In my line of work, it's impossible not to come across talented, strong, like-minded individuals with whom I form instantaneous bonds. It's so refreshing to work with others who share your values and nerdy excitement over whales and other wildlife. Fiona Wardle is one such spirited lady – I couldn't imagine life in Kaikoura without her! She's been the most incredible tour guide and has taught me so much about dusky dolphins and the other wildlife we frequently see around here.
Fi came to Kaikoura about four years ago. She's originally from the U.K., but moved to Oceania to research common dolphins and humpback whales after completing her undergraduate degree in wildlife photography. As fate would have it, while working in Auckland, a friend connected Fi with Dolphin Encounter and she found herself in Kaikoura working as a dolphin swim guide and photographer. This town seems to have a magical pull on its residents – she's on her fourth season here, and it's not hard to see why! She finds herself constantly surrounded by a stunning variety of subjects to explore from behind the lens. Her work is absolutely beautiful; it evokes a stunning contemplation of the natural beauty around us, as well as an appreciation of the subtle and moving complexity of the animals we live amongst.
I chatted with Fiona about her work and posted some of her stunning photographs that she's taken in the past few years. Interested in seeing more of her work? Follow her on Instagram or cruise over to her website.
How would you like your photography to contribute to the ocean conservation movement?
I want my photography to have a purpose. Of course, it's a bonus if it's pleasant to the eye, but I want my images to evoke emotion from the viewer. This means photographing the good, bad and the ugly. Sometimes a lot more can be said in one photo than a whole paragraph, which in itself can be a very strong tool when trying to get a point across or communicate an issue easily to a varied audience. You eliminate any language or age barrier. However, my ultimate goal with my photography is to inspire! If it can inspire you to get outside, to observe the beauty in nature for yourselves – whether that's your own backyard or the other side of the world – than I'm helping with the most fundamental building block of conservation and protection. People have more of an urge to protect something they have experienced or can relate too themselves.
Where is one place you'd love to see a photograph published?
One conservation group that is a great visual communicator is the Save Our Seas Foundation. They fund and support research, conservation and education projects worldwide, focusing primarily on charismatic threatened wildlife and their habitats. They work alongside some of the most world renowned conservation photographers, including Thomas Peschak and Ian McAllister. They are masters of communicating thought provoking stories, matching their photographs with beautiful words and illustrations. I would relish the opportunity to do an assignment with them one day. Definitely check out their quarterly magazine. They publish stunning hardcopies, but you can also view them online for free!
If you're interested, here's the link to the online Save Our Seas Magazine.
Why wildlife photography?
I am most at home in the ocean but often feel lost if my camera is not in tow. I love the challenge of photographing underwater; there are so many more aspects that you have to consider, not just technically with the camera, but physically and mentally too when on breath hold! Although, I have to say it comes easily when there's a captivating subject in front of me, like an inquisitive and playful dusky dolphin. I don’t know if I have a favorite species to photograph, but I do know that I would love to have more water time with manta rays. They fascinate me! They are so curious, so agile and remarkably intelligent! They are also a great advocate for ocean conservation.
what's special about kaikoura?
With mountains to the west and ocean to the east, who wouldn’t fall in love with picturesque Kaikoura? But it's actually what lies a little deeper that has kept me grounded here. In literal terms, it's the canyon which lies just south of the peninsula, reaching depths of 2000 meters. This canyon is the reason Kaikoura can claim the title of one of the best places in the world to view marine mammals and oceanic seabirds. This is ideal for an ocean frother like me! However, it's not just the wildlife. The spirit of community in this little town, with no more than 2000 residents, is rather special, and this was highlighted to me back in November 2016 when the earth shook Kaikoura. The community really pulled together after the earthquake – people took in others they didn’t know, just as a way to help out. They clothed, fed and offered them a bed! Being able to witness and receive such selflessness was a welcoming silver lining to a rather terrifying ordeal and for this reason, it's not just the natural beauty but the people of Kaikoura that will always hold a special place in my heart.
If you could communicate one thing to the world right now about ocean conservation and living a more eco-friendly lifestyle, what would it be?
Go plastic free for our oceans! Plastics have a remarkable way of creeping into our every day lives, but sadly it's not just our lives they're effecting. Up to 12 tonnes of plastic end up in the sea each year, weighing the same as about 60,000 fully-grown blue whales. Marine animals can get tangled up in plastic or even mistake it for food. The effects can be fatal. Harmful chemicals linked to plastic have been found in species from plankton to dolphins. I'm not saying living a plastic free life is easy – I myself find it challenging everyday. I mean, jeeze, half of my camera equipment happens to be plastic!
But the key is to not get overwhelmed; we can all do our part to help the fight. I dare you, after reading this post, to cut out one item of plastic from your life completely, be it water bottles, plastic bags or straws. Everyone has to start somewhere and this could be the start of your journey to switching to reusable items and living a more eco-friendly and environmentally-conscious life. In return, you get to feel the satisfaction every time you say no to plastic, knowing you're doing your part in saving the wonders of our oceans.
Fi, you're an inspiration. Honestly, after working and spending time with this lady, I've already changed so many of my habits and kicked so much plastic out of my life. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, words, and photographs with us! Connect with her on her social media channels to see more of her work.
In the mean time, stay tuned for more mermaid crushes; I'll be writing more features soon. Also, my friend Maddie wrote an amazing new post about my life as a seasonal guide on her revamped blog, The Thalassophiles, and I'd love if you'd support her and check it out!