

Water!! Whether the ocean, a river, or a creek.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Nature to your well-being?

10. But at the same time, I am not dependant on it to be happy.

Share with us a childhood nature memory?

One memory I have is at my grand parents’ chalet, there was a vast field nearby where we gathered wild berries. Another one is by the St-Lawrence River where I spent countless hours playing in tide pools looking for little fish and shells. I also remember loving relaxing in a hammock, looking up to the sky and the top of trees, just letting my imagination run free.

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Proust Nature Questionnaire – Meredith Shirk

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MEREDITH SHIRK is the founder of Svelte, a multifaceted approach to attaining one’s optimal lifestyle. Shirk is  passionate about achieving peak performance and has consulted for major fitness brands. She is currently developing a line of health food products. She holds a NASM Personal trainer and Fitness Nutrition Specialist Certifications and is a former 3x All – America collegiate water polo player.

3 words to describe Nature?

Powerful. Unmoving. Serene

3 things Nature taught you?

Sufficiency. Patience. To Be humble

3 most treasured Nature spots?

7 Sisters, Baja Mexico. Open Ocean near West palm beach Florida. Under the ocean

When you look at the ocean, it makes you feel…?

Calm. Reflective. Grateful

When you see a forest, it makes you feel…?

Small. Appreciative. Awe struck

When you see a volcano, it makes you feel…?

Vulnerable. Curious. Amazed

When you see a sunrise or sunset, it makes you feel…?

Happy. Peaceful. Like time has stopped

When you hear thunder, it makes you feel…?

Excited. A bit scared. Intrigued

When you hear the wind howling, it makes you feel…?

Nostalgic. Restless. Like I need to nestle in

Are you an Ocean, Mountain, Forest, or Desert person?

OCEAN 😉

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Nature to your well-being?

12

Share with us a childhood nature memory?

I used to dive the reefs of west palm beach with my father and sisters.  No matter what mood i was in every time i was submerged in the ocean water, everything was calm. One afternoon my dad took me to dive the “Breakers Reef” and I remember diving down to the bottom (maybe 10 feet), and just sitting there.  I was just 13 or 14 years old, but I vividly remember seeing a large group of jacks swimming in front of me. They were HUGE fish, but just so graceful in the water… That moment has stuck with me as I just remember the feeling of being so small in something so vast and beautiful…

meredith

Proust Nature Questionnaire – Cody Shirk

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CODY SHIRK is an international investor who sources his deals by one simple method: exploring.

3 words to describe Nature?

Pure, vast, mystery

3 things Nature taught you?

Humility, joy, fear

3 most treasured Nature spots?

Channel Islands (off of California), Baja desert, Central America jungle

When you look at the ocean, it makes you feel…?

Humbled

When you see a forest, it makes you feel…?

Curious

When you see a volcano, it makes you feel…?

Fearful

When you see a sunrise or sunset, it makes you feel…?

Lucky

When you hear thunder, it makes you feel…?

Alive

When you hear the wind howling, it makes you feel…?

Aware

Are you an Ocean, Mountain, Forest, or Desert person?

Ocean

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Nature to your well-being?

9

Share with us a childhood nature memory?

I grew up in a rural area of Malibu, CA. I didn’t have any friends that lived close by, so I’d spend most of my days hiking or surfing by myself. On the weekends, I’d often pack a small backpack with water and food. I’d just start walking into the hills, bushwhacking the coastal chaparral and avoiding cactus. I always wanted to know what was around the next corner, because I knew there was a good chance no one had ever walked the ground that I was on. I’ve always like that feeling. The feeling of mystery. Of curiosity. Of knowing that the next corner could be hiding an incredible secret. On one of these hikes, I had probably walked several miles into the hills. It had taken me hours of climbing over rocks, avoiding yucca bushes, and picking ticks off my arms. I was probably 12 years old at the time, so although I was adventurous, I still had that childhood fear of the unknown inside of me. I ended up hiking into a dried up creek bed with sheer stone walls on either side. After walking up the creek bed for a little while I came to a huge rock that was a waterfall during the rainy season. At the base of the waterfall was a small amount of water. I couldn’t hike up the waterfall face and either side was impassible. It was a box canyon. What I didn’t notice was that there was an enormous coyote drinking water from the tiny amount of left over water. It’s grey coat perfectly blended in with the stone background. Frozen in fear, I just looked at the animal. I realized that I had completely blocked it’s exit, and I knew that I was in an extremely vulnerable position. I though the coyote was going to eat me. I just stood there. The coyote finally walked towards me and passed by me within an arms length. It didn’t run and it didn’t avoid me. It just casually walked by while making perfect eye contact. Maybe some kind of mutual understanding.

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Proust Nature Questionnaire – Michele Benoy-Westmorland

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MICHELE BENOY-WESTMORLAND is a freelance photographer represented by Getty, Corbis, and other major agencies. She is a Fellow with the International League of Conservation Photographers and The Explorers Club. In 2001 she was inducted into the Women Divers Hall of Fame. In 2015, she received the NANPA Fellows Award. She has won several awards, including the Environmental Photography Invitational, Photo District News, and the PNG Underwater Photo Competition. Her work has appeared in Outside Magazine, National Geographic Traveler, Outdoor Photographer, Scuba Diving, and many other conservation, outdoor, and underwater magazines. She is currently directing her first documentary “Headhunt Revisited”, the story of Caroline Mytinger, an American portrait painter best known for her paintings of indigenous people in the South Seas during the late 1920s.

3 words to describe Nature?

Awakening, spiritual, renewing

3 things Nature taught you?

Humbleness, respect, patience

3 most treasured Nature spots?

Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea; Cape Nelson, Papua New Guinea; the mountains & forests of the Pacific Northwest

When you look at the ocean, it makes you feel…?

You now are asking the right person!  Peaceful, joyful and sometimes sadness in respect to the condition of our ocean environment

When you see a forest, it makes you feel…?

I feel much the same about the forests as I do the oceans.

When you see a volcano, it makes you feel…?

Awe, amazement, admiration

When you see a sunrise or sunset, it makes you feel…?

Joyful, thankful, restful

When you hear thunder, it makes you feel…?

Amazement, wonderment, sometime surprised with a touch of fear

When you hear the wind howling, it makes you feel?

Since I lived in Miami during Hurricane Andrew, howling winds always make me feel a little stressed and careful about being outdoors.

Are you an Ocean, Mountain, Forest, or Desert person?

Ocean

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Nature to your well-being?

9

Share with us a childhood nature memory?

Spending time camping in beautiful forests with my family

michele-westmorland

Proust Nature Questionnaire – Charlene Winfred

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CHARLENE WINDFRED is a Fujifilm X-Photographer who captures exquisitely the byproduct of a life in perpetual transit. She was born and raised in Singapore. She lived for 15 years in Australia. In 2013, she sold everything and began the life of a nomad.

3 words to describe Nature?

Overwhelming, longing, life

3 things Nature taught you?

That life persists. That death comes for us all. That to be able to walk, to test my body against the earth, is one of the finest abilities I am lucky enough to take for granted (at the moment, anyway)

3 most treasured Nature spots?

Arches National Park. The open ocean. Any inner city park, being the closest I normally get to Nature… sad but true!

When you look at the ocean, it makes you feel…?

Overwhelmed and calmed at the same time

When you see a forest, it makes you feel…?

Like I want to go for a very long walk and look at everything. This very rarely happens, however.

When you see a volcano, it makes you feel…?

I’ve never actually seen one, so I’ll get back to you when I do!

When you see a sunrise or sunset, it makes you feel…?

Sunrise – it’s been a while since I’ve seen one of those. Next! Sunset – whenever I’m in a position to see an entire sunset vista, it honestly makes me feel like having a glass of wine.

When you hear thunder, it makes you feel…?

Glad to be inside!

When you hear the wind howling, it makes you feel…?

Like I want to be outside, running around like a crazy person.

Are you an Ocean, Mountain, Forest, or Desert person?

Of the 4, the Ocean has been the only one I can say I’ve been to enough to be familiar with its many moods. I like to think I’d be a mountain person, because I find rocks strangely comforting to be around (and climbing is one of the things I’ve wished I could afford to do since I was a kid), but that could be me romanticizing both mountains and my affinity for them! Again, will get back to you if/when that actually happens.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Nature to your well-being?

10, because it’s everything. We can’t live without nature can we?

Share with us a childhood nature memory?

There are no maritime background, or lineage of proud/rogue sailors in my family’s runaway past. My father was a mad keen fisherman though, and that’s probably where my draw to the ocean started. Dad would disappear for days on these extended fishing trips in the South China sea when I was little, bringing back ice chests full of all sorts of fish and a bunch of awesome stories each time (he was a sensational story teller). I begged to go for years and kept being told it would happen as soon as I was old enough.

So that was my 8th birthday present. My parents worried for their small, sickly child out at sea during the onset of the monsoon season, but as Dad would recall about 20 years later, I’d positively flourished in those 5 days. That was the beginning of yearly trips in Malaysian waters.

The things I remember about being at sea: Stormy days – large approaching masses of angry water waiting to eat the boat, securing anything that would fly when being tossed around. Listening to the boat creak and moan woefully in the thrash. Afterwards, small fish roiling on the water as the clouds moved away, far as the eye could see in every direction; a lone marlin worrying a frantic ball of its prey in the water, the glorious still-frame of a sailfish in flight, a line of sunlight gleaming off its saltwater lacquered dorsal fin, down curved flank and flashing off its sickle of tail. The curious, heady mix of brine and diesel fumes (and in this case, old fish) that to me, will always mean “port.”

But what I retain most about those days is staring up at clouds puffing into existence, wavering shards of sunlight converging conical to a point in the water, or at a horizon that was never really still, the way it is on land. I never took to fishing, but it allowed me to spend days dreaming in any available spot on the boat, with or without a rod in hand.

charlene

Proust Nature Questionnaire – Ayelet Baron

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AYELET BARON is the visionary author behind Our Journey to Corporate Sanity: Transformational Stories from the Frontiers of 21st Century. Prior to being a speaker, coach, workshop facilitator, and committed to making a transformational impact on business, Baron was an Innovator-in-Residence in Roche/Genentech’s Strategic Innovation Product Development organization, and a Chief Strategy Officer for Cisco Canada.

3 words to describe Nature?

Humans. Grounding. Reality. We are nature; nature is grounding; nature ground us in reality.

3 things Nature taught you?  

To appreciate beauty as is. To recognize the life force in animals, plants and humans. To remember to follow nature in business – a time to plant, a time to water, a time to nurture and a time to harvest.

3 most treasured Nature spots? 

Diving in Fiji – the most spectacular underwater park; white sands of Turks and Caicos, and the deep blue Mediterranean Sea.

When you look at the ocean, it makes you feel…?  

At peace. The whole experience of the beauty and infinity of the ocean from looking to listening to breathing it in is exhilarating.

When you see a forest, it makes you feel…? 

In awe imagining what the trees have witnessed while we simply pass by in a flash. The conversations they must be having must be incredible as they show us what a connected network truly is.

When you see a volcano, it makes you feel…? 

The fire within each of us that can tip over at any moment and that emotions are natural if we allow them to be expressed

When you see a sunrise or sunset, it makes you feel…? 

The cycle of life and death, with the depth of colors and opportunities

When you hear thunder, it makes you feel…? 

The power of nature to make a statement and bring clarity

When you hear the wind howling, it makes you feel…? 

Alive and attune with reality

Are you an Ocean, Mountain, Forest, or Desert person? 

Ocean first but I love them all … what could be better than an ocean with a mountain, forest and/or desert? I have had the pleasure of experiencing many breathtaking combinations

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Nature to your well-being? 

10

Share with us a childhood nature memory? 

I will always remember the first time I walked through an orange orchard in Israel when I was 6 years old and got to pick oranges from the tree. That smell of the orange buds has stayed with me forever. Then, my grandfather retired and bought an almond orchard and as a kid, I spent hours peeling the two cases of almonds and organizing them in neat piles. It helped me appreciate the source of our nutrients and also sparked a love of creation with cooking naturally. I always need to know where the food we consume comes from in nature.

ayelet

Proust Nature Questionnaire- Erick Tseng

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ERICK TSENG is a Product Director at Facebook where he oversees product management for the company’s global advertising growth and solutions. Erick joined Facebook in May 2010 as the Head of Mobile Products.

3 words to describe Nature?

Magical, beautiful, essential

3 things Nature taught you?

To take risks, how much beauty there is in the world, how fragile our existence is on this earth

3 most treasured Nature spots?

Yosemite, Galapagos, Himalayas

When you look at the ocean, it makes you feel…?

Small

When you see a forest, it makes you feel…?

Fresh

When you see a volcano, it makes you feel…?

Empowered

When you see a sunrise or sunset, it makes you feel…?

Calm

When you hear thunder, it makes you feel…?

Excited

When you hear the wind howling, it makes you feel…?

Cold

Are you an Ocean, Mountain, Forest, or Desert person?

Ocean

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Nature to your well-being?

10

Share with us a childhood nature memory?

Traveling to a beach near Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and going tide-pooling amongst the rocks. I loved looking for little fish, crabs, and mussels tucked away in the shallow waters. I’d also collect fresh seaweed, and my mother would clean it up, and cook seaweed pork soup that night. Delicious!

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Erick and his wife, Rachel, in Antarctica. In 2015

Nature Meditation – TE NO UCHI

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Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” Albert Einstein

It is a stormy day. The winds are blowing hard from the Pacific. The sky, which was blue and limitless yesterday, is now obstructed by dark clouds that loom over my head in a threatening manner. The ocean, which was calm and smoothing only 12 hours ago, is now pounding on the rocks with fury and in a thunderous crash. Amidst this chaotic landscape, sea gulls and terns glide with ease; a tip of a wing there, and one bird zooms across only inches above a breaking wave. These creatures have truly mastered the art of moving through the air, riding the invisible currents with finesse and grace.

Far out in the open I noticed a cargo ship pushing its way through — probably heading for a long ocean crossing — delivering goods to Asia. This beast of steel is defying the elements. Its immense volume is keeping it afloat. At its stern under water and hidden away, petals of metal are propelling it forward, while at its bow, the hull is clashing with the waves; steel against water, solidity against fluidity!

While the cargo ship and sea birds couldn’t be more different and representing a total opposite philosophy of moving through life, the two are actually relying and operating on the exact same core fundamental “tension”. Neither would exist without it. The ship would sink. Its steel would liquefy. The bird would fall. Its feathers would disappear. It is tension that keeps them together. It is tension that makes them move.

Just like the tree that stands tall, the sail that holds the wind, the rock on which I am now sitting, the legs that carry me, the beating of my heart, the sound of my voice, the neurons firing in my brain, the light that comes in through my eyes, the caress of a lover, a helping hand, or even this planet that hosts me and this sun that warms me; each fundamentally exist out of tension, at an intersection, a place where a particular force ends and another begins.

Tension is Nature. It is Life. It is the DNA of everything that is. It creates energy. It is movement and resistance. It is creation and destruction. It is a pause through which life emerges. And the absence of it is Death.

Life is a dynamic journey filled with endless forces. Some of those you will see coming, others will leave you in shock. The goal is not to avoid the resulting tensions but rather to move with them, accept them, embrace them, flourish with them. Understand their necessity and power of transformation.

The Japanese have an expression – Te No Uchi, which originates from finding the perfect sword grip, one that is strong enough so that it can resist a blow, but light enough so that it can be agile and responsive. Today the words are used to express the mastery one has in maintaining the right amount of tension, independently of the forces at play.

This week, whether at work or while doing a headstand, lets take a moment to meditate on the tensions that surround us. Am I a bird? Moving with ease and grace, going with the flow, and using the least amount of energy. Or am I a cargo ship? Plowing my way through, strong and steady but demanding great effort. In this era of change, how can we maintain enough tension so that we can sustain any upcoming challenges while at the same time be flexible enough so that we don’t crack under pressure?

Stillness is not the absence of tensions but rather a harmony within them

The Power of Nature to Nurture, Awaken, Transcend, Uplift Restore, Elevate, the Human Spirit


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Nature Meditation – GETTING LOST

“ “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” Henry David Thoreau

The irony of the situation is hard to miss. This week’s meditation theme is about “getting lost” and here I am, writing these lines, lost in a world of in-between, in an unwanted place, away from my tribe, struggling to find my bearing. Yesterday, my life was structured and somewhat stable; I had plans, a schedule, confirmed engagements, and I had just celebrated the passing of a major personal milestone. And today, well, all the cards have been thrown up in the air and where they will fall is still unknown. Hours ago, my compass was bearing straight ahead, steady and holding course; now I look at the needle and it is pointing to all directions, going everywhere but the place where I want to go, leaving me in a twilight zone of torment.

How many times have, each one of us, felt this way? How many times have we faced uncertainty, the feeling of powerlessness creeping from the inner depth of our insecurity? In all my years of solo wilderness expeditions and in my personal life, I have always been able to look back at those moments of feeling lost, and, with the acquired wisdom, to see how positively transforming those truly unfortunate events turned out to be; how much I grew personally and spiritually. Despite knowing in my core that it was going to be ok, that I would make it through, I had been there before and that I had all the tools and capacity to find my way again, this chaotic present is still a burden of monumental proportion. And that is ok.

Erika Harris has a wonderful quote: “It is good to feel lost… because it proves you have a navigational sense of where “Home” is. You know that a place that feels like being found exists. And maybe your current location isn’t that place but, Hallelujah, that unsettled, uneasy feeling of lost-ness just brought you closer to it.

Besides reaffirming our sense of belonging, these forced detours are always filled with treasures, if only we let ourselves be open to being able to see them. I have lost count of the times when I have found the most beautiful places, met the most amazing people, lived the most incredible moments, and discovered my most cherished possessions, more often after finding myself lost and surrendering to the moment, letting the flow of life carry me, and my intuitions guide me.

There is an undeniable sadness and anxiety when faced with uncertainty. Let’s be honest, who really takes complete pleasure in being at a point in time and space that seems to be disconnected from everything? A location that has no name, no clear direction, no obvious way out? Should I go this way? Or that way? What if the solutions are in the opposite direction? Am I making things worse? Am I walking towards a precipice or closer to home? The answers, as distant as they may seem, reside inside of us, inside our “inner fire”, that place made of energy which is connected to everything and everyone. It is that place that feeds our intuition, that whisper which only wants to protect us. My fears and doubts will often be the loudest and quickest to react, urging me to flee and find shelter. But in those moments where my sense of orientation disappears, the bearing to find my way through the heavy fog, the path that will take me back home, the clarity that will illuminate my world once again and lift away that opaque shroud, all appear when I surrender and open myself first. The key is to accept the predicament and understand that I have no power over the past but I do hold the keys to the future.

Meditate on the times in your life where you’ve lost yourself not to the events, but to your fears and doubts. In the future how can you make sure not to give in to these negative feelings? We all get lost from time to time, it is an inevitable part of life. But whether these moments make us grow spiritually, happier, wiser, and richer, is within our control.

The Power of Nature to Nurture, Awaken, Transcend, Uplift Restore, Elevate, the Human Spirit


PHOTO OF THE WEEK

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Kayak Triptych. Taken in Baja California and Alaska. Signed and Dedicated, Archival Inkjet Lithography / Ultrachrome Pigment inks, printed on Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl 285g

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NEW BOOK!

FEEL THE WILD “What makes Daniel’s work special and important is that it stirs us deep inside, where his story meets ours, his dream overlaps with yours and his curiosity become contagious” from Wallace J. Nichols, author of Bluemind

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Alive and Stronger

I have a story to share with you.

It is a story about the power of nature to shape your character.

It is a story about how being able to STOP . BREATHE . RELAX . LISTEN can make all the difference in any given moment.

It is a story about hope, humility and focusing on the things that really matter in life.

After completing my paddle on the coast of Washington State and stopping in Portland to talk with several groups about my W.I.L.D. campaign, it was time to continue my journey to San Francisco.

In the days prior to my departure, I was keeping track of the weather. The forecast now was the same for the week ahead … strong southerly winds would blow 15 to 25 knots, rain would be consistent and the swell from the West would increase as the week went by. The weather system was due to calm down beginning the next weekend.

I had my waypoints marked down and even though I had many challenging paddling days ahead, I was excited to get back on the water. In my head, the song “Against the Wind” by Bob Seger was already playing on repeat.

My departure time from Astoria was set by the tide. I didn’t want to fight the tide coming in and leaving with the ebb tide meant that I would get a double push – the river and the tide. So at noon, slack time, I left the marina.

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The conditions were much different than when I paddled in the Columbia River several days ago. I was now doing 6 knots in speed and to my right there were big breakers stretching for miles. The Columbia Bar was living up to its reputation.

Keeping my distance, I rounded the danger zone and passed the South Jetty. My plan was to tuck in right after. The jetty would offer that protected path I needed to land on the beach. But the swell was coming dead on and pounding my landing spot full force. I had two choices: to go back into the Columbia River against the current, avoiding all the breakers and finding my way to the shore or to keep going.

Seaside was 17 miles away. There was a little spot that offered a possible landing; then after that, about 6 miles from there, around Tillamook Head, was Indian Beach. It was a protected cove that, after looking at the marine and aerial maps, offered a safe stop. In the worst-case scenario, I would most likely be landing in the dark, but with the current conditions, a West swell, the cove would be fairly flat … or so I thought. I decided to go forward and paddle.

It was a hot day. There was not a cloud in the sky. The sea was almost metallic due to the absence of wind. Sooty Shearwaters flew all around me, gliding over the water with ease, the tip of their wings just slightly touching the surface. These birds have truly evolved to become a perfect oceanic flying creature.

It was 7pm when I reached Seaside. The swell was still pounding the shore with massive surf and now my chances of landing before sunset were disappearing. I looked for an opening somewhere – anywhere. I saw one. Not too far, there was a place where the surf seemed to be dying down. After timing the sets, I started paddling in. And then at the last minute, just before reaching the point of no return, three massive waves appeared, breaking just 10 feet ahead of me. I looked at the clouds of white seawater rising up into the sky, the roaring of the waves crashing and suddenly it became clear to me that there was no way my feet would be touching sand this evening. The sun had disappeared over the horizon and in about an hour it would be totally dark.

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My next waypoint, Indian Beach, around the Tillamook Head, was about two hours away. I reached behind and opened my day hatch to get my headlamp out. The thought of spending the night on the water was starting to be a reality. It was the last thing I wanted to do but my chances of finding my way into a sleeping bag were fading.

With still no clouds, the sky was filled with stars. The Milky Way was intense and imposing. A shooting star crossed the sky. And then another. The bioluminescence was showing strong. The kayak left stark glowing white trails on the black surface. My paddle cut through the water and created explosions of glitter. Every time a drop of water fell on the kayak, it scintillated. I wonder for a second if I really wanted to get to shore. If I was to spend the night on the ocean, these were the be the dreamiest, prefect conditions. This could actually turn out to be one incredible night!

I checked my phone and I looked at my location. The cove was only a mile away now. I would be there around 9pm. The weather forecast had predicted 20 knots winds but up until then they seemed nowhere to be found.

As I approached the area and shortly after dreaming of a nice night landing, staying up late doing photography of this magical bioluminescent evening,  I passed the point and found myself battling the expected headwinds.

One more check on the map and my safety zone was supposed to be right ahead. But the only thing I saw and heard were the glowing whitecaps of thunderous surf. How could this be? The swell was coming from the west and the sheltered bay entrance faced south. How was it that the swell was now heading straight into the cove? Aside from this waypoint, there was nothing around for at least 20 miles that could offer relief. I remembered from the map that there was a path into the cove, but it was dark. I couldn’t see anything but the crash of waves. I looked at the map again and oriented myself. There was a series of rocks ahead that should offer protection. So I went for it.

Just a minute into my push, I heard this massive roar behind me and within seconds, I was upside down being pummeled from all directions. Suddenly, my paddle snapped in two. I come back up in time to take a breath before another one came over. I capsized again and this time I couldn’t roll back. The beating and the broken paddle left me no choice but to wet exit.

Lucky to have a break, I managed to get back in, grabbed the spare paddle from my stern, tucked the skirt over the now-filled-with-water cockpit and pushed my way forward as hard as I could. Now more than ever, I knew I would have to spend the night on the water and the under the Milky Way, but by at this point the stars and glowing oceans were the last things on my mind.

Out of the surf zone, I pumped the water out and assessed the situation. I had been paddling for 10 hours, covering about 38 miles. I was tired and my hands hurt. Despite the drysuit, the cold from that unfortunate dip into the Pacific waters was seeping into my body. I had to keep moving. I had to keep my muscles, my body producing energy and heat. I hadn’t had dinner – besides the food I had consumed during the day. I had an emergency ration of jerky and bars but in these conditions I could hardly stop to eat. So I pushed forward. I looked ahead and the irony of the situation hit me. Lights of Cannon Beach were almost within grasp, perhaps no more than half a mile. I pictured the people in their houses, watching television, enjoying a glass a wine, and kissing their children goodnight. And here I was, in a totally different world where my life, my existence was on the verge of being questioned. How could this be? Within such close proximity to be finding such extreme different realities?

I had no choice but to keep paddling. Even if I was barely making progress, the options were simply not there for me. How would I make through the night? I didn’t know and I couldn’t stop to think about it. My only way to survival was to take one minute at a time, find comfort in that minute passed and focus on passing the next.

And then my worst fear happened. I started to shiver.

I know my body. I have always been pretty tolerant of the cold. I grew up in Quebec with winters in the minus 20’s. But the moment that my body shivers, it is only a question of minutes before I start to tremble and loose control of my shaking muscles. The option of spending the night on the ocean was no more viable. There was no way I could stay in this kayak for another 7 hours and not go into hypothermia.

There are risks you can afford if you are with other people. But when alone, the last place you want to find yourself is in a cornered place with no exit, no possible call for help. I did have my SOS button, a cell phone and a VHF as a lifeline but I felt I I hadn’t yet played all my cards.

Looking over to my left, I noticed a campfire on the beach and was surprised to see how close I was to it, perhaps just 40 yards. Despite the light of the houses further away, I was really not that far from land. Still, between the beach and myself was a wall of crashing waves. Between my current predicament and the safety of landing was a world of horrible possibilities, each with the power of turning my situation to the worst. There was no way for these people to see or hear me. And even if they had, there was nothing they could do. For me, there was little I could do but start looking into confronting the surf.

My eyes focused on the silhouette made by the water line, trying to figure out the rhythm of the sets. To be honest there was not much to decipher in the dark. I took a deep breath and relaxed for a second. I closed my eyes and asked the ocean to keep an eye on me. I started paddling toward the surf. A wave crashed. I stopped. I hesitated. I went again. And like a “deja vu”, I heard the roaring mounting behind me, like a giant monster rising from the depths and about to engulf me with one bite. Grasping for the impact I filled my lungs with as much air as I could.

The weight of the Pacific landed on my back with such tremendous force that I felt the kayak breaking in two. It was not like trying to rip a piece of fiberglass apart. The kayak literally snapped in two halves like a dry twig. The ring of the cockpit was broken but my skirt was still around it. I was in the water being ravaged by the surf, tied to the waist with a piece of the kayak on each side of me.

All this time I was thinking I had to get out of there as soon as possible. I didn’t like the idea of finding myself in between two loose 8-feet long pieces of broken fiberglass tubes filled with gear. It wouldn’t take much for them to crush my ribs and cut my waist. I tried to pull on the handle of the skirt but it was not working. I was simply pulling the loose cockpit ring toward me. Still, wiggling it non-stop I finally managed to get it off.

Free from the kayak’s entrails, I swam around it. The kayak was still held together by some rope and some stripes. My last paddle was now gone. Putting myself in-between the in-coming surf and the boat, I started swimming and pushing one of kayak pieces forward. You never want to find yourself with a kayak, or a board, behind you in the surf! There has been too many accidents where people were knocked unconscious by flying objects. Every wave pushed me and the kayak closer to the beach. About 15 minutes later, I felt the sand under my feet.

I got up and grabbed the bow handle in one hand and the stern handle in the other and started pulling the wreck as far up passed the tide line as I could before collapsing. I opened the back hatch, pulled out the bivy and sleeping bag. Slipped out of the drysuit and into my sleeping quarters.

It was midnight. I didn’t care for food or anything else. My hands were bloody with cuts all over. All I wanted was to lay still and warm myself up. I was safe, in one piece and that was the most important thing at that moment.. Nature had reminded me of the fickleness of life and how little control we have over it.

Over the last 5 hours I had experienced sheer beauty, joy, happiness, deception, pain, frustration, and had faced the indifference of a world that was bigger than me. Laying on the sand next to my wrecked kayak, I was not angry nor was I afraid. I was simply grateful to be alive. As I pulled the zipper up leaving blood marks on the fabric, I thanked the ocean for its protection, closed my eyes and went to sleep.

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These experiences, as unfortunate as they may seem, are defining moments in your life. They form your character and change your perception of the world around you forever. My crash happened on Sunday the 21st at midnight, exactly one month to the day after I departed from Victoria. I can’t help but smile at the fact this paddle was for my W.I.L.D. Campaign raising money to send under-privileged youth to a “month” long immersion wilderness camp.

Life is not about avoiding the crashes but rather finding ways to get back up and transform these seemingly negative events into positive, productive experiences.

These are the discovery and leadership lessons nature provides us when we open ourselves to the experience.

Although this 1,000-mile paddle to San Francisco has come to an unexpected, abrupt end, the W.I.L.D. campaign is far from over; my commitment to the campaign is stronger than ever.

More to come on that in the following weeks.

Minute of Nature

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I have been working on finding a concept of short videos that would support my narrative – THE POWER OF NATURE TO RESTORE THE HUMAN SPIRIT.

It was during my trip to the Bedwell River that the clarity of what I needed to do came to me.

Let me explain to you … watch the video below.

This idea of sharing with you these moments and inspirational quotes or thoughts is exactly what I have been looking for. The notion of helping you disconnect and leave the modern world behind just for one minute so that your mind can wander away and connect with that part of nature where I was able to “Stop, Breathe, Listen and Relax.” This is exactly what I strive to bring to you.

Here is the first MINUTE, from Ucluelet.

These “Minutes of Nature” will be posted throughout all my social media sites but you are welcome to subscribe to the Vimeo Channel

 

Alaska’s Wilderness, Dolphins, Volcano & much more

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FALL NEWSLETTER

I am continually asked to share what I’m working on; my expeditions, my photography and my appearances, so with that in mind I’m introducing the first edition of the Quarterly Wild Image Project Newsletter. The Newsletter is designed to keep you up-to-date on not only where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing, but also to let you know about upcoming expeditions, photographic engagements and appearances.

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WELCOME

What a great year it has been so far! It’s now the end of summer and fall is just around the corner. What follows is a snapshot, literally and figuratively speaking, of my work to date.

EXPRESS NATIONALS 27

I was invited to photograph the 2013 Express 27 Nationals, held this year in the San Francisco Bay and hosted by the Richmond Yacht Club. If you’re not familiar with the Express 27, it an ultra-light displacement sloop designed by Carl Schumacher. It was built by Terry Alsberg at Alsberg Brothers Boatworks in Santa Cruz, California from 1981 to 1988.

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My intent with this assignment was to capture the excitement and intensity of the race and the competitive spirit of the racers. The green waters of the bay and the urban background were a challenge for the artistic vision I had so I desaturated the photos, keeping only the reds, yellows and blues. While increasing the highlights and whites allowed me bring focus on the sails and boats.

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Want to see more … go here on Behance or if you are interested in purchasing prints, please contact the Studio – studio – wildimageproject.com

IN SEARCH OF AN ILL FATED LANDING

On July 18th, fellow explorer Nathaniel Stephens and I set off on a kayak expedition along the Pacific coastline of Alaska. This route had always been of interest to us for two reasons: finding the Petroglyph Rocks at Surge Bay believed to be associated with the ill-fated Bering/Chirikov Expedition landing of 1741 and scouting the route for future commercial expeditions.

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We followed the Pacific Coast of the Chichagof Island, starting from Sitka. From there we voyaged our way north to Hoonah, covering 140 miles through Alaska’s pristine waters, following the West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness, part of the Tongass National Forest. It is the largest national forest in the United States with most of its area part of the “perhumid rainforest zone, Earth’s largest remaining temperate rainforest. Made up primarily of western red cedar, sitka spruce, and western hemlock, the land spreads over thousands of islands and is home to animals that are barely found anywhere else in North America, including a group of brown bears more closely related to polar bears than to other living brown bears. Besides being of great environmental value, the area is extremely rich in cultural history – more than 10,000 years ago, the Tlingit people settled here.

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You can watch my TV interview on KATH-TV and listen to our KTOO Public Radio interviews before and after the expedition.

Want to see more, visit the daily recap on FACEBOOK, photos on PINTEREST and INSTAGRAMvideos on VIMEO and an article in SIDETRACKED magazine.

Our expedition will also be featured in the SEA KAYAKER Nov/Dec issue.

PELE’S BLOOD

I had heard about the Hawaiian islanders spiritual belief in PELE, the goddess of fire, lightning, wind, and volcanoes who, it is believed, lives in the Halema’uma’u crater, at the summit of Kilauea, Hawaii’s most active volcano. Its lava continually flows reshaping the Big Island’s Kalapana southwest landscape. The islanders believe the melted rock is the blood of the Goddess and while this incredible display of earth’s power attracts thousands of tourists every year, for them it is a constant reminder of their origins and how their land came to be. So in June, I journeyed to the Big Island in hope of discovering and experiencing this sacred connection.

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My creative process is always the same; immerse myself into my surroundings, absorb its energy and let its spirit ignite and guide my work. Hiking the treacherous lava field of Puna almost every night, I came to understand and felt the sacredness of the place. TIME is result of this connection. It is a story about our perception of time in relation to what is, in simple terms, the cause responsible for this world we now try hard to protect.

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While most volcano photography focuses on free flows and wide landscapes, I wanted to create an abstract and artistic perspective of Pele’s intensity. These clefts are the result of a constant but slow force. One fracture at a time, earth is moved forward to form new landscapes, erasing the old ones. Invisible by day, their presence and intensity is only revealed at night, cracking the dark world open, like lightning splitting the sky in pieces. By taking the lava out of its environmental context, the beauty and power is revealed without any interference or distraction. You can see the resulting photography by visiting my online portfolio.

The work was featured in DAILY MAILPETAPIXELELEPHANT JOURNALEXPOSURE GUIDETREEHUGGER, & TERRA MAR PROJECT.

Daniel Fox and Pilot Whales

While in Hawaii, I took the occasion to join some friends in Kona and go free diving with dolphins, pilot whales and oceanic whitetip sharks. Take a moment to watch the 3 videos BLUE MORNINGDOLPHIN MOMENT & SUNDAY PAUSE.

IT TAKES A VILLAGE

I could never accomplish the work I do without the support and partnership of my sponsors. Each one of them, in their own way, enable me to reach into nature, explore our world and bring it to you visually and through the written word.

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My heartfelt thanks goes out to:
KOKATATWILDERNESS SYSTEMSDEUTERAQUALUNGMOUNTAIN KHAKISSIERRA DESIGNSSANDISKDELORMEVOLTAIC SYSTEMSDAHLGRENSPERRY TOP SIDEROPTIMUSKATADYNADVENTURE TECHNOLOGYKLEAN KANTEEN, AQUAPACSOGG-FORMLEUPOLD & GOLDEN VALLEY

AROUND THE CORNER

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EXPEDITIONS

THE SPIRIT OF KOOTZNOOWOO

On September 9th, I’ll partner up again with Nathaniel Stephens to traverse the Admiralty Island. We will start in Juneau with a crossing of the Gastineau Channel to nearby Douglas Island. We will then face the challenging crossing of Stephens Passage and its notorious rough water. Heading south through Seymour Canal our goal will be Pack Creek, a famous area with one of the highest concentrations of Brown Bears in the world. Following the Cross Admiralty Canoe Route, we will reach the eastern side of Admiralty and make our way toward the Tlingit village of Angoon, the island’s only permanent settlement. We will meet with clan elders and learn about the town’s fascinating history, including an 1882 bombardment by the US Navy after a whaling dispute.

One of our goals is to continue producing the type of educational short videos we broadcast on our last expedition. Being explorers, we have the unique opportunity to bring to the public our in-the-field discoveries. You can watch some of these videos here Sundew FlowersBear SignsLittle Brown BatsChicken of the Woods and Coralroot Orchid.

I also plan to use photography to capture the essence and spirit of the Brown Bear, revered by many and a sacred totem for countless indigenous cultures.

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PHOTOGRAPHY

FALL ON CHANNEL ISLANDS

In October, I plan to set up camp on the Island of Santa Cruz in the Channel Islands, off the California Coast and spend 3 to 4 weeks exploring the archipelago. Kayaking and hiking my way around, my goal will be to connect with the island’s rich cultural past and precious ecosystem. And just like the people of the Churmash Indian tribe did thousands of years ago, I will paddle my way from the mainland to the Channel Islands.

With the help of National Park Service and Nature Conservancy, I will look into what makes these islands so important for Conservation and so adored by the American public. Partly educative and partly artistic, the content created for this trip will for sure not disappoint!

SEASONS AT THE FARALLONES

In partnership with the NOAA Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, I am working a photography/book/exhibition project titled “Seasons at the Farallones”. Although close to mainland, the islands have rarely been photographed – quite exceptional for such a unique environment and its proximity.

The Farallons are a group of islands off the coast of San Francisco, California, just 30 miles (48 km) outside the Golden Gate. Even thought the first European to record the islands was the English privateer Sir Francis Drake, who landed on the islands on 24 July 1579, it was the Spanish explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno who first charted them in 1603 and therefore gave them their name “Farallones”, meaning “rocks out of the sea”

Besides being known for its Great White Sharks population, the islands are home to more than 250,000 seabirds, 5 species of seals and sea lions and are visited every year by several whales species, including gray whales, humpbacks, blue whales, and the powerful killer whale.

By staying on the islands for periods of 2 to 3 weeks in Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall, the goal will be to accurately capture the distinct seasons of such treacherous and extreme environment and the wildlife it inhabits.

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APPEARANCES

JACKSON HOLE FILM FESTIVAL

Internationally recognized as the premier event of its genre, the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, held from September 23 – 27, has invited me to attend and photograph their event. Similar to what I’ve previously created for the Express 27 Nationals and the 2013 Digital Life Design Conference in Munich, my goal is to capture the energy and content of this event so that it can be shared around the world.

If you happen to be there at the same time, please reach out to me so we can meet.

THE WILD IMAGE PROJECT ON FACEBOOK

The online world is in constant change and it is important to have a platform that appropriately communicates the intended message and reaches out to both current and new audiences. So to make it easier for you to follow my photography, expeditions and appearances, I’ve re-launched the Wild Image Project Facebook site. All my FACEBOOK postings and updates can now be found here. From this page, you’ll be able to easily connect with me across all my social media networks, e.g., PinterestTwitterInstagram.
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I’ll be closing down my current Facebook personal page so be sure to take a minute and visit the new page and follow me by clicking LIKE.

PURCHASING PHOTOGRAPHY or SIGNING UP FOR FUTURE EXPEDITIONS

If you are interested in purchasing Wild Image Project photography or signing up for future expeditions contact me via email at daniel – wildimageproject.com.

The World is a Cruise Ship and the Cruise Ship is our World!

Being in Alaska, where cruise ships abound, it reminded of a post that I wrote while working with the Pacific Voyagers Foundation earlier this year.

We were quite shocked last’s week in regards to the events aboard the Carnival cruise ship – but not in the way you would imagine. Being sailors and ocean navigators, we are used to take care of our surroundings. In fact we have a saying that goes like this: “The island is our Vaka and the Vaka is our island”. Meaning that if you don’t take care of your boat, you are not taking care of your home, your land, your world. What happened on that particular cruise ship is a great mirror to what is happening in our society.

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When you are on a sailboat, sailing the oceans, one thing quickly becomes extremely clear. For sanity to exist, for people to enjoy their time and for sailing to go smooth, it is extremely important that everybody respect each other’s privacy and acts with civility. People help each other and communication is gold. Without teamwork, attentiveness and consideration to others, life quickly becomes toxic and unproductive.

Last year we sailed over 140,000 nautical miles circumnavigating the world on Vakas that were only powered by solar energy. We lived to the rhythm of our environment – the ocean. We respected it, appreciated it, and honored it – consequently respecting ourselves, appreciating ourselves and honoring ourselves. Of course, from time to time you have conflicts and issues that need to be address, but these challenges are always welcomed and together we deal with them, growing stronger as a team, and as individuals.

The way we sail, they way we travel, is an extension of the way we live. We only use renewable sources of energy. We fish only what we need. We don’t use the ocean for our garbage, in fact we reuse and recycle as much as possible – producing a minimum of impact. We maximize the use of space. We read books, count the stars, scan the water for possible encounters and only reach out for technological devices when necessary. We eat together and embrace each others company.

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So when we learned that in only the space of a few days hell had broken loose aboard a powerless cruise ship, we scratched our heads wondering how could this happen. But then again, it didn’t take long to understand why. As a reflection to our society, these cruises are a celebration of consumerism, totally disconnected with the environment. According to Oceana, the average cruise ship, with 3,000 passengers and crew, produces 7 tons of garbage and solid waste, about 30,000 gallons of human waste, 255,000 gallons of non-sewage gray water, 15 gallons of toxic chemicals, 37,000 gallons of oily bilge water, air pollutants equivalent to 12,000 automobiles, hundreds of thousands of gallons of ballast water, which contains diseases, bacteria and invasive species from foreign ports – every day! With more than 230 cruise ships operating world wide, you do the math.

Passengers leave behind a city only to find themselves into another city – a floating one. Whenever they get off the boat, is only to sit in a bus and experience other worlds, other cultures from the safety of their cushioned seat, behind a thick reinforced glass, bathed in cold air-conditioning. Their evenings are spent watching television or attending one of the multitude entertaining shows. They eat in huge restaurants, served by an underpaid staff. They stay plugged in with their tablets, computers and constant access to the internet. Days are spent lounging, gambling, shopping or swimming in the chlorine water.

This ethos of individuality and pleasure is not only unsustainable but has absolutely no resistance or resilience. It is like a castle of cards, a game of Jenga, barely holding together. The minute you take away one piece, the entire system collapses.

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The media coverage was also extremely revealing. CNN went crazy with making the event its top priority, and with all the other television stations following. Everybody cried for the poor passengers, yet nobody talked about the even-worse situation of the staff onboard the ship.

“For the workers, it had to be doubly horrible compared to the passengers,” said Ross Klein, the author of “Paradise Lost at Sea: Rethinking Cruise Vacations.” Klein, a sociologist and cruise expert at Newfoundland’s Memorial University, noted that workers are stuck dealing with passengers’ “human mess” as well as their “frayed nerves and the short tempers.” Despite the stench of human waste, some workers may not have had the freedom, or the opportunity, to go above deck.  “Cruise from hell”: Don’t pity Carnival’s passengers! On Salon.com

If these cruises are a mirror to our society, what does it say about our system? Isn’t time to go back to our roots and reevaluate our values and what we stand for? Isn’t there a lesson to learn from the success of such endeavors like the Voyaging Societies and the quick failure of supposedly infallible behemoths? Here at Pacific Voyagers Foundation, we have made our choice – we will stand and promote a world where quality matters over quantity, where humanity is a communal celebration, where energy is never wasted and where food abounds because of the care we put into our environment. Who is up for a sail now?

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Knowledge, our Achilles’ heel

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“In your thirst for knowledge, be sure not to drown in all the information”. Anthony J. D’Angelo, founder of Collegiate Empowerment

It is hard today to hear a conversation that doesn’t involve the belief that our technology will be the key to solve our problems. We truly trust that our salvation lies in our ability to invent and create. We think that the issues we see do not reflect a problem that lies at the core of our values, but rather simply needs an adjustment in its application. At pretty much any conservation summit (The World Ocean in Singapore, BLUE in Monterey, etc) the message is always the same – the problem is only a question of bad management. If we could only find out the missing pieces of the puzzle, if we could only know more about the planet, nature, and its resources, then, only then, would we be able to act accordingly and “save” what is left. Our understanding is that the destruction of the planet and the abuses we have been responsible for, have occurred only because we lacked the know-how. So now we look at the present and the future and conclude that we must know more if we want to change. This, to my opinion is the root of the problem.

We consider ourselves to be the most intelligent species ever to populate the planet. We look at the past and compare ourselves to what was before. The fact is that all previous cultures once thought of themselves as omnipotent, powerful and of being capable of ruling the world. Each empire thought of itself as better than the one before. And each fell to its demise. We continue to understand our role as “stewards” of this planet. We think it is our duty to protect it. We continually see ourselves at the top of the pyramid looking down over our dominion. We don’t believe we are part of nature, but rather that we stand above it, separated from it, since we are better than it. We think of nature as this disconnected thing that exists outside of ourselves.

Our obsession for knowledge has turned us arrogant and immature. We are addicted to our brain and its capacities. We get high on what we can do. Our society lives in a constant sugar rush, drinking the technology & knowledge “Kool Aid” without any filter. We have kicked wisdom out of our lives, deeming it boring and against progress. But it is not because the chocolate cake is on the table that we have to eat it. We don’t think about the long-term consequences. We don’t think about the social impact of our discoveries. We only focus on the short-term gains. We only look for quick personal individual gratification. Frankenstein’s tale was precisely about that. When Mary Shelley wrote the horror story of the scientist and a monster, she did more than creating a new genre. Her novel was a premonition to what is in store for our world.

From within our cities, sitting behind computers or staring down at our “smart” phones, we claim our superiority and gaze at the world around us in a conceited way. Detached from any realities, we think of aging as a disease, that good parenting means monitoring our children every single second, that consuming green will fix our consumerism, that the idea of implanting a device in our brain to fix an imbalance is pure genius, that people who gamble our savings have a right to do so, that Facebook is real, that the web brings us closer, that food is only a recipe of carbs, proteins, sugars, and fats, and that nature is only a resource that demands to be quantified and managed. What Richard Louv wrote in his book “The Last Child in the Woods” can’t be measured so it is hardly considered. So we go the opposite way and go crazy with our quantification. We have to put a value on Planet Earth (5,000 trillion dollars according to astrophysicist Greg Laughlin) and on the oceans (check the Ocean Health Index for an orgy of numbers) to understand their importance. If it doesn’t have a number, we can’t understand it, or more, we don’ know how to value it. Knowledge is indeed important but it should not be the horse we ride on.

We have lost the ability to see the big picture. Because we are so good a looking at everything on an anatomical level we have become blind at grasping the bigger perspective. William R Catton does an amazing job at explaining why in his books Overshoot and Bottleneck. I strongly recommend you read the two.

Knowledge is not the reason why people change. If it was so, no one would smoke cigarettes, everybody would pay their credit cards on time, no one would break the law, everybody would follow the rules, there would be no economic crash and every politician would always make decisions for the good of society. The reality is that our life structure is based on values. And values differ. If we want to change, we will have to understand how people come to truly value things, and unfortunately, it is not through knowledge. No one that cherishes nature do so because of numbers, they all got to care and love nature by spending time in it. And here is the core of the argument.

For people to change, for children to develop the love and care for nature, we will have to literally reconnect our society with life and the planet. First, there needs to be direct correlation between our lifestyle and the state of the environment. We can talk about garbage littering our beaches and polluting our oceans as much as we want to and for many years, the fact remains that each and one of us is totally disconnected with the amount of garbage he or she produces and its impact. Everyone takes their garbage to the curb and says goodbye – out of sight, out of mind. There are absolutely no incentives whatsoever for people to produce less garbage and to understand the consequences of their consuming habits. Something they can’t physically feel is simply impossible to understand and care about. How can we make society care about the state of fishing stocks when subsidies create an illusion that masquerades the tragedy? How can they grasp the seriousness of the situation when the price of fish at the market has barely risen over the years. Even if they hear about the problems, the reality doesn’t touch them. Our world lives in a bubble detached from any consequences. We are sheltered from the impact our lifestyle creates. For our society to change, we will foremost have to accept the blame and consequences of our actions. We will have to be open to the idea that the fundamentals of our society are no longer valid with the current state of the planet. Until that day comes, all we will be doing is keep drowning in our own arrogance.

Daniel J. Boorstin, in his book “The Discoverers” said: ”The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents and the ocean was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge.” I think, today, it would be more accurate to say that “The greatest obstacle to living sustainably and in harmony with our environment is not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge”.

BLUE recap Final

Day 6 was a day of Leaders & Legends. Hosted my I-O Glass is Life, the lunch ceremony was to honour a group of exceptional individuals who have dedicated their lives for the conservation and care of the oceans. Barton Seaver, the master of ceremony, started the event by telling the audience about his own experience with the ocean, spending days fishing the Chesapeake Bay in Washington and discovering later in his life how pretty much everything he used to fish was no longer available. Seaver is a National Geographic Fellow and has now become an influential voice in the culinary world for his take on seafood and sustainability. In his first book, “For Cod and Country”, Seaver introduced an entirely new kind of cooking featuring seafood that hasn’t been overfished or harvested using destructive methods. He is also the host of National Geographic’s Web series “Cook-Wise”.

First to receive the honour was Robert Ballard. Ballard has been diving the depths of the oceans for more than 40 years and is mostly known for the discoveries of the wrecks of the RMS Titanic, the battleship Bismarck, the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown and the wreck of John F. Kennedy’s PT-109. In 1990, he received the Academy of Achievement’s Golden Plate Award. He was the recipient of the Kilby International Awards in 1994 and of the Caird Medal of the National Maritime Museum in 2002. In 2004, Ballard was appointed professor of oceanography, and currently serves as Director of the Institute for Archaeological Oceanography, at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography.

The second to come to the podium was Sylvia Earle. Commonly known as “Her Deepness”, Earle is a legend in the ocean community. Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society, leader of the Sustainable Seas Expeditions, council chair for the Harte Research Institute for the Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, founder and chairman of the Deep Search Foundation, and the chair of the Advisory Council for the Ocean in Google Earth, she was named  by Time Magazine as the first Hero for the Planet. She has led more than 60 expeditions worldwide with more than 7,000 hours underwater in connection to her research.

Next on the list was Marcus Erikson. Marcus, a Gulf War veteran made a in promise to another marine in 2003: ‘If we survive this war, lets float down the Mississippi River.” Which he did, with “Bottle Rocket”, floating 2000 miles in 5 months on 232 plastic bottles to the Gulf of Mexico. In 2007, along with Anna Cummins, he built a raft using 15,000 plastic bottles, and called it JUNK. He then sailed the raft from Los Angeles to Hawaii. Since then they founded 5 Gyres  an organisation dedicated to science, education and adventure, and sailed 25,000 miles into the 5 subtropical gyres to document the global distribution of plastic pollution.

Graham Kelleher became the first Chairman and CEO of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. He worked with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and became the first Vice-Chairman, Marine of its World Commission on Protected Areas. He has designed systems of marine protected areas in several countries and is at present a member of the Scientific Council for MPAs in West Africa. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Science and Engineering, of the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand and of the Institution of Engineers, Australia. He was awarded Officer of the Order of Australia, Fred M Packard International Parks Merit Award, the Centenary Medal and investiture into the Hall of Fame, Institution of Engineers, Australia.

Wallace Nichols is known for his relentless work on turtles and for giving away blue marbles. He has done extensive work on proving the neurological benefits of the ocean, the colour blue and the positive power of giving. He is a Research Associate at California Academy of Sciences and founder/co-director of OceanRevolution. He has authored and co-authored more than 50 scientific papers and reports and his work has been broadcast on NPR, BBC, PBS, National Geographic and Animal Planet and featured in Time, Newsweek, GQ, Outside Magazine, Fast Company, Scientific American and New Scientist, among others. He is also the founder of BLUEMiND: The Mind + Ocean, an initiative, merging the fields of cognitive science and ocean exploration. Nichols took the stage and before thanking the audience went on to honour one of his most important mentors – Graham Kelleher. The moment totally took Kelleher by surprise and obviously touched him tremendously. The two embraced and reminded everyone one the importance of the work we do and the affect it has on younger generations. Make sure to read Wallace’s interview in Outside magazine.

The final honouree was Louie Psihoyos, producer of the movie The Cove. His first documentary has won over 70 awards globally including the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 2009. In 1980, at the age of twenty-three, he was hired by National Geographic and remained with the magazine for seventeen years. He has since received multiple awards for his photography, including first place in the World Press Contest and the Hearst Award. He has worked with magazines such as Smithsonian, Discover, GEO, Time, Newsweek, New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine, and Sports Illustrated.

Now that lunch was over, it was time for everyone to prepare themselves for the BLUE Carpet Awards ceremony and gala. Taking place at the Golden State theatre. The event felt more like an oceanic Oscar night, with photographers everywhere snapping shots of celebrities and of the directors/producers of more than 100 films. The big winner of the night was “The Island President”, but make sure to click here to see the list of winners. The BLUE Ocean Film Festival & Conservation Summit was a huge success this year and I think I can speak on behalf of everyone when I say that we are looking forward to the next one…. in Monaco maybe, 2013? We surely hope so. Stay tuned!

BLUE Recap Day 1 to 3

The dust has settled and people have finally been able to catch their breath. It is a week now since the Blue Ocean Film Festival & Conservation Summit ended. 2012 will be remembered as the year where everything changed for the production team behind the event. With a line up of ocean celebrities, European Royalties, Hollywood power, and a long list of incredible movies, BLUE has set a benchmark for what is to come in the future. Lets go back and recap what happened.

DAY 1

Even if the official start was on Monday September 24th, there was plenty of action already happening the day before, on Sunday. Familiar faces started to roll into the hotel while submersibles from the Waitt Foundation, Ocean Gate, Virgin Oceanic and Hawkes Ocean Technologies appeared in the lobby. While the people from the Google Liquid Galaxy, Ocean Futures Society, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Ocean Footage, 5 Gyres and many more were busy settling down their booth, Surfrider and Congressman Sam Farr were entertaining and helping a group of children cleaning the beach of trash. Armed with a bag and gloves, everyone picked up a fair amount of cigarette butts, plastic bags, cans, plastic debris, empty bottles, and even a shoe. Even though it was great to see such enthusiasm for collecting people’s left overs, I couldn’t stop thinking about how our relationship with nature has changed. When I grew up, nature was a place to have fun, to explore, to play hide and seek, to get lost, to experiment, to wander – and through this, one came to develop the love and care it so deserves. Now, nature has become a debate, an ideology, a place where we ask children to go and clean up our mess. We tell them it is their duty to do so. Personally I question the long term effect for this strategy. Already surveys are coming out pointing to the next generation and discovering that their care for the environment and nature is at a record low. But this issue is for another time. Right now, looking at these kids roaming the sand searching for things that don’t belong there, I was just happy that there were out and not inside somewhere, watching television or on the computer.

Towards the end the afternoon, I met with documentary filmmaker and adjunct professor of Science and Natural History Filmmaking at Montana State University, Gianna Savoie. We talked for quite a while about the difficulties and challenges of transforming the scientific narrative into a story that people can connect with. Competing for attention, our world is no more forced to listen or watch – the internet and the democratization of knowledge and information have changed the way people learn. They don’t want to simply be told the facts, what matters is the personal story behind it. The human element. The emotions. For the scientific community, this reality and necessity is a complicate task to understand. Their funding often now depends on reaching out to places and people who don’t want to read through hundreds of pages of data, but instead they want to feel the emotional connection.

In the evening, the press was invited at Peter B’s Brewpub for a long night of food and home brewed beer tasting. Quite a feast!

DAY 2
I started the day by having breakfast with legendary Captain Don Walsh. Our mutual friend Josh Bernstein has suggested we meet and thank god he did. Walsh, a retiree Navy Captain, is an oceanographer and expert in marine policy. He was the first to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench on January 23, 1960, aboard the submersible Trieste together with Jacques Piccard. He was also the last one to say goodbye and the first one to say welcome back to James Cameron on his personal breaking record visit to the deepest point of the world’s oceans (DeepSea Challenger). The Captain was here not only as part of the Ocean Elders but also to receive a Life Achievement Award. At one point, Jean Michel Cousteau passed by our table and the two of them entered a long chat, remembering many past friends. When Walsh told Cousteau that the Chinese had already been down in the Mariana Trench three times since Cameron, collecting many samples and specimens, he simply couldn’t believe that no one knew about this. How was it that no one had heard about this? He asked.

Following our conversation from the day before, Gianna Savoie was now part of a panel, along with Alyson Barrat from Living Oceans Foundation, Blair Palese from Antarctic Ocean, Charlotte Vick from Google Ocean & Mission Blue, Annelore Reisewitz from Strategic Ocean Solutions and Kathleen Flood from Cascade Game Foundry. The title of the discussion was “Communicating Science: Mastering Science Storytelling”. During her presentation, Alyson put up on screen a live “Skype” conversation with Captain Philip G. Renaud, aboard the Foundation’s boat in the French Polynesia. Palese talked about their incredible campaign they have going on right now in anticipation of CCAMLR’s meeting on the faith of conservation for the Antarctic Ocean. Called “I’m Watching”, the strategy maximises the current technologies and social media. Charlotte Vick talked about the impact Google Earth has and how one little entry can generate millions of views. Finally Gianna presented to the crowd the amazing Pacific Voyager project. Combining culture, science and indigenous heritage, the expedition is a marvel, bridging historical knowledge and practises with today’s need to connect to something deeper.

At the same time at the theatre, Louie Psihoyos was presenting for the Encore Series, his 2009 Academy Award movie The Cove. Also in other rooms, Craig Eastman talked about the importance of music in storytelling while Craig Adkins showed us the incredible capacities of the GoPro and how this tiny camera has changed the way we see the world.

The evening was marked by the official opening event. On stage, taking turns, Congressman Sam Farr, BLUE Founder Debbie Kinder, Jean-Michel Cousteau and Dr. Sylvia Earle each welcome the crowd. While most talked about the importance of educating and breaching outside of the ocean community, Jean-Michel spent much of his speech talking about the very sad episode of Morgan, an orca that was recently captured and is now in captivity in a private park in the Canaries. Dan Basta, director of the office of National Marine Sanctuaries at NOAA, surprised everyone by honouring the work of Debbie and her daughter Sara. The evening was followed by the screening of Otter 501 and ended with a light buffet. The tone was set and tomorrow was going to be another incredible day!

DAY 3
The day began with a series of really interesting classes and presentations. Emmy Award winning wildlife cinematographer Andy Brandy Casagrande IV treated the audience with absolutely stunning footage taken with the Phantom camera. Andy showed the power of slow motion and how it can be carefully integrated in a strong documentary narrative. The lively Chris Palmer taught in his class what was needed to raise money for cinematographic nature projects. Palmer could’t be more qualified. He has been a pivotal figure in several multi-million dollar projects and is now president of the One World One Ocean Foundation. While Corinne Bourdeau and Mary Elizabeth Murphy from 360˚ Communications talked about the whole distribution aspect of documentaries, a discussion around the use of laws and lawsuits to solve the biggest plastic pollution problems was taking place on the main stage. Lisa Boyle from the Huffington Post, Christopher Chin from the Centre for Oceanic Awareness, Research, and Education, Rachel Doughty, Attorney, Leila Monroe from the Natural Resources Defence Council, and Saskia VanGendt, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) looked at how legislations and regulations were either helping conservation efforts or not, and what could be done to fix the process.

Running in between sessions, my next stop was Fabien Cousteau’s talk – an insightful presentation of what it meant to be brought up in an ocean family legacy. That legacy continued right after with Fabien’s father, Jean Michel, as he presented the screening of his documentary “My Father the Captain: Jacques Yves Cousteau”. Revisiting the adventures and the legacy of Captain Cousteau through intimate stories from his family, Jean-Michel also gave a voice to the people whose lives were influenced by the famous “Commandant”. Also present was Celine, Fabien’s sister, with her new baby – the next generation of Cousteau!

While Captain Don Walsh talked about his career on the main stage in a conversation with John Racanelli, CEO at National Aquarium, I met with Marine Vice Chair for IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas Dan Laffoley. Laffoley is also an advisor for my E.P.I.C. expedition. Together we joined Dr.Sylvia Earle and her team for the Mission Blue cocktail reception. Ocean Elder Graham Kelleher made the crowd laugh with his incredible wit and unforgiving australian accent. Blair from Antarctic Ocean reminded everyone of what was at stake down south, and Anatoly Sagalevich, deep sea legend and dear friend of Sylvia, delighted the audience with some of his personal stories.

The day ended in style with a screening of Finding Nemo in 3D, hosted by Walt Disney Studios. Paul Baribault, VP of marketing greeted the audience and explained the complicated process of turning a simple animated 2D movie into a unforgettable 3D experience. He also took the occasion to announce Disney Nature’s next project “Bears”, coming to theatre in 2014. The movie, directed by Keith Scholey (African Cats) and Alastair Fothergill (Earth, Chimpanzee), was shot in Alaska in the Katmai National Park and followed the “day-to-day lives” of the brown bears.

The rest of the days coming later this week!

Blue Ocean Film Festival

Nothing better to kick off the return to work than attending the Blue Ocean Film Festival in Monterey, coming up on September 24th. As previously done with the International Polar Year 2012, I will be reporting and keeping you in the loop as the festival goes on. This year will certainly be incredible with an amazing long list of “Ocean Stars” – Prince Albert of Monaco, James Cameron, Bob Talbot, Doug Allan, Robert Ballard, Andy Brandy Casagrande IV, Celine Cousteau, Fabien Cousteau, Jean Michel Cousteau, Sylvia Earle, Don Walsh and so many others. Make sure to tune in as tweets, photos and daily updates will be featured on this blog.

In the meantime, watch below my video statement done specifically for the festival “How do you see the ocean” contest.

Deflecting – Preservation and Exploitation

“As long as there are commercial opportunities in the Arctic, local communities, governments, and companies will take advantage of them.” Andreas Østhagen, Research Associate – Norway/EU Arctic Policy

In the conservation world, there are two main ideologies on how to achieve your goal. The first one consist of applying a direct counter force towards an element you wish to stop. The other approach is greatly different. Accepting that the element has too much momentum and its force is too great, it chooses to rather deflect or guide the force towards a different end point. In other words, either you protest against corporations, or you work with them. Although this bureau accepts that there might be some benefits in trying to change the system by protesting, it believes that the forces at play within our society, within our industrialized world are way to big to simply counter attack. Rather, it considers cooperation to be the way to achieve long lasting conservation. The goal is to create win-win situations and, as Østhagen concluded in his article for the Arctic Institute, to establish a balance between preservation and exploitation. One unorthodox way to explain this “cooperation” or “deflecting” concept, is to look at martial art aikido. Aikido is often translated as “the way of unifying (with) life energy” or as “the way of harmonious spirit.” It is performed by blending with the motion of the attacker and redirecting the force of the attack rather than opposing it head-on. This requires very little physical strength.

Some argue that this method is a sell out. But we think otherwise and campaign for it.

One of the most famous conservationists who believed in this strategy was José Márcio Ayres. He believed that nature would stand no chance of survival unless community-based models of natural resource management were applied. In fact he created the Economic Alternatives Program with an aim to change the way in which natural resources are being exploited, to make them generate long-term socioeconomic and environmental benefits.

Per instance, the clearing of forest for lumber, once carried out illegally and on a large scale by forestry companies from outside Mamirauá, is now handled by 20 communities living in the reserve who take into account the sustainability of the tree species — a first for the várzea. This kind of sustainable development has made it possible to increase the income from forest management by 100 to 150 per cent — a huge benefit for the community, as it is the only major work that can be done during the high-water season.

The Antarctic Ocean Alliance is also recommending solutions based on this belief. Its proposal does want a ban on fishing in the wider Ross Sea region, nor a limit on toothfish catches. But rather it proposes excluding fishing from the most ecologically important areas.

This is the strategy we want to see for the Arctic. Here are two solutions we believe could yield tremendous conservation benefits, using the momentum of exploitation to the conservation advantage.

  1. Give Give
    For every exploitation zone given, an area of the same size is declared off limit and protected. The more exploitation, the more protection. Conservationists and biologists would determine what areas are best to protect in relation to the exploitation zones.
  2. Insurance Fund
    Unfortunately, accidents do happen. Even when we don’t want to. That is why we buy insurance. Nobody buys a car knowing that he/she will get into an accident. But we all get an insurance in case one day… According to Wikipedia, insurance is: “a form of risk management primarily used to hedge against the risk of a contingent, uncertain loss. Insurance is defined as the equitable transfer of the risk of a loss, from one entity to another, in exchange for payment.” In 1989, there was the Exxon Valdez oil spill. In 2010, there was the BP oil spill. Every year, in Russia, 5 million tons of oil is spilled into the environment (6x what the BP spill was). It is only fair to say, that one day, there will be another major disaster. The question is not How, but When. We propose then that all oil/gas/mining companies involved in the exploitation of the Arctic region finance an insurance fund that will go for an eventual environmental tragedy. Part of that fund would be used to manage the protected areas mentioned in point 1 above. The more resources are extracted, the more the fund grows. This concept is also used between Tourism and Conservation. The more tourists you have the more you have to finance the conservation.

Those solutions are not problems free. They do though acknowledge the complexity of our society and work with the parties involved into a constructive relationship rather than a pissing contest, (Shell wins injunction against Greenpeace Arctic drilling protestors) where short term benefits might indeed be achieved, at the price of much needed long term benefits.

The Future of the Arctic

Welcome to the Extreme & Polar Islands Conservation (E.P.I.C.) blog. Weekly posts will explore conservation issues that pertain mainly to the Polar regions: their oceans and their remote islands.

The Future of the Arctic

For anyone involved in oil, mining, gas or conservation, it is no secret by now that the North is where most of the attention will be locked for the next decade. It is extremely ironic that the consequences of our lifestyle on the planet’s ecosystem have opened a once-inaccessible and pristine region for development, giving our industrial world a much needed life line. The timing could have not been more perfect for some, and the worst for others. The pressures on the planet’s resources have never been so high, ever. Living off nature is nothing new, at the end we are an earth species living in a complex web of dependencies. What is different today is the scale of our consumption and the role human has taken in the food chain as both the predator and the grazer.

A predator is a constructive element in the food chain. Its goal is to keep in check the numbers of more invasive species. These species, if not controlled have the power to eradicate the resources. The grazers in return help keeping a balance in the plant wold. Nature is this amazing relationship-based system, where each living organism plays its part for the planet’s equilibrium. In fact, without these dynamic “boundaries”, each would have the potential to destroy its own environment.

The problem today is that we hunt like predators and consume and reproduce like grazers. In other words, we consume the resources from both ends, without a care in the world, thinking that this candle will just keep burning forever. While at the same time populating the earth at a rate that any virus would envy.

What will happen to the Arctic? We have just passed the 7 billion mark in population. We have eaten our way through the Pacific and the Atlantic. We have used most of the oil from the fields so far discovered. And we have cut down pretty much everything. The Arctic is offering new waters to fish, new minerals to extract, new oil fields to drill, new forests to cut and new land to built cities. Worse, our past record in managing new resources is nothing to be proud of. We decimate before we care. The pressure to deliver “cheap” material and “cheap” food for this ever increasing world does not help any conservation matters. So what to do?

The complexity of the situation is not to be taken lightly. At one extreme, you have the people who simply want the entire north to stay off-limit: no development, nothing. At the other end, you have the people for whom this new territory is just another dot on the map with precious and extremely valuable resources. You also have the native communities, who for many years, have been kept quiet by subsidies. They now find themselves at the frontline of a new gold rush and they want to be included. Some countries are drooling over the rewards the Arctic could reap, while others, already exhausted over interior issues and financial realities can’t seem to know what foot to dance on. Finally you have everything in between. In this “open internet sensationalized media world” everyone has a right for its opinion and a platform to share it.

Politicians, independently of what they will do or decide, will be screamed at and vilified. If it is not the fishermen angry for not being able to make a living, it will the conservationists, the public, the corporations, the native communities – there won’t be anywhere where governments can hide. Still, they have to make decisions. And their decisions are most of the time based on what will bring them reelected next year. If that was not enough, we live in a world where no one pays the real price for its lifestyle. And no one wants to pay more. We want cheap food, cheap electronics and cheap energy.

The development of the Arctic will go on, whether we want it or not. The question is: How will it go? In 1996 the Arctic Council was formed precisely to look over the process. Formed by the delimiting countries: Canada, USA, Russia, Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden, it mission is to:

To provide a means for promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States, with the involvement of the Arctic Indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues, in particular issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic.

Also at the Council table are France, Germany, The Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom. Although their role, is to observe and suggest but not to participate in the decision making. In recents years, other countries, such as China, Brazil, India, Japan and the EU have clearly lobbied for a right to be involved. In their views, what happens in the North, happens everywhere. The world is so global, that no one has the luxury to ride without the others. In the extreme scenario where much of the Arctic disappears, these waters will be international and free for all to navigate.

The challenge will be to manage on a sustainable level this eager group of developers. Playing the NO card is not a wise strategy. In fact, it would absolutely be counter productive. The corporations have the funds and the political will (lets not forget also the reality that the world demands their products!) to exploit as much as they can first and deal with the consequences later. So to simply oppose to their power and fight fire with fire, would accomplish nothing. It would be a waste of people’s money, but more importantly it would erase any chance of working with these companies at guiding them in their developing process. Everyone involved will need to be pragmatic. Conservation groups need to understand the economical realities we face and the corporations need to accept their responsibilities towards the environment.

Instead of pretending that nothing will happen, that no accidents will occur, or that no one will ever drill in the Arctic, what must be achieved is a constructive discussion where everyone is enticed at working to avoid and prepare for the worst. Like a teen coming of age of driving, there is no point to prohibit the inevitable. What you can do is guide, instruct and prepare so that when something bad happens (and it will!) it doesn’t come as a surprise and the mechanisms to repair are already in place.