iLCP Featured Fellow – Eladio Fernandez

A green sea turtle swims calmly in protected Bahamian waters.

Eladio Fernandez is a conservation photographer, a naturalist, author and publisher from the Dominican Republic. He has an extensive image bank on Caribbean flora, fauna and landscapes. His work also includes underwater subjects and captures vanishing cultural rituals and practices from the Caribbean.

Some of Eladio’s images have appeared in magazines, such as the Wildlife As Canon Sees It ad campaign for National Geographic, Living Bird, and Condor.

We got a chance to talk with Eladio and ask him about his work and new things planned ahead!

What conservation issue are you most concerned with right now and why?

Deforestation on the island of Hispaniola. Haiti is 1/3 of the island of Hispaniola while the Dominican Republic (DR) is the other 2/3. Haiti has lost almost all its natural forests and current trends in the DR are not good either. The island has 22 million people, the most populated island in the Caribbean. We have twice as many people as Cuba, which is the largest of the Greater Antilles. This puts a lot of pressure on natural resources and natural forests is one of them.

What do you like best about being in the field?

I’m happiest while in the field. If conditions are grueling, I’m even happier. I lose track of time––four hours seem like 20 minutes. I can be so focused and absorbed by what I seek to investigate or photograph that you forget everything else. Unfortunately a lot of conservation photography happens back in an office or in front of a computer.

A fisherman holds his lobster catch at Grand Boucan, Haiti.

What is your best scary/funny/inspiring story from the field?

There are many and all kinds of stories but my favorite is happening right now. I work with two organizations in Haiti that have just bought a 2 square kilometer patch of primary forest on a mountain top for 1 million dollars. The process of organizing everyone who lived there, their titles and possessions took 7 years, but they were paid as promised for their lands. That broke the circle of broken promises that Haitians had been used to. That patch of forest holds most of the population of an endemic magnolia (Magnolia ekmanii) that is listed as critically endangered. If that patch goes, many species will disappear with it. In 2018 I led two expeditions: one to assess the population of that Magnolia and another to collect its seeds and establish a nursery in-situ. In less than a year we have three nurseries (one in-situ and 2 ex-situ) with close to 4,000 Magnolia ekmanii plants. I’m headed there this upcoming July to establish plots where the magnolias will be planted and to begin collecting seeds from 4 other species for cultivation. I want to believe that if you save one tree species, you can save the whole forest.

What value do you see in an organization like iLCP?

Conservation photography is a relatively new concept that has not quite finished defining itself yet. The iLCP is an opportunity to bring together over 100 people who are all doing similar work in different subjects from around the world. As individuals we are isolated, but as an organization we have a common voice, common guideline, a common ethic and best of all, each one of us is a resource for all the others. We learn from the work of each, whether they might be Emerging League, Senior or Associate Fellows. We support each other’s work as well, even with great admiration. The iLCP leads in formulating an ethical standard in conservation photography.

A first-day flower of Magnolia pallescens, endemic to the Dominican Republic, begins to open in the early morning hours.

What do you get out of being a Fellow of iLCP?

In the iLCP we get exposure of our work as individuals and as part of a whole. We also get opportunities every now and then to collaborate on projects together. The younger Emerging League benefit from the mentor program while the older Associate and Senior Fellows have the opportunity to get updated by the younger folks. We can use the organizational structure to fund raise for our own projects.

What makes a great Conservation Photographer?

I believe the classic definition of a “conservation photographer” has evolved––at least for me. I’m no longer just there to document and find stories to tell. I’m there to be a part of that story as well through conducting scientific research, by serving on the boards of several conservation organizations, by facilitating action, by mounting expeditions to find long-lost species, by building nurseries for critically endangered plants, by being an outspoken critic and an environmental activist. We no longer have the luxury of being solely camera-carrying witnesses. We need to get our hands dirty and our feet wet.

Aristolochia chasmena is one of the rarest pipe vines on Hispaniola. It flowers for a period of two months every year.

What key piece of advice would you offer to an aspiring conservation photographer?

Get 180° away from your comfort zone. Pursue a conservation story in a place that intrigues you but that makes you feel uncomfortable as well. The results will not disappoint you.

Where in the world you haven’t photographed yet is at the top of your wish list, and why?

I want to go to South America. We only have small critters in the Caribbean, most not very charismatic. I’d like to take a shot at bigger animals, a different landscape and a different scale.

To see more of Eladio’s work, check out his takeover on the iLCP Instagram this week! 

A green sea turtle eats peacefully off the coast of Grand Bahama.