Impressions of Belize

Our path was created by tracing the Mesoamerican barrier reef to go scuba diving along the world’s second largest reef, exploring the seascape hosting incredible marine biodiversity. Beginning our travels from Isla Mujeres, Mexico we journeyed down to the Southern Cayes of Belize.  The goal was to dive as much and often as our wallets would permit. Whilst the life on land was exciting, different and rich with culture, it was the underwater world that was truly exceptional in the candy blue, crystal clear Caribbean sea. Using a Nikons V scuba 35mm film camera, these images were captured during our dives alongside precious moments expressing cultures and places on our voyage.

This first set of published images map my impression of Belize, both of the coast and country side. 

Marine Conservation Philippines

Regardless of all the reading and research one can do in advance, little will prepare you for the outrageous nature of the filipino culture. The only thing I knew was that I wanted to see with my own eyes the wonders of the ocean so many had written about and explore it in depth. Thus on a whim I decided to spend a month assisting in scuba diving research and marine conservation in Zamboanguita, Negros Oriental. Located roughly an hour south of Dumaguete …or if you drive with the locals who are trained at formula 1 standards about 30 minutes — Here you will find the humble base of an organisation known as “Marine Conservation Philippines” (MCP). Pioneered by two people with enough drive and passion, MCP has made waves of progress in marine conservation within it’s local municipality. Introducing Helle and Soren, a Danish couple who sold their heart to the sea and the Filipino people. The program draws volunteers and interns from all around the world who share a passion for the protection of marine ecosystems in addition to helping the community benefit from environmentally friendly practices. You may also enjoy this if you have an undying love for karaoke and revel in renditions of Guns n Roses at 8am.

Adjusting to the island lifestyle came naturally, disregarding all my previous worries or rejecting the things which in this new perspective no longer mattered. Consequently, what was really important came to light and my experiences became honest, educational, unpredictable and exciting. Instead of fussing over things beyond control you learned to laugh and take it in stride, testing your humility and a level of self deprecation is always appreciated. So often in touristy environments I feel a barrier between the experiences people think you want and the authentic ones where you’re invited into another’s life to learn or share. It can be as simple as opening a conversation, asking questions or smiling that remind you how special every unique culture is - not just an economic commodity. Living in a more rural location removed you from the resorts and integrated with the Filipino culture. 

No day is ever the same or goes past without a good laugh, encountering the quirks of the culture, fitting 8 people on a tricycle and diving in coastal wonderlands twice a day, every day. The amount you learn and experience in these vastly different marine areas are incredibly inspiring, filling your heart with awe. Yet there is a lot of hard work happening, the projects underway at MCP are intensive and the first of their kind within the area. Some of their initiatives include the long-term monitoring of reefs, investigating the human impacts, the planning and maintenance of Marine protected areas (MPA’s), beach clean ups, mangrove replanting, turtle protection, and organising the environmental club for school children on a monthly basis. Being included into the various projects give you an understanding of how interconnected the humanitarian and environmental issues are. Certainly the efficacy of MCP’s programs is largely due to working so closely with the residents of Zamboaguita. 

Founder of MCP Soren has shared his insights and experience on marine conservation with a good sense of humour we can all relate to. In this way we ca realise the importance of our coastal ecosystems and our power as individuals to inspire change through compassion. 

What inspired you to create Marine Conservation Philippines?

There was an element of serendipity and a lot of butterfly effect. Of course, like many, we lamented the state of our seas, but the death of someone close to my wife and I drove the point home that you don’t have forever to do the things you dream about. I think we just realised, that we could probably, actually, do something, and it’d be a lot more interesting than living the life of an office troglodyte somewhere.  Now a few years later, living with a bunch of fish hippies on a hilltop it seems like the obvious thing to do, but at the time it was really a leap of faith. 

What are the main threats to marine life in the Philippines?

There’s lot of issues that individually need to be tackled, ranging from plastic pollution, over fishing and the use of destructive fishing practises, runoff etc..  These things are important, and it’s what we can do something about at the local level- and, you know, we’re doing what we can, but we’re also barking up the wrong tree here. Each of these major battles, won’t matter if we lose the war on global warming. Right? I don’t know what we can do, other than to all do our part and vote for the people who has the courage to pass laws benefiting the planet, rather than capital. 

How does the health of the reef impact the community of Zamboanguita?

The Philippines with seven thousand islands has a tremendous interest in coastal fisheries. Zamboanguita being a coastal municipality has both fishing and the tourism sector to care about. So very shortly put, healthy reefs translate directly into jobs, revenue and food security. 

What human activity in this region most heavily affects the health of the reef?

Sex. A bit tongue in cheek here, but I’d have to say sex.  Population size is an important parameter in a whole number of ways ranging from being a driver of global warming, to increasing fishing pressures, to contributing to different kinds of pollution and reclamation and utilization of ecologically important areas such as mangroves. 

How are creating Marine protected areas effective in conservation?

The science and statistics are very clear, but you don’t even need it, to see it yourself as a diver…you see differences in coral cover, major differences in bio mass and diversity, and you also see the difference between areas where the protection is enforced and where it is a mere paper park. It’s hard to give a general answer, because every marine protected area is different and faces different challenges, but it’s clear MPAs are needed and it’s heartwarming to see serious stretches of seascape turned into sanctuaries.

What do you aim to accomplish with Marine Conservation Philippines?

I have tremendous hope for the future, and it’s only through that hope you find the will to actually aim for change. We aim to empower people locally to make the choices that will allow their children to continue to see the sea as we see it today and to continue using it as a source of important protein. We aim to influence policy locally, to ensure the marine protected areas are working, and that sustainable tourism can work as a positive driver of change. 

What could anyone do to contribute to the cause?

No-one likes lists, so here’s an easy one. Just say no to straws. Saying no to straws is easy. Just say no. Got it? No straws!

The challenges MCP deal with in Zamboaguita, are not specific to the region. We all see pollution, overfishing, and damage to marine ecosystems from human impact. The methods they are using may be insightful to our own situations as well as inspire similar efforts. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to experience the magic beneath the surface and be so strongly welcomed by the incredibly eccentric Filipino community. 

“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever”-Jaques Cousteau. 

To contact Marine Conservation Philippines, follow the link to the official website -

Words by Morgan Wood

Dancing in the Rain

There is a saying “Don’t live life waiting for the storm to pass, rather learn how to dance in the rain”. Lis, my dutch partner in crime, A.K.A Stroopwafel, and I had to learn that lesson as we embarked on our road trip through New Zealand’s Southern Alps. I knew Lis was a good friend to have around because she shared my approach that “the dirtier, the more difficult and unknown -the better”. Embracing every awkward or challenging situation we took on the great country back roads of New Zealand (and their terrible drivers), laughing at the difficulties the universe threw our way. True to the anecdotes of other travellers, the mountains are unpredictable and conditions can change at any given moment. We experienced this first hand.

Driving down Mount Cook road it could not have been a more picturesque vision, with the turquoise water of Lake Pukaki resting in front of the glacial peaks. Screaming at the beauty of the land we drove into Hooker valley grinning from ear to ear. The deal was to rent a car and save expenses on hostels by sleeping in the front seats. To be honest it is a better idea in theory than in practice, though watching the stars as you fall asleep makes the muscle pain worthwhile. We were grateful not to be in a tent as the wind howled all through the night, shaking the car as the rain began to pour down. Earlier some unfortunate souls chased their campsite across the valley to our amusement and their demise.

The morning we had planned of hiking the Hooker valley trail to see Mount Cook up close became impossible with torrential rain and severe weather warnings. Under these circumstances where you have made the investment in the car and time to drive out to Mount Cook national Park … we were pretty bewildered as to how we could make the best of this situation. There was no way we were going to let the opportunity go to waste. Either you bitch and moan about how the weather stopped you from doing anything or as the saying goes you “dance in the rain”. Living for the in between moments of struggle that are quite amusing when you take a step back, we decided to brave the storm and work with our less than ideal situation. “It’s just another part of our story” we kept telling ourselves.

The fog in the valley was magical in its own right, the sun streaking through the clouds rising off the snow-capped mountain peaks. The second there was a break in the rain we ran up the trails, seeking every possible look out of the river or emerald lakes. Inevitably we got wet anyway and it reached a point where it no longer mattered. Regardless the park was completely mesmerizing in its grandeur and the mere force of the elements characteristic of that climate. In full swing, it is an incredibly powerful experience that reminds you just how small you really are.

The drive continued along the lakeside to our next destination in Lake Tekapo. The sun was shining and it seemed ridiculous that only an hour ago we were caught in a massive storm. Taking refuge in the only cafe with good coffee, we braced ourself again for the night as lightning storms and more rain were forecasted. Out at the campsite, the facilities were as basic as it gets and our lack of preparation for just about everything meant another night of bread, dip and carrots. However this was a major improvement from the ,previous night where dinner was vitaweets and tinned beets (opened by smashing rocks against the lid).These nights are the best where you spend hours in deep conversations covering all aspect of life and learning so much from the little soul sitting across from you. Humans are so funny.

The decision was made that there would be no plan for the next day beyond sneaking into a hostel for a shower and enjoying a warm beverage. Where to next was not a question Lis and I had on our minds. The freedom to go absolutely anywhere without a single care in the world is so liberating, allowing us to simply enjoy our surroundings. 

After spending the night in Timaru, rejoining the land of the living and even going to a movie we continued to our last destination. Christchurch- the things you hear about the city do not prepare you for the landscape of destruction that is the Christchurch CBD. Within days of the Valentines Day quake and after discussing the repercussions with local book keepers, it was apparent that there was an ongoing fear within the hearts of civilians. Though like a recently burnt down forest there were signs of emerging life, appearing in the corners of construction sites or makeshift stores from freight containers. It was such an amazing phenomena to witness- the complete revolution of a city, literally being reconstructed from the ground upwards.

Our final night on the road was spent in an open field, reading and colouring as the sun set behind the trees. Everything was golden. Going through everything Lis and I had, coming into one another’s lives at this time and learning so much from each other, there was a true sense of peace and accomplishment. The feeling you get from aligning your actions with your beliefs, is incomparable to anything else. We laughed so much at how ridiculous and filthy we both were but it was all a part of our dream. The wonderful thing about travelling but I suppose each day is that you never know what you will see or who you will meet. That crazy Dutch stranger could turn out to be one of the best people you have ever met and I am so grateful to have had Lis come into my life. 

Saying goodbye was not easy but the adventure continues in both of our hearts as the knowledge we shared with one another becomes a part of you. Its corny, cheesy, the whole fondu but why not celebrate the friendships and loves we are so lucky to encounter during each stage of our lives? Until the next thunderstorm Stroopwafel. 

Numb Feet

When two of your trusty amigos put their hands up to do nudes before dawn, voluntarily jumping into ice cold water running off the edge of a cliff… you know they’re worth keeping. It brings me no greater joy than to race around the country side blasting hideous 90’s tunes in the car with two of my best friends as we scout for locations to shoot in our home, the Southern Highlands. 

It is funny to know both sides of the image… the one taken and what is really happening. Majestic as my ladies are, I can’t help but laugh thinking about the fact they were discussing the hot cakes they wanted afterwards the entire time… or yelling at the heavens for ridiculously low water temperature. 

Thank you my loves for participating in the chaos of image making. 

Blue Moutains

The greatest thing about the photography course my friends and I take is that the projects encourage you to follow your interest…. meaning we can justify road-tripping out to scenic destinations as “class work”. This time we decided the Jenolan caves would suit the brief, driving late into the night we went down the winding road to the main cave. We stayed at a lodge with ridiculously over-priced cereal (we all had 3 bowls to get our moneys worth). 

No one returned to the car Monday afternoon without awkwardly placed dirt stains or sooty sweaters, some of the many joys of being photography students determined to get the best angle at whatever cost. 

The highlight of every week is going out to some place new and exploring the unique qualities it has to offer. Getting out and being silly, becoming filthy, not caring about it, taking portraits at midnight in pitch black caves and doing things imperfectly but thats what makes it great anyway… 

Recently I revised what  I spend too much of my time on. Minimising these activities allowed me to make time for the things I truly enjoy, like venturing out into the mountains for a night with my friends. So simple yet so powerful, all it takes is getting your priorities straight. 

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