As a wildlife and conservation photographer, you want your photos to have an impact and make a difference. That is why I was extremely pleased to learn that my photos very likely have changed the future of the pristine rainforests and the people of Guyana to the better.
"I don’t think I am overstating it when I say that the impacts of the photos that Daniel took (...) were the direct cause" (Thadaigh Baggallay)
I was on an assignment to Guyana, working for the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS), when their partner, the Protected Areas Commission (PAC), were about to fly over the Kaieteur National Park to locate illegal gold mining activities. FZS and PAC agreed that it made sense to send me along to document it photographically, so I did.
I got into a small Cessna plane with room for three passengers. The door on my side was remove so I could take photos more easily. The destination was Guyana’s flagship national park; the Kaieteur Falls NP. It is a stunning area with vast rainforest cover with a spectacular waterfall in the middle of it. I was amazed. That’s why it was extra sad when we started finding illegal gold mining sites.
Where the gold miners have settled the destruction is very visual. The rainforest has been replaced with water filled pits where the miners search through the ground soil using a process called dredging. But the visual part is not the worst part. Large amounts of mercury are used to extract the gold from the ore. Mercury is a toxic metal that doesn’t only affect the area locally. As it travels with water and rivers, everything downstream gets polluted. This is not only bad for the nature and wildlife in and around these rivers, people tend to live along the rivers where they drink and wash themselves in the water as well as eat the fish. Mercury poisoning causes a number of complications among humans and can even lead to insanity, coma or death.
Thadaigh Baggallay, the FZS project leader in Guyana, later wrote in a report;
“I don’t think I am overstating it when I say that the impacts of the photos that Daniel took during the flyover of Kaieteur National Park, were the direct cause of a relatively large-scale anti-mining operation being undertaken by the Guyana Defence Force and the Guyana Police Force in KNP. The PAC has been submitting reports of illegal mining in the KNP to the Geology and Mines Commission for a number of years, with very little support given by GGMC to enforce the Mining Act. The report drafted in March 2017, using 9 photographs taken by Daniel, which for the first time showed clear and close-up photos of mining camps, miners in actions, and polluted mining pits, inside the KNP, was pushed all the way up the President’s desk. On seeing the photos, he ordered action to be taken, and a number of illegal miners were arrested, equipment destroyed, and the National coverage that resulted (while not all positive) raised the profile of this issue. It has been easier to work with GGMC since then. The lesson learnt fits the old adage that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’”
To find out that just nine of my photos had such an affect, reaching the president of Guyana and probably changing the future of the rainforest to the better as well as the health of the people was really fantastic. It might be my biggest accomplishment yet as a photographer.
See more photos in the Guyana Gallery