Photography training workshops to improve Biodiversity Rapid Assessments in Vanuatu

 Dean Wotlolan (left) handing over a small gift of appreciation to the chief of Limbenwen village (centre) for letting the BIORAP team carry out the assessments in Tisiri Lagoon, Malekula.
Feature Image caption
Dean Wotlolan (left) handing over a small gift of appreciation to the chief of Limbenwen village (centre) for letting the BIORAP team carry out the assessments in Tisiri Lagoon, Malekula. Credit: SPREP/ Kuautonga

In Vanuatu the SPREP-led BIEM Initiative (KRA5 of PEUMP) is supporting Biodiversity Rapid Assessments (BIORAP) in the provinces of Malekula and Pentecost. Photographs and video are essential not only to record the work being done, but to document community views and share stories further afield.

Few national projects, however, have the luxury of a professional photographer accompanying project teams on fields visits. Even if there is no shortage of funds, logistics and timing can often preclude inclusion of a camera team that can cover all aspects of the work. To address this, the BIEM Initiative’s communication experts in Vanuatu, Savvy Vanuatu, undertook to provide targeted quality training opportunities for project staff, scientists and government officials who would normally make up the core of a field visit team.

Savvy Vanuatu organised two photography workshops with the objective of “enhancing the quality and quantity of photos in the BIEM Vanuatu photo library for future communication products.” Additionally, it aimed to assist the Biodiversity Rapid Assessment (BIORAP) visual reporting and data collection to improve species verification by local and international experts.

The training was organised by communication specialists, Savvy Vanuatu, with Ni Vanuatu photography experts, Nikki Kuautonga and Georgina Ishmael. Participants learned practical field photography tips and visual storytelling, as well as best practice for informed consent, child protection, and intellectual property protection to showcase Vanuatu’s natural resources and cultural values.

Dean Wotlolan is a Conservation Officer at the Vanuatu Department of Environment Protection and Conservation (DEPC) and responsible for GIS mapping, flora data collection and imagery for the BIORAPS in Malekula and Pentecost. He participated in both photography workshops and explained how he has applied his new-found skills during the BIORAP trip to Malekula.

“I was able to apply around 90% of the things I learnt in the photography workshops in the recent BIORAP field trip to Malekula. In the past, I used a camera to just capture random shots. For example, I would always take portrait shots of people’s faces but not focus on what they’re doing, or the activity being carried out. I relied on my skills from the workshops to capture images that tell a story of the work we carried out on Malekula Island.”

Dean was on the BIORAP team carrying out flora assessments in Malekula and his images focused on the methodology of the field work.

“For example, [I took] images of the team carrying out measurements of trees and transects in a selected area,” he explains. “I also tried to capture the challenges we faced in swamps or bad weather. Also, close shots of species to help in their identification and verification when we returned to Port Vila.” 

Dean says that the trainers in both workshops emphasised the idea of storytelling in an image.

“I learned that before taking photos you must know what you want to capture, so that people understand your image. Group work activities also covered image setting and people in the image. When I’m in the field I make sure I capture the right things in the image, whether it’s trees, flowers, lizards, or birds, I make sure everything captured in the camera frame tells a story”.

Florida Tumulango of Savvy Vanuatu is confident the photography workshops have been worth the effort.

“Those who participated in both workshops appear to be more confident using their cameras and to step out of their comfort zone when taking pictures. We are seeing the fruits of the training in the number of images being submitted for the image library.”

The workshops also covered issues such as consent and the SPREP child protection policy.

Dean says, “An important part of the training was making sure people filled out consent forms when in the field.. We now see and understand the importance of protecting our indigenous people, and they were happy we sought consent first.”