By Joseph Ricketts
My conservation story is one that is steadily unfolding. I by no means have “arrived” in terms of sustainable living and faithful stewardship of the Earth. Instead, I am learning and growing each day in my ability and resolve to protect and preserve the natural world, and to encourage those around me to participate in conservation.
My love for nature started when I was very young. I grew up in central Alabama, and, as often as I could, I would go explore creeks and look for frogs, tadpoles, snakes, and crayfish. I also went camping and backpacking with my family and friends a great deal and was very fortunate to be exposed to a lot of the natural wonders of the US before starting high school. Up to this point, however, my fascination with the natural world was what I would describe as immature – at least in the sense that there was still much that needed to be cultivated. There is something beautiful and good about a child–like enjoyment of nature, but that is not enough in itself. If we love something but do nothing to protect it when it is threatened, then what good is our love?
In college I studied Biology with an environmental concentration. I was blown away by the intricate details and complex relationships that existed within and between all of life on this planet. During my undergrad I watched a documentary on Virunga National Park. The story of Virunga pummeled my general love for the natural world with the sharp reality of what the environment and its inhabitants were really up against. Virunga National Park has been tangled up in a mess of deceit, violence, racism, greed, and corruption. I came to see it as the absolute front line in the fight for conservation – the bravery of the rangers and caretakers that daily protect Virunga’s lands and wildlife blew me away. I knew that somehow, in some way, I wanted to be like them. If you are not familiar with the park, I encourage you to research it! I hope that its story will impact you as it did me.
After taking more classes in the natural sciences and spending several eye-opening months in the country of Costa Rica, I went on to write my undergraduate thesis on human-felid conflict around the world. I focused on the epicenters of conflict in East Africa, urban India, and the Sundarban mangrove swamp between India and Bangladesh. My project sought to develop a robust philosophical framework for approaching extremely complex conservation situations. I wrestled with the reconciliation of the justification for big cat conservation with genuine compassion for human grief and suffering. Through my project, I was able to solidify my convictions to protect wildlife, but also to expand my ability to empathize with those who see and experience nature differently from me.
Consistent communication to the various demographics that constitute the general public is a massive challenge for the scientific community today. Skepticism, whether founded or unfounded, is rampant and has been damaging in our efforts to call others to the critical task of conservation. I have loved using the tool of photography to remind people of the beauty of the natural world, and that it is something worth protecting and fighting for. I hope to present the natural world to others in an accessible light, that they might consider life from a perspective outside of themselves. My goal is to consistently challenge myself and others to truly see the world around us, and, therefore, to go and live in a way that actively seeks to bring reconciliation and healing in the place of brokenness and suffering. I am thrilled to now call Florida my home, and I feel great responsibility to educate those in my community about the conservation of this beautiful state and its incredible biodiversity through my images, but also through how I live my everyday life.
I currently work as an Ecological Field Technician for the National Ecological Observatory Network based out of Gainesville, FL. I am an active volunteer with the Santa Fe River Turtle Project, and I plan to begin working on my Masters at the University of West Florida this Fall. If I am not underwater or on land with a camera in my hands, then I am probably off doing something else outside with my awesome wife, Sarah, and our energetic pup, Reef.