Art and activism: Photography helping wildlife conservation

Nick Hawkins (left), nature photographer and environmental activist, leading a nature walk in Hyla Park last spring. (submitted)

Photographer and photojournalist Nick Hawkins spoke at the 5 Days for the Forest events hosted by the Conservation Council of New Brunswick to spread awareness of the condition of Acadian forests.

He showcased his work during a film screening at the University of New Brunswick’s Forestry department.

Events lasted from Sept. 19th to Sept. 23rd, and Hawkins, a UNB alumnus himself, as well as photographer Zachary Melanson were the guest speakers Wednesday evening.

Hawkins showcased photographs from his work in Central America. Hawkins recently visited Nicaragua documenting the effects of the country’s deforestation. Alongside researchers, Hawkins spent several weeks there because he felt they were “in big trouble.”

“Nicaragua is home to so many unique and diverse species,” Hawkins said in his lecture. “Deforestation is really jeopardizing their habitat, and I feel like this is something that really needs to be brought to light.”

The most threatened animal, Hawkins felt was the Baird’s tapir, an animal closely related to the horse that’s native to Central America. This rare animal became Hawkins’ incentive to travel to Costa Rica, and in the country he documented the tapir and other surprising wildlife in their natural habitat.

“It turned out that [a rabbit he photographed] was a species that had never been documented before! I didn’t notice until we got back to the camp and [the researcher] started freaking out.”

Hawkins finished his degree in biology and then picked up photography as he didn’t think he’d make a good researcher, but still wanted to be part of science and research to contribute.

“I never really treated photography as a hobby; I always thought I could use it for something bigger in the end.”

Hawkins’ work has gone on to win awards in the Windland Smith Rice International photography awards and has been featured in the BBC Wildlife Magazine. Hawkins believes that there is a divide between people and nature, and hopes to use his photography to spread environmental awareness and bridge this gap.

“I find art is best when used for activism: it’s at its strongest, it’s at its most powerful, it’s at its most inspirational. There’s not much you can do if you’re just using art for art.”

In light of this, Hawkins plans to shoot a global story about the four species of tapirs worldwide.

“Tapirs are very unique animals and are important indicators of the health of the environments they live in. I want people to notice this and know what we’d be losing if they disappear.”

Hawkins continues to help the Conservation Council of New Brunswick spread awareness of the Acadian Forests.

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