Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ecosystem services in San Fran.

Cristina is headed to San Francisco January 26, 2010 to speak on ecosystem services and the 17th tome in the CEMEX conservation book series, The Wealth of Nature: Ecosystem Services, Biodiversity and Human Well- Being.
Will you be in San Francisco in January?
View Invite

Visit www.conservation.org/SFLectures to register for this lecture

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cristina on Capitol Hill

RAVE Borderlands logo2.jpg
The iLCP Borderlands Exhibit opening reception took place yesterday November 18th at the Russel Building on the Senate side of the US Capitol. Senator Dicks and Senator Kerry came to say a few words!

More on the Exhibit HERE

More on the Borderlands RAVE HERE

More on Cristina HERE

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sony Style USA | Blog

Cristina is featured on Sony Style | USA blog

Check it out!

Cristina is 'wading' out the perfect shot_Yucatan RAVE

Cristina's RAVE Mission is to document the human landscape in the costal town of the northern Yucatan peninsula, more specifically human well-being and the connection with nature. Here she has been inspired by the elegance of a flock of flamingos at sunset, and is waiting like a good wildlife photographer for that perfect shot. will she get it?.....find out at WILD9, the 9th World Wilderness Congress in Merida Mexico. November 6-13 2009.

Hurry this Thursday October 29 is the last day to register online!
To register from October 29th to the 4th please contact Daniela Morales. (+52 55) 5615 9650 / 9817

Cristina's BLOGS about her Yucatan RAVE Mission


Monday, October 26, 2009

2 presentations, 1 great exhibit!

Cristina is speaking today... twice!

Her first appearance is at the Women's Conservation Forum discussion about the importance of December's climate change conference in Copenhagen and the effect this conference will have on international conservation -Conservation International

There will be a special viewing of A Climate for Life photography exhibit that will open this afternoon at Monday, October 26, 2009
12pm - 2pm
Ronald Reagan International Trade Building
The Rotunda - 8th Floor Washington, DC
Ticket Price:
Women's Conservation Forum member - Free
Non-member - $50

To purchase tickets or become a Women's Forum member, click here.

The second presentation will be during the official exhibit opening today :
3:00- 5:00pm.
Ronald Reagan International Trade Building
The Rotunda - 8th Floor Washington, DC

* click on the images to see them larger!

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Cristina presented at CLICK646 this past weekend in Uptown Greenwood for click646.
Cristina spoke about her recent work as well as the International League of conservation Photographers (iLCP) - of which she is the Executive Director. The iLCP Borderlands RAVE exhibit is on display for the festival as well.

Hear from Cristina - LIVE FROM THE FESTIVAL

Izincab Hacienda ; Yucatan RAVE Day 5

There are few smells I love more than that of my daughter’s skin and the early morning air in the tropical forest. There is no other smell like it. It hits you with the power of a thousand different blossoms, promised rain, and the musty scent of moist dirt and mossy shade. It truly fills your lungs and your soul with the rich aroma of mother earth at her very best.
That is the smell I woke up to this morning as I opened the double wooden doors on the window of my bedroom in the beautiful Hacienda Izancab, 45 minutes south of Merida, Yucatan. A magical corner of the Yucatan peninsula where time seems to have stopped still some 50 years ago.
The hundreds of stately haciendas that flourished during the first part of last century, providing jobs for thousands of Maya Indians and feeding the economic engine in this part of the world, depended on a single crop for the survival: henequen.
Henequen, or sisal as it is known in other parts of the world was grown here and its fibers shipped all over the world to make ropes and sacs for storing food. When artificial fibers were invented, however, they quickly replaced the less durable and more expensive natural fiber and the whole industry that supported the rich lifestyle of the hacenderos, collapsed.
The once proud haciendas proved too expensive to upkeep and they soon were abandoned and left to crumble under the persistence of rain, wind and sun, and the occasional hurricane.
My lovely bedroom, however, is not in a crumbling hacienda, but in an exquisitely renovated one, managed by Calderwood travel. They have rescued the decaying corpses of over 2 dozen of these haciendas and have restored them to their original beauty, while adding the comforts of the 21st century…namely hot water, air conditioning and the most fabulous Yucatecan cuisine in the land. They also have opened new job opportunities for the surrounding communities, who were also struggling after all jobs disappeared along with the henequen.
Jenny and I have a surreal dinner, sitting in the large veranda on our own and trying to imagine what the Doña of this hacienda was like. Did she keep busy with embroidery or horseback riding, or did she spend time swimming in the nearby cenotes? I am sure there are wonderful books written about every detail of this lifestyle, but as stroll throughout the impeccable grounds, we prefer to imagine what the gardens must have looked like and we wonder at the lavish parties that surely took place here.
We truly have the best job in the world; Starwood has graciously hosted us, along with several other photographers working on a RAVE (Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition) to document the cultural and natural treasures in this area. We hope our images will inspire tourists weary of the bad news they hear about Mexico, to visit the Yucatan Peninsula, an area that is not only safe and friendly, but also magical and intensely Mexican.

Learn More about the Yucatan RAVE HERE

Read more RAVE photographer Blogs HERE
01_Logo_BILINGUE.jpgImages from the Yucatan
RAVE will be highlighted at
WILD9 November 6-13, 2009

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

When the Santos come marching in, Yucatan Day 4

Although I was raised in a pretty observant Mexican Catholic family, it has been a couple of decades since I last sat through mass. Today, however, we waited on two masses and one rosary to get our shooting done; more than my fair share for at least another 20 years.
First mass was in the small Yucatecan town of Dzilam Gonzales, where we woke up to find the whole town groggy after a night of rodeo, dancing, and drinking on the eve of the celebration of the Day of Saint Francis of Assis; patron saint of animals, and apparently also patron of every small town in Yucatan. We found a colorful wall near the church to photograph people as they walked by. The rising sun coupled with the bright wall made for some really interesting studies in shadow and color.
About an hour later we moved on to the town of Telchac, some 20 kilometers away to continue photographing the religious festivities. We arrived as Saint Buena Ventura, the patron saint of the neighboring town of Sinanche was being carried into the town church. Apparently, saints make regular visits into each others' churches, where they get to listen to the mass before they are carried back into their own church.
The mass at Telchac, attended by some 1000 faithful, culminated in a huge procession unto the streets, with the statues of the virgin Mary, the visiting saint, and Saint Francis himself being carried on the shoulders of the devout around town. It was at least 100 degrees by the time we finally found shelter in the air conditioning of our rental car.
En route to the town of Izincab, where we planned to spend the night, we ran into a group of beautifully dressed women. We stopped to ask about their dresses and we ended up getting invited, or might I say, we ended up crashing a private party at the Rancho San Francisco, where they were performing traditional Yucatecan dances, again in honor of Saint Francis. We ended up photographing the festivities AND sitting through a full rosary.
As it turns out, Saint Francis is a pretty popular saint here and the festivities will go on for a few more days. What we will remember the most is not just the amazing marriage of Christian and Mayan traditions for religious observance but the fact that that Saint Francis and the people of the Yucatan can throw a mean party.

Read more photographer blogs from the Yucatan RAVE

Learn More about the Yucatan RAVE

Images from the Yucatan RAVE will be highlighted at WILD9 November 6-13, 2009

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

La Corrida Yucatan RAVE Day 3

There is something wonderfully exciting about rodeos, and in the case of a small-town Mexican rodeo, things can not get much steamier. Take 6 young men, clad them in tight “torero” outfits, and throw them in the rodeo in the Mexican mid-day sun, and you have the beginnings of an exciting afternoon. Add an angry bull and bleachers full of young Mexican girls and things get downright hot. Jenny and I happened upon this small-town rodeo in the town of Dzilam Gonzalez while driving around on a RAVE assignment for the International League of Conservation Photographers. This is one of several events built around the celebrations for Saint Francis of Asis; the patron saint of animals. The rodeo, coupled with a street fair and a disco party are all part of a week-long celebration in honor of the saint.
Jenny and I debate whether photographing this event has anything to do with the subject of our RAVE assignment, which is to document the relationship between the land and the people. Well, when it comes down to it, what we are witnessing is merely an extension of the “cattle-culture” that dominates this part of the Yucatan Peninsula. Cattle is one of the main economic drivers for hundreds of small ranchers and it is reflected in all aspects of the land and the people. The young men that surround us are of Maya descent and look interestingly out-of-sync dressed in cowboy outfits, down to the boots, which, by the way, are probably not the most suitable foot ware in this hot weather.
In any case, we spend a delightful afternoon watching a game that has very little to do with traditional bullfighting. In this “corrida”, Yucatan style, there are 5 “toreros” in the rodeo at any given time. After the “toreros” have chased the bull around for a few minutes and it looks tired enough, a gang of up to 20 horses erupt into the rodeo and compete to lasso the bull. The bleachers explode in cheers every time the bull comes near a horse. The lady sitting next to us explains that the previous weekend four horses were gored and gutted by the bull; all of them died.
At the end of the day, the best part of this “corrida” is that unlike traditional bull fighting events in other parts of Mexico and Spain, where the bull is speared and killed, in the “Yucatecan corrida” the bull ALWAYS gets to live, which comes as a huge relief for both Jenny and I. It turns out it is too damn expensive to kill several bulls for entertainment each weekend. Instead, it is just chased around a little and it leaves the rodeo unharmed. We call it sustainable bullfighting.

Read more Yucatan RAVE photographer blogs HERE

Images from the Yucatan RAVE will be highlighted at WILD9 November 6-13, 2009


from the Yucatan RAVE will be highlighted at WILD9 November 6-13, 2009

More Buzz surrounding Photographers at WILD9

Photographers descend on the Yucatan Peninsula to illustrate the region and inspire action to conserve its threatened beauty.

Fotógrafos de conservación en WILD9: Oradores confirmados

Fishing for Water Day 2 of iLCP Yucatan RAVE

It turns out that water IS huge, says Jenny to me as the lights flicker back to life in our hotel and the water pump starts working. We have checked into the only hotel in the small Mexican town of Dzilam de Bravo in the northern coast of the state of Yucatan, Mexico. We have been traveling for three days along the coast, driving on sand roads and eating mostly peanuts. Yesterday we chased flamingos into thigh-deep water and today the temperature reached almost 100 degrees C. So yes, Jenny, water IS huge and in most places it is hardly a guarantee. Just one of the many things we completely take for granted in the US.

The assignment Jenny and I have for this part of the RAVE deals with the fishing communities in this area and their intimate dependence on healthy marine ecosystems. Octopus is the main catch this time of year. Hundreds of small boats carrying 3-4 four men leave the port every morning. They spend the whole day fishing off the coast in tiny satellite boats, called “alijos” that are lowered from the larger vessel. One man sits in each alijo, under a murderous sun, baiting lines with large crabs. Their prey is a small species of octopus, which most be very plentiful, as the fishermen come back with load after load of the wiggly creature.

People are immensely nice here. Everyone offers help and information without much nudging and despite the troubles that dominate much of the rest of Mexico, the Yucatan peninsula remains safe and very pleasant. As I move around the various fishing villages, people are quick to smile and show me their catch. They take the time to explain how they fish and the travails of their profession. The only real dangers are the police barricades we encounter every once in a while. They are more dangerous because they have poor signage and are difficult to see when traveling fast on the highway. The officers assure me it is safe and that the barricade is just a way to maintain a close eye on shady characters that might be transporting drugs. Apparently, this is not a big issue in this part of Mexico.

The best part of being assigned to shooting people during a RAVE is that we get to sleep in little towns where it is possible to find a hotel with clean sheets and a fan. Water, as we are finding out is intermittent and optional.

See more of Cristina's Images

Read more photographer blogs from the Yucatan RAVE

Learn More about the Yucatan RAVE

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sony Artisans of Imagery at Aperture Galley in NYC

Cristina is a featured photographer at the Sony World Photography Awards 2009/10 Global Tour and Sony Artisans of Imagery. Exhibiting at the Aperture Gallery Thursday, October 22, 2009 –Friday, October 30, 2009!

"As someone whose work explores the edge between healthy ecosystems and healthy people, I am most often confronted with the opposite. A planet that is rapidly losing the functionality of the very ecosystems that provide the water, food, air, shelter and medicine that we all need, but that the poorest of the poor intimately depend on. It would be easy to exploit this drama, but with my images I refuse to fulfill the prophecy of their desperate situation. I am often reminded that despite the worse challenges, people, and especially children often have reasons to be happy and that is how I choose to portray them. I want my work to bring back the dignified, hopeful attitude of the people I meet. The common thread in their lives and mine is that they too rise up every morning hoping things will get better. " - Cristina Mittermeier
Image taken in Madagascar, January 2009
Want more of Cristina's images? Click HERE!

Click here to Learn More about the exhibit
Aperture Gallery
547 West 27th Street, 4th Floor
Between 10th and 11th Avenues
New York, New York

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Yucatan RAVE Scouting DAY 1

Cristina and I are here in San Crisanto, México on the iLCP Yucatán RAVE! This RAVE started July 2009 and will culminate at WILD9, the 9th World Wilderness Congress in Merida Mexico November 5th 2009. Over the course of the Yucatan RAVE, the iLCP (International League of Conservation Photographers) will be deployong over 25 world class photographers to locations all over the Yucatan Peninsula. Learn more here!

San Crisanto is a small community in which many people make their living through small sustainable fishing. It is located east of Merida, near the town of Progreso, and we have been watching the light and scouting for great stories all day! Our plan is to travel another 100km on sand roads to the fishing town of El Cuyo. Stay tuned for updates!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cristina is featured in the Saatchi Gallery!

Cristina has breathtaking images in the Saatchi Gallery in London. These larger than life images wowed viewers and presented an intimate portrait of community and conservation in Madagascar. Images taken January 2009.
Read more about the exhibit HERE in Telegraph.co.uk!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Jim and Wally

July 22, 2009

An important part of the job of the photojournalist is to find a way to gain access into a community -- to become a trusted, invisible witness that can report unadulterated opinions and facts. This is not easy, especially when you only have a couple of days to get the job done.

During the latest RAVE (Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition), Jenny Nichols, the iLCP Director of multimedia, and I were assigned to photograph and document the variety of opinions regarding the future of the Flathead River Valley in the towns and villages surrounding it. We focus our work in the lovely town of Fernie.

The Flathead River Valley, a beautiful valley some 75 kilometers away from Fernie is a very special place. With the largest concentration of grizzly bears in interior of the continent and the largest diversity of carnivores, the Flathead, as it is locally known, is an important wildlife corridor linking British Columbia in Canada to the state of Montana in the US. A series of National Parks and other protected area designations, including the world’s first International Peace Park, Waterton-Glacier, which is also a World Heritage Site, already exist in the area, but because of its wealth of minerals, including coal and coal bed methane, the Flathead has been left unprotected, so as not to shut down the future ability to exploit those mineral resources.

In this rural corner of British Columbia life is simple: fishing and boating in the summer, skiing and hunting in the winter. A “frontier” lifestyle that has been supported for over a hundred years by the coal mines in the region and more recently by a growing tourism industry. Today, no fewer than 5 mines operate in the region and employ a large segment of the population.

At first glance, the industrial footprint of the mines has settled into the landscape and has stroke a balance with nature. Although the tailings are carefully treated and disposed of, there is no question that the water quality in the Elk River valley, where any mining runoff ends up has been diminished. On the positive side, the off-limits areas around the mines are a haven where wildlife thrives away from the hunters.

It is not the existing mines that are creating waves in the international conservation community, however, it is the threat of new mines of the worse kind being proposed for the Flathead River Valley: coal bed methane. What harm can the limited footprint of a mine have on such a large area? Ask some, including the mine geologist, a soft-spoken and smart man who opposes the idea of locking this resource forever if a National Park was established here. Others wonder if the creation of a National Park would bring troves of tourists and force the development of all the facilities tourism demands, including paved roads and infrastructure. Although this would surely be the source of many new jobs, it would also be the end of the frontier lifestyle. As Jenny and I take unto the country roads to find a story line, we marvel at the beauty of the countryside. Neatly kept agricultural fields hold the promise of elk and deer coming out to feed later in the day; we cross our fingers hoping to get a grizzly bear sighting. We head to a boat launching spot called Olson Pit, a few miles out of Fernie. We meet a large group of men, the young ones are getting into the cold water of the Elk River on inflated tubes, the two older men stand watch on the beach, sipping on cold beers and taking in the afternoon sun. Hoping to strike a conversation we approach them and are completely taken aback by their friendly welcome and their willingness to offer information.

Jim, whose teenage boys are now floating down the river, is a good-looking man in his mid-forties. He sports a baseball hat that gives away his profession. He works for the mining industry. However, when asked how he would like to see the future of the Flathead develop, he announces without hesitation that he is for a National Park. Now, that is a complete surprise and one that gives me pause and forces me to reconsider all my preconceived notions on the people of this valley. Wally, however, a smiling fellow who proudly announces he likes to spend the entire summer going around shirtless, disagrees. He fears that a National Park will prevent him from accessing his favorite hunting spots. It is fascinating to me that these two best friends, both mine workers, have such diverging opinions. As the days go by, Jenny and I are able to gather many different opinions on what should happen on the Flathead. Many people believe no new mines are needed and would like to keep the status quo; others would settle for nothing less than full protection through the establishment of a National Park. Concerns about tourism development, access to gold panning and the ability to drive motorized vehicles in the area, all evoke passionate, yet polite discussions with everyone we speak to.

As the days go by we meet some of the most inviting, friendly people we have ever met. As widely different as people’s opinions are, there are a few ideals that strike us for their similarity. Almost unanimously people speak of their desire to maintain their traditional frontier lifestyle and access to the resources; they also speak about the wilderness values of the Flathead and a strong desire to see the place remain pristine into the future. The commonality of these desires is far more striking than the concerns and differences of opinion. To outsiders, like ourselves it sounds like the people of Fernie would like to have their cake and eat it too. I hope the government of Canada can come up with a way to make that wish come true.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Shade Grown

Cristina and I traveled to the El Triunfo Biosphere reserve in Chiapas, Mexico on assignment with Conservation International and Starbucks to document the sustainable production of shade grown coffee.

Shade Grown, Cristina Mittermeier from iLCP on Vimeo.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Wai Wai Multimedia -Photojournalism in Motion

The government of Guyana granted ownership of 625,000 hectares (1.5 million acres) to the Wai Wai, an indigenous community in the Guyanian Amazon. By air, boat and muddy boot I arrived here, in the Wai Wai Territory.

We are Wai Wai, photography by Cristina Mittermeier from Jenny Nichols on Vimeo.

August 2008

Learn more about Guyana here: http://tinyurl.com/qekuvj

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


I see them smiling with their sunburned cheeks and bald spots – American and
European tourists with their fleshy thighs and large-brimmed hats delighted at the completion of the “adventure of a lifetime”. Most of them have come for a 4-5 day “expedition and have done a quick-and-dirty tour of some of the most accessible of the islands. The park service tries to coordinate the departures and docking of the almost 90 ships that provide tour services, but the park seems to already be bursting at the seams and everywhere I go, there are at least 50 other people on the beach. With the approval of over 70 news vessels for tourism, paradise will surely be lost.

Until recently coming to the Galapagos was truly the kind of journey left only for the wealthy and the adventurous, and financing a trip to the archipelago was simply out of reach for most people. Things have changed and the Enchanted Islands are fast becoming the New Cancun, a cheap destination for the tequila-drinking, sun worshiping crowds. Although these lovely islands with their enchanting fauna have remained fairly isolated and remote (and have been protected as a National Park since 1959), the relatively small human population that calls the archipelago home, has slowly swelled and expanded its footprint on some of the larger islands like Isabela, San Cristobal and Santa Cruz. The demands for resources like water, fuel and food, not to mention jobs, has increased relentlessly as the number of people living, working and traveling through the islands has exploded. The smaller, uninhabited or barely inhabited islands are still moderately isolated, but even there, the delicate fauna and flora has long been impacted by pirates, whalers, settlers, invasive species and now, hordes of tourists.

Several species have already gone extinct and many others, like the world-famous Lonesome George, the last surviving giant tortoise from the Island of Pinta, are quite close to disappearing forever from the face of the Earth (as explained by a patient guide at the Darwin Station who desperately tried to keep the attention of his yawning group). What has truly been lost here, however, is the isolation and remoteness of the
Galapagos, which is the magic ingredient that made this place the unique biological experiment that mesmerized Darwin and continues to fascinate naturalists today. That said, with several daily flights and countless ships arriving and leaving from its ports, the islands might as well be located next to Quito. It is no longer possible to find a lonely cove on the shores of the most visited islands; everywhere one goes the “sanctuary of nature” is now shared by as many as 5 or 6 boats, some of them carrying over 80 passengers; an experience more closely resembling an afternoon in Kuta beach or Acapulco. For those of us who have been lucky to travel here in the past, it is clear (and painful) to see how things are changing so fast. New pests are being introduced (even as old nemesis pests, like goats are obliterated at enormous expense from some of the islands) and an uninformed populace is slowly eroding the very habitat that the tourists who support their livelihood are here to see. As if introduced pests and disappearing terrestrial habitats were not enough, the Galapagos park service, the government of Ecuador and the many international and domestic conservation groups that work here have not been able to prevent or stop the massive obliteration of Galapagos marine species. From sea cucumber overexploitation to massive shark fining, the slow demise of the Galapagos is equivalent to allowing massive slaughter of lions and zebras in the Serengeti while all the responsible parties sit on their hands. It is hard to tell if this is part of the natural infighting that occurs in small, contained societies, where conflict and gossip are the preferred way of conducting business and where maintaining ones power and social standing is more important than doing ones job, or if there has been a real lack of vision and leadership to set parameters and establish order in one of our planet’s most beloved “special places”. Either way, the loss of the experience has been lost. I wonder what would happen if instead of opening cheap tourism to the masses, the Park authority charged visitors the real cost of seeing something so unique, endangered and special. The $100 that every visitor pays to enter the park hardly reflects the cost of managing, maintaining, studying, understanding and protecting such a vast archipelago. Just recently a new species of land iguana (a pink creature the size of cat…..not a small, drab beetle!) was discovered. Think about it: new species are still being found in the place where we first learned about evolution and natural selection. Maybe maintaining nature’s experiments isolated should be more important than making a few bucks??

Here are a couple of ideas I would like to throw out:

1. From my point of view (and the idea is shared by some of the movers-and-shakers in the Galapagos), the park entry fee should be closer to $500 US per foreign tourist. This is what tourists who want to spend 20 minutes in the presence of wild Mountain gorillas in Rwanda must pay to see these animals -- and there is a waiting line extending at least a year into the future, so there is no lack of people willing to pay to see something special! What about all the people who won’t be able to afford it? Well, I cannot afford to go many places so I must settle for what I can afford; that is just the nature of capitalism. We cannot please everyone all of the time and the priority should be on maintaining an irreplaceable ecosystem, not on making tourists happy.

2. The funds raised by the park on entry fees and other consumables should stay in the Galapagos. As far as I can tell, most of that money is sent back to mainland Ecuador where it pays for expenses that have little or nothing to do with the Galapagos.

3. The park should be zoned to accommodate different “minimum length visits”. Some of the islands should be reserved for people willing to spend at least 2 weeks in the archipelago. A tourist rushing through the Galapagos in 4-5 days cannot possible be interested in a real immersion in its complex natural history, therefore that person should not be granted access to some of the more isolated, special places.

4. An international group of experts should be assigned to oversee activities and development in the Galapagos. It is impossible to expect the local experts not to have all sorts of biased and self-serving opinions. This is not a criticism, just a recognition of the fact that we are all just human.

5. The park should absolutely NOT be taken off the Endangered World Heritage
Site list. The Galapagos was the first declared World Heritage Site and from what I was able to see in my brief visit, not all is well and the officials in charge have a lot of work ahead of them to make things right. The Galapagos is not “saved”; on the contrary, it is under enormous danger of forever changing and turning into just another cheap tourist trap (no different from Coney Island or Miami Beach). Now, if we cannot save the Galapagos, what hope is there for less interesting places on Earth?

That is just my opinion.

Monday, May 18, 2009


I have flown all over the world and to over 60 countries and have had many “trips from hell” with forgotten or lost luggage, rude attendants, drunken or disruptive passengers, delays, crying children and sick people. Never before my latest trip to he Galapagos Islands, however, had I witnessed a case of mass hysteria.

The trip started off on a bad foot as Ecuadorian airline Aerogal announced that our 8:20 am departure was delayed. They didn’t offer and explanation or an estimated time of departure, but hours later we learned that there was a mechanical problem with the aircraft and they were dealing with it. Not being an advocate for flying on faulty aircraft, I found a quiet corner to do some emails, and when the flight left, 4 hours later I was happy to finally be Galapagos-bound.

After a routine refueling stop in Guayaquil we took off again, only to get an announcement from the captain, not 20 minutes into the flight, telling us we were returning to Guayaquil because of the “technical difficulty”. By now the passengers were tired, hungry and angry. Many of them had already missed the departure of their cruise ships in the Galapagos and the atmosphere on the tarmac as we waited on a verdict on whether or not we would be allowed off the plane was tense. A few people tried cracking jokes, but a passenger got off and stormed into the cockpit to demand an explanation. I couldn’t believe my eyes…if this had happened in the United States he would be facing life-in-prison! He eventually came back to his seat and the captain announced our departure again! As we pulled back from the gate, though, screams were heard on the right side of the airplane: “stop the plane, there is fuel pouring unto the tarmac”. What happened next was out of a horror film. People started panicking and screaming to be let out of the plane, babies started crying and women started shrieking. It was hard to believe the scene. The poor flight attendants, with their limited English, tried to calm the passengers and to explain that what had poured out of the airplane were the remnants of the jet fuel the pilot had to dump in order to land with a full tank. It was to no avail. Passengers got off their seats and demanded to return to the gate. To my amazement, the crew yielded and we pulled back into the gate, where 70% of the passengers disembarked, forfeiting their cruise plans (as ships are unlikely to come back to port to pick up any stragglers) and losing their luggage, as the plane took off with all cargo to deliver the rest of us, safely, to the beautiful Galapagos Archipelago.

I have never seen such a case of mass hysteria. Even though I understand the concerns over mechanic troubles and leaking fuel, I doubt that the captain would put us and the aircraft (let alone himself) in danger if he thought it was unsafe to fly.

Ahhh, the joys of travel! Here is something I learned today: when traveling one must try at all costs to remain calm and sensible. Even when you are tired, hungry, angry and stressed out you often find yourself making regrettable decisions. Of course flying is dangerous and one should always be suspicious of too many “mechanical” problems. That said, your best chance of making reasonable choices is to keep a clear head and follow your own gut.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

La beauté au Madagascar

Cristina's Madagascar images are featured in a photo essay on Conservation International's website. Check it out!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Can Photography Save the Earth? Free live chat on April 22nd at 8pm EST

When: Wednesday, April 22, 2009
8:00pm - 9:00pm EST
Where: Click here!

People say a picture is worth a thousand words but it that really true when it comes to saving the environment? Join Cristina to talk about her twin passions for photography and conservation, and see how they work together to help the Earth. The discussion is free, all you will need to do is sign in!

Friday, April 17, 2009

A glimpse into the Suriname rainforest

Five and a half miles does not seem like a long trek, unless you are walking in the rainforest. The undergrowth is barely contained by the edges of the trail, and in the least traveled portions, the vegetation slowly creeps over the trail, making walking difficult. Add to that the oppressing heat and humidity, the uneven terrain, the many depressions that tend to fill with water every time it rains, and you have the perfect recipe for slow going. The good thing is we are in very good company. Jenny and I are traveling with my husband, Russ Mittermeier, who is an expert in tropical biodiversity and who spent his youth (and indeed much of his life) running around in these forests chasing monkeys for his scientific studies. We are also with my 12 year-old daughter, Juliana, who is in 7th grade and has already visited over 30 countries and all 7 continents but has never been to Suriname before! Traveling with us is also an enthusiastic and dynamic group of people from Seattle and British Columbia. They are all friends of Renee Harbers, a young and energetic photographer whose husband was instrumental in saving this millenarian forest.

The going is tough because we stop every few minutes to marvel at the details of the forest: a brightly colored heliconia or bird of paradise, a shy mushroom, the call of a bird from high in the canopy, or a troop of squirrel monkeys crossing overhead. Our destination is a cave system that was only discovered 5 years ago. The explorer who found it is a Trio Indian that goes by the name of Kamanha. He is legendary in this area and known throughout the Amazon for his hunting skills. Kamanha, and his good friend Koita were field hands during Russ’ field studies in Suriname almost 30 years ago! Over the past few years they have become field guides to our oldest son, John, who has been doing bird surveys for Yale University and Conservation International in Suriname; the circle continues to go around and today we are guided by Raisa, Kamanha’s oldest son, yet another superb guide. They are all amazing hunters and trackers and they are highly respected in every Indian community from here to Venezuela and Brazil.

In 2004 Kamanha was hunting in this area when his favorite dog went ahead to chase some prey and then didn’t come back. Kamanha chased the animal to a cave where he found ancient petroglyphs carved unto the rocks. The figures depict people and animals and they are crudely carved on the walls of the cave. Few people outside of the Indians, a handful of archaeologists and a few tourists have ever been here and it is a thrill to stand in the cool cave imagining the Indian civilizations who lived here and adorned these rocks with scenes from a long forgotten time.

To wrap up the hike, we go looking for the “cock of the rock”, a bright orange bird with a helmet-like head that lives among these rocky outcrops. We get a glimpse of the bird but cannot get close enough for photograph. We will have another chance in a couple of days, when we visit Raleighvallen in another part of the country.

After we come back to Iwana Samu, we are treated by a visit from Kwamalasamutu. Jonathan, the self-appointed guardian of the Trio culture brings a group of dancers from the village. They are dressed in full Trio costume and they perform a handful of dances. We make sure they know how important this is for us and how much we appreciate it. We all commit funds to a project to help Jonathan revive Trio culture, which has slowly been eroded thanks to the careless teachings of missionaries in this part of the world.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Waiting for TRIO

Waiting for the TRIO Indians to arrive...

I am only up because I promised Jenny I would write a blog tonight.

It is out first night in the interior of Suriname and I am exhausted but promises must be kept and so here I offer a few notes from the day.

We started the day in the Capital City of Paramaribo. With less than half a million inhabitants, most of them living along the coast, the country of Suriname is largely uninhabited. Paramaribo is a super cool tropical city, with its old colonial neighborhoods and mosques and synagogues made of wood, sharing real estate, on the same block….just down the street from the cathedral, which is the tallest building made of wood in all of South America. With its bright yellow paint, the cathedral screams “tropical architecture” or Ethan Allan furniture…..it is very pretty and the fact that it shares the street with other major temples makes me hopeful that one day all religions will be able to get along as they do here in Suriname.

It takes an hour and a half to fly from Paramaribo to Kwamalasamutu. This village of Trio Indians is one of the largest indigenous dwellings I have ever been to. The Trio are part of the Carib culture….closely related to the Wai Wai, and yet they speak a different language and have different traditions. This is the third time I have been here, and although everyone dresses now in Western clothes and even my old friend Amasina is dressed like a highschooler from Detroit (last time I saw him in 1998 he was the last Trio to wear traditional clothing), the village is still pretty impressive.

Once the plane leaves Paramaribo, it takes only five minutes for us to be flying over unbroken rain forest. It makes my heart happy to know that there is a place in this world that will never be ruined my man’s greed. In the 1990s a huge chunk of land (1.6 millions hectares) was declared the Central Suriname Nature Reserve and is now protected in perpetuity. Had it not been protected it would already be the site of yet another sad tale of tropical logging and rampant deforestation, forest fires, etc. Its protection was possible thanks to the vision of the President of Suriname and the work of many amazing people, including Ambassador Wim Udenhout and my own husband, but also thanks to the generous gift of 1 million dollars given by Jeff Harbers; a Seattle resident and former executive with Microsoft. His gift was outside of the comfort level for his family but he saw the opportunity to do something remarkable and he took it! Sadly, Jeff died in a plane crash before ever having a chance to see this amazing place, and today it is a pleasure to bring his beautiful young widow, photographer Renee Harbers here. Renee has always known about Jeff’s generous gift, but today is the first time she gets a chance to see it first hand and to meet some of the people who live here and who, thanks to Jeff, will be able to maintain a traditional way of life (with or without western clothes) for as long as they want.

We walked all afternoon in the village, talking to the women, the warriors and the elders. We went on canoes on the Sipaliwini River and we marveled at the giant trees that still line its shores. There are not many places like this left in the world and today I feel really lucky to be able to go for a walk in the woods in the Central Suriname Nature Reserve, one of the most untouched wilderness left on the planet. Thanks Jeff Harbers, wherever you are.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Tale of Two Countries

I have made my career as a photographer by working with conservation groups like Conservation International and the WILD Foundation. Most of the time the work takes me to remote villages and research projects where it is possible to find sanctuary in nature. More and more often, however, some of the areas in the world that harbor the lion's share of our planet's biodiversity and that have seen the most environmental degradation, the biodiversity hotspots, are also the stage for violent conflict. In a recent article I co-authored with other scientists on the subject of Warfare in the Biodiversity Hotspots we outline some of the effects of warfare on biodiversity. I however, would like to write about a couple of areas where I recently have worked where violence has exploded around us.

During a recent RAVE (Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition) of the International League of Conservation Photographers

The war that has been brewing in Mexico for the past few years and is now finally exploding and spilling into the United States is not only Mexico's fault. It is fueled by the monstrous consumption of illegal drugs in the United States, the failed immigration policies of the United States and the 8 years of neglect these issues suffered during the Bush administration. The implications are serious for both countries and we need to understand that Mexico's stability and well being are in our own best interest.

So, why should we care about Mexico's cartel war?

I can offer a few ideas:

1. National Security. The biggest threat to our national security does not come from poor illegal Mexicans crossing to find jobs. This is an undesirable effect of our own lack of effective immigration policies and our reluctance to help Mexico's economy (mixed in with a little racism and xenophobia). The threat comes from a powerful country, like the United States, allowing its next door neighbor to become violent, politically unstable and lawless. How foolish is it to say: "Mexico is not our problem" when much worse enemies can take advantage of the unstable situation to infiltrate the US. This of course is not my own thinking. It was brilliant UCLA professor Jared Diamond who outlined it in his book "Collapse; how societies choose to fail or suceed". When Dr. Diamond talks about the 5 events that might cause societies to collapse, he talks about catastrophic climate events and economic depression, but he also talks about allowing our neighbors to become weak.

2. Financial Security. Protectionism is bad economics and worse foreign policy. Did you know that Mexico is the U.S.’s second largest trading partner after Canada, and that Mexico-U.S.
trade reached $232 billion in 2002? Mexico-US trade has increased by over 225
percent since the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994. U.S. exports to
Mexico total $62.5 billion (year to date, while imports were $90.2 billion.
(Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, International Trade Administration). All the talk about "American Made" only makes sense if you have strong trading partners to buy your stuff!

3. Environmental security.The Rio Grande is the fourth longest river system in the United States and one of the most important watersheds in the southern US. The Rio Grande provides water for more than 2 million acres of croplands along its way including potatoes, alfalfa, cotton, pecans, grapes, vegetables and citrus fruits. These crops are a very important source of income for local farmer, are the fuel of local economies and are also critically important from a food security standpoint. I wonder who the genius was who decided that building an enormous fence along the river was a smart idea? Sure it provides cushy jobs for contractors but beyond being a horrendous eye sore and the most effective way of fragmenting important habitats and wildlife corridors, the fence will have serious impacts on the watershed and most importantly, it will not stop Mexicans from crossing illegally. Pieces of the fence are currently being used to build river crossings and are being dismantled and sold as scrap metal in Mexico!

4. How can we call ourselves a civilized society if we stand idle or turn a blind eye when our next door neighbor is the stage of massive violence and chaos? In the past 2 years over 6300 Mexicans have died in the cartel wars; that is more than all the US casualties that have ocurred during the entire war in Iraq! Sure, that number of deaths includes a lot of bad guys and Mexican soldiers, but it also includes hundreds of innocent victims of kidnappings, rape, mutilation and murder. If we want to call ourselves civilized, then we cannot ignore our neighbor's problems. Mexico has been there for us in our hour of need; during Hurricane Katrina, Mexico sent soldiers to help with the rescue efforts. Quite simply, from a moral standpoint, we must do everything possible to help Mexico fight this war....even if it is just to save our own skins. After all, I am sure we don't want the violence to spred like wildfire into our own nice suburban neighborhoods.

5. Most people I know enjoy some recreational marijuana. Many of them also call themselves environmentalists. What a shock they are going to get when they learn that you cannot call themselves "greenies" and be "potheads" at the same time. In South America Coca, once grown for local consumption in the Andes, is now produced in massive quantities for the US market, often also sparking armed conflict. In order to eradicate the plantations, large areas have to be sprayed with plant killers; campaigns force traffickers and growers to cut new tracts of rain forest to plant new crops causing the devastation of thousands of hectares of rain forest. Here in the United States, national forests and parks have become heavily polluted with toxic chemicals needed to yield lucrative harvests. So, let's not pretend that marijuana is a benign personal choice; it has profound effects on our planet's ecology and it is fueling one of the ugliest wars this country will ever see....one that if we decide to ignore, will come and bite us right here at home.

Just my opinion.