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Interview with Ocean in Focus Contest Winner Guy Marcovaldi

Capturing Human Impacts on the Ocean
to Conserve Marine Life

turtles caught in fishing net

"These kinds of photographs allow people who probably wouldn’t have access to the marine environment to see the problems and care about marine conservation."

—Guy Marcovaldi


Oceanographer and photographer Guy Marcovaldi won the Grand Prize and a runner-up prize for SeaWeb's Marine Photobank and Project AWARE Foundation third annual Ocean in Focus conservation photography contest. Marcovaldi, a master diver, is the Director of Projeto TAMAR-ICMBio, or TAMAR, Brazil’s federal agency responsible for the Brazilian Sea Turtle Conservation Program. He has worked for the agency since its inception 30 years ago.

Through an interpreter, SeaWeb spoke with Marcovaldi about what inspired him to become a conservation photographer.

SeaWeb: Congratulations on winning the grand prize of the contest. How did you get involved in sea turtle conservation and photography?

Guy Marcovaldi: When [TAMAR] started 30 years ago, we had a lot of pictures of female sea turtles being killed by fishermen, and this is the reason that we started to address the problem. Then we picked up the problem with turtle nesting areas and now we deal a lot with the problem of incidental capture. In my opinion, the circumstance of [incidental capture] was one of the strongest, in a bad way, that I witnessed.

SW: What story does the grand-prize winning photo tell?

GM: I was informed in the main station of TAMAR that there was this net nearby in the mouth of the river and that there were lots of turtles captured in it. When the fishermen that owned the net realized how many turtles they captured, they just left the net.

When I arrived at the location, the net was coming out of the water with many turtles trapped in it. With the help of local fishermen, the ones that had informed us of the net, I was able to pull the net offshore and get a better look at it, and then take a picture. Unfortunately, the turtles were all dead.

SW: What is the message that you want those who see your photo to take away from it?

GM: On our coastline, in Brazil and around the world, one of the main enemies for turtles right now is fishing nets. They are mainly responsible for the incidental capture of sea turtles that come to the coast to feed and nest.

SW: When you took the photo, did you know immediately that you had a powerful image?

GM: I dive and do underwater photography almost every day, and I never in my whole professional career had seen so many turtles dead at the same time. I knew it was a shocking image but exceeded my expectations because it was chosen for the cover of one of TAMAR's magazines and now has won this award.

Albatross caught in longline

SW: You also won a runner-up prize in the contest for your photo of an albatross snared on a longline. What is the background behind that photo, and why is it a powerful image to you?

GM: Longlines are a big source of capture and mortality for sea turtles and albatrosses. Step by step, TAMAR is trying to find solutions to minimize the problem such as on-board observer programs, replacement of “J” hooks by circle hooks and educational campaigns. For this particular photo, a crewmember of the boat showed me this albatross that had been captured. I honestly prefer beautiful photographs where the animals are alive and preferably connected to people, but I also understand that as photographers we need to show some sad facts that are part of reality. This is a common scene that happens every day in the longlines, and I had the opportunity to call attention to it and bring awareness to the people involved in the problem and the general public to help to find solutions.

SW: Are there many conservation photographers in Brazil or are you one of the few out there doing it? Do you encounter any barriers in this work?

GM: There are many underwater photographers in Brazil, including Martha Granville, Enrico Marcovaldi (my brother), Zaira Matheus, Carlos Secchin, among others, and there has always been cooperation between us. In my case, the biggest obstacle really is weather conditions. All I need is clear water and low wind, but these are all things that we have to rely on nature for and cannot control.

turtle cruising

SW: How did you get involved in photography, specifically in the marine and wildlife context?

GM: I studied oceanography in university. The marine environment was always an interest of mine, and I wanted to work in marine conservation since I was a kid. I used to dream that I would be like Jacques Cousteau!

SW: How do you think wildlife and marine photography contributes to conservation?

GM: These kinds of photographs allow people who probably wouldn’t have access to the marine environment to see the problems and care about marine conservation. This kind of photography is a way to bring people closer to the problems in the ocean.

SW: What advice do you have for other marine and wildlife photographers that would like their photographs to have strong conservation messages?

GM: As a marine photographer, you have to make it part of your life. You have to go work in places that are difficult to photograph. You have to be prepared to take pictures every day and bring your equipment everywhere to give yourself the opportunity to take the best pictures that you possibly can.

Guy Marcovaldi

Guy Marcovaldi is an oceanographer, director of Projeto TAMAR-ICMBio, the federal government agency responsible for the Brazilian Sea Turtle Conservation Program, and member of the board of Fundação Pró TAMAR. He is a master diver and has dedicated his life to marine conservation. Since he first began to work for TAMAR 30 years ago, he has taken every opportunity during his fieldwork to capture images of sea turtles and other marine animals through underwater photography and filming.

Interview conducted by Alex Danoff, Media Assistant, SeaWeb