Paul Nicklen (@paulnicklen) — Co-founder of @SeaLegacy. Click the link below to join my mailing list.
My third assignment for @NatGeo was on a tiny group of atolls in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The article is called "Phoenix Islands: A Coral Reef Wilderness Revealed", and it was published in the February 2004 issue. I was asked to accompany a group of the world’s foremost coral and fish scientists to this incredibly remote area as an example of a pristine, untouched marine habitat. We only had 18 shooting days and conducting science was the priority on this expedition. The project was led by the wonderful Dr. Greg Stone (@GregStoneOcean). He also did a beautiful job of writing the article. Greg had been there the previous year on an exploratory expedition and was blown away by the numbers of sharks around one atoll in particular. When we showed up, I was so excited to see these densities for myself. We jumped in, and after several dives, we never found a single shark. Later, we discovered that one small family in a little open boat managed to remove 6,000 sharks from this one atoll in just a few months with a hand line. They were feeding the demand for shark fins in the global shark fin trade. It was devastating. We were able to contrast this now collapsing reef with other atolls nearby that were still thriving. I struggled on this shoot for many reasons, and you can see that the images themselves are not strong. However, it is still a story that I am deeply proud of as the images have purpose. Greg and his team worked tirelessly with the Kiribati Government, and through years of effort, they created the Phoenix Islands Marine Protected Area which was the largest in the world at the time. Now that is impact and I am proud that my pictures were a small part of that victory.
My second assignment for @NatGeo “Northern Exposure”, from the January 2004 issue, came with a lot less stress than my first. I was asked to get on Canada’s largest icebreaker and travel through the Northwest Passage with some of the world’s leading climate scientists and document their research and the effects of climate change. I was told that my images would never comprise a full feature in the magazine due to the nature of the expedition, but perhaps my pictures could be part of a larger story down the road. I was with the legendary Emory Kristof who took the first images of the sunken Titanic. He was there to document deep-sea life. I saw this assignment as an opportunity to surprise National Geographic and come back with a full feature. The one thing that I remember very distinctly was that the scientists would not go on the record about climate change. That was only 17 years ago. We have come a long way since then. Now, people are taking little sailboats through the Northwest Passage. Cruise ships that aren’t supposed to come in contact with sea ice are also making it through the Northwest Passage. I can go back to any one of those scientists today, and they will of course openly talk about the effects of climate change on the Arctic ecosystem. The most visible sign of change is the loss of multi-year ice. Multi-year ice is the thick and dense ice that lives for many years. It survives throughout the summer and fall when the annual ice disappears, and it's a floating home for walrus, polar bears, seals, and birds. Once this ice is gone, it is gone forever.
I received my first assignment from National Geographic in 2001. It was about the contrast between wild Atlantic salmon populations and the rapidly growing Atlantic salmon fish farming industry. When I first got the news that I was going to finally shoot for the prestigious yellow magazine, I was ecstatic. It was like being called up to play in the NHL except there is only one team and only one chance to impress the most discerning editors in the world. Halfway through the assignment, after I had spent half of my time (six weeks) and half of my budget, my editor called and told me that he had reviewed my 200 rolls of exposed film and the results were “deeply disappointing.” That is right... we had to turn in every roll of exposed film, and they got to see the results first. I will never forget it. I was parked on the side of the road and just bawled as I knew the dream was over. He went on to explain that my work was not cutting it and that my chance at NG was likely over except I was under contractual obligation to complete this story. Little did I know at the time that he was trying to mind#$!* me and use fear as a tactic to get me to work harder. I was already working 18 hours a day, traveling through many countries alone with 15 - 70-pound cases of equipment including my rebreather, dive tanks and weight belt. However, it worked as I put my head down and worked obsessively for another six weeks to wrap up the shoot. Albeit I worked under a dark cloud as I knew that I had just failed my first story. The story was slated for 16 pages in National Geographic. It eventually became a 24-page story, and it won first place in nature stories at World Press Photo which is like the Oscars for journalism. More importantly, it exposed the Atlantic salmon fish farming industry as the most toxic in the world. There are more pesticides and antibiotics used in Atlantic salmon fish farming than any over livestock industry on Earth. I learned that it took four pounds of wild fish to produce a pound of farmed fish as wild populations of herring, anchovies and sardines collapsed globally. I learned about diseases that are affecting wild populations.
For the next three weeks, I am excited to share with you my journey as a National Geographic photographer. As @natgeo hits their 100 millionth follower, I am going on a trip down memory lane, reflecting on a 19-year career with National Geographic. Here is a bit of background story on my journey. I was raised in the Canadian Arctic and lived in the North for most of my life. I worked as a biologist on bears, lynx, and other charismatic megafauna species. In 1994, I quit my job as a biologist and got dropped off on the barren lands with 500 pounds of supplies, hundreds of miles from civilization and there, I lived alone with the bears and the wolves for three months. It allowed me to clear mind and plan an exciting path forward of getting in the door with @NatGeo. I struggled in those first few years. In 1999, @FlipNicklin took me under his wing and mentored me and taught me about the art of story-telling. So did @JoelSartore. In 2001, I got my first assignment with @NatGeo. It was on Atlantic Salmon, and it was perhaps the most terrifying and gratifying moment in my career. For the next 23 days, I will be posting excerpts from my 23 major National Geographic assignments.
A huge congratulations to @NatGeo for reaching 100 million followers. Being on assignment for the past 19 years has been an incredible journey. It is demanding, exhilarating, and rewarding to be part of a team that tackles the hard issues and shares both the beauty and plight of our planet. A single photo or article can give a voice to those who aren’t normally heard. Transport someone to places they never dreamed of seeing. Spark an emotional connection that can change people’s behaviours and perceptions. To celebrate this major milestone, National Geographic is hosting a photo contest. You have 24 hours to submit your most Nat Geo-esque images, using the hashtag #NatGeo100Contest in the caption. Submissions will be reviewed by a panel of 10 National Geographic photographers. The top 10 photos will be featured on @NatGeo's Instagram account and the grand prize winner will win a trip to Tanzania.
This is me in my office. This is where I go to work and this is my happy place in my favorite habitat. @jedweingarten grabbed this shot of me coming up from a long dive under the sea ice while on assignment for @natgeo in the Canadian Arctic. At this point, I was entering the early stages of hypothermia and had to be dragged out of the water, stuck in a warm sleeping bag and left there to warm up for hours. As National Geographic reaches the 100Million mark on instagram, I want go on a trip down memory lane and reflect on the 19 year journey I had with this powerful, informative and influential magazine, brand and society. Starting this week, I will be sharing images and stories from my 23 assignments and features. Now, I am so proud to be a co-founder of @sealegacy where we use the power of visual story-telling for conservation wins but it is also important to reflect back once in a while and give thanks for this incredible journey through life, light and time. If you want to gain more personal insights and learn about some of my techniques and philosophies in life and photography, please sign up to my new mailing list. (LINK IN BIO) #gratitude#journey#cold#ice#passion#commitment
Happy #worldwhaleday. A humpback whale whips its tail across the surface as it dives down on a school of herring in Norway. I call this fine art piece, Liquid Curtain and it is one of my favorites when printed at 40 x 60 inhces. If you want to learn more about my fine art work, please go to the link in my bio. #whale#marinesanctuaries#fineart
Some of you seem interested with how big a leopard seal is so I want to share an underwater image with you to gain even more perspective. Thank you for all of your comments. I took this picture of the big female leopard seal flirting with my good buddy @goranehlme who is 6’2”. It is hard to get a true handle on her size but she appeared to be the same length as our 12 foot long inflatable boat. All I know is that I have seen hundreds of leopard seals in Antarctica and have had over 50 different ones approach me underwater and she is by far the biggest one I have seen. And she was the most confident, interactive and by far the most generous with her time and her penguin offerings. Out of my 23 stories for @natgeo over 19 years, this was my fifth and my favorite assignment of them all. #gratitude#instagood#antarctica#explore#adventure#wildlife#nature
This was my only true scary moment on the leopard seal assignment in Antarctica. The huge female leopard seal had just moved towards me with the Gentoo penguin in her jaws. Leopard seals try and remove the feathers from the meat by whipping the penguin from side to side. They whip the 12 pounds birds with such speed and acceleration that you can barely register what is happening with the human eye. @goranehlme captured this moment at 1/4000th of a second. I should have backed away from her in anticipation of this but it was too late. Look at at the blood stains on the left side of my head. I had just been smacked in the side of the head by the swinging penguin. It hit me with such force that I was starting to black out. As my world started to go black, I clenched my teeth, closed my eyes and took long, slow deep breaths and hid behind my camera until I got my senses back. I don’t think she ever would have done anything but this was not a moment where I wanted to end up unconscious. I am excited to share more stories from my career in my upcoming newsletter. Please feel free to join me. LINK IN BIO #ringmybell#naturesstories#storiesfromthefield#explore
Leopard seals are by far and away the most engaging species I have ever had the privilege of photographing and filming. This seal had an excess of bravado. As I help lead our @sealegacy team in our conservation efforts, it is very rewarding to reflect back on a productive career with National Geographic (@natgeo). For over 18 years, I shot and produced 23 major features for their magazine. Over the next month, I am going to be sharing my favorite moments and images from those assignments with you. If you want to hear more in depth stories about my journey, please join my mailing list. (Link in my Bio) Image by @cristinamittermeier
Happy Valentines my friends. It is a day to to put on our best show like this wandering albatross spreading its 11 foot wingspan in a romantic display for its mate under a rainbow in Antarctica. It is a day to be extra sensitive and thoughtful, to go slow, give thanks, admire, appreciate, be romantic and go that extra mile. Imagine that these remarkable birds live until they are 50 years old and mate for life. Now that is #love#antrarctica#happyvalentines#beauty#rainbow
The health of an entire ecosystem on Canada’s Pacific coast depends on one little, silver fish. Herring and their eggs provide essential nutrition all the way up the food chain - from salmon and seals to wolves and bears, humpbacks and orcas. But commercial fishing is wiping out the region's herring stock - and not for human consumption. Almost 90 percent of all catch is reduced to fishmeal used in pet and fish farm food. To allow herring populations to recover, all commercial fisheries in the Pacific North West have been shut down. Except for one. If we are going to save unstable species on this coast, we must suspend the commercial herring fishery in the Strait of Georgia. Join #ConservationHornbyIsland,#AssociationofDenmanIslandMarineSteward,@PacificWild and @SeaLegacy in protecting these #BIGLittleFish - link in bio. Footage: @iantmcallister, @tavishcampbell, @paulnicklen#bc #herring