When I visited a little tropical island of Pulau Redang a few years ago, I was expecting to experience the true tropical paradise with turtles coming to nest on island’s beaches. To my greatest disappointment every single area of island’s life: energy generation, transportation and, especially, waste treatment have shouted about existing problems.
I photographed the island’ jungle, trees, small plants, a forest stream, objects found on the beach to tell the story that needed to be told. Some of the landscapes I found on Pulau Redang have made it into several oil paintings that were designed to share this story with renewed force and vigour.
Photography in the tropics differs from the experience in northern latitudes: the light is falling from above and not at an angle, it’s harsh and penetrating, creating unbearable heat during the day. It gets dark quite early and once it’s dark, there’s nothing more to photograph from the stars, which I didn’t have the tripod for, so the stars were out. The morning and evening are ideal times for photography and this is exactly when I headed towards the beach to create an image that accompanies my article in the Resurgence. Observing the elegant line of palm trees on the beach I thought: they make such a straight line, it surely cannot be natural! And then suddenly it occurred to me that the line where those coconut palm trees have emerged was the furtherst point the water could bring those nuts that sometimes travel for thousands of kilometres by sea.
Malaysia is a tropical country and one of the world’s biodiversity hot spots. One of the largest environmental challenges is palm oil production, that causes destruction of virgin forests and their replacement with monoculture palm oil plantations. Recent research by Manfred Lenzen has shown that responsibility for this production often lies outside Malaysia. His article clearly shows how many countries, including Germany are benefiting from exploiting Malaysian palm oil. Unique tropical forests of Malaysia cannot be priced in dollars or pounds simply because the complexity of ecosystems there, the species that reside there, rare plants and insects that pollinate them are essentially irreplaceable. Unfortnately, the approaches based on monetary assessment assume that the opposite is true and it’s actually possible to compensate cutting down tropical forests in one place by planting a few trees in another. This is simply an illusion and an important one to refute.
My new article on the state of the environment in Pulau Redang, Malaysia accompanied by my photograph made there have just been published in a celebrated Resurgence magazine, which marked its 50th anniversary last year. A great honour for me. Please enjoy: https://www.resurgence.org/magazine/article5035-on-the-beach.html
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!
Image (c) Dr Stanislav Shmelev