A few years ago, the sight of a parrot in the Israeli sky was a rare event but invasive species have arrived, causing agricultural and other damage and threatening native biodiversity. Brought to the Middle East and Europe as pets, escaped or released parrots have established numerous wild populations across the area. ParrotNet – a European and Middle East network of scientists, practitioners and policymakers dedicated to research on invasive parrots, their impacts and the challenges they present – has concluded that measures to prevent parrots from invading new areas are paramount for limiting future harm. According to lead researcher Dr. Assaf Shwartz of the Technion in Haifa, “Today in Israel there are more than 200 populations of parrot species originating in South America and India…. These populations are growing every year and, today, there are more than 10,000 ring-necked parakeets and monk parakeets in Israel.”
With his photos, Liron Gertsman hopes to raise awareness of environmental issues. (photo by Liron Gertsman)
Recent Vancouver high school graduate and award-winning photographer Liron Gertsman is heading to the University of British Columbia to study biology. His main passion is taking photos of nature, particularly birds, in the hope of sparking in viewers feelings of love and awe for the environment, leading to improved conservation.
“I believe people need to see the natural world if they want to protect it, so I try to do that through my photos,” Gertsman told the Independent in an interview.
From as young as 5 or 6 years old, Gertsman spent a great deal of his spare time walking around his neighbourhood, keeping an open eye.
“Around that time, my parents gave me a blue miniature camera,” he recalled. “Right from the start, I began taking pictures of birds and nature … and it grew and grew until, when I was 12, I bought my first personal DSLR camera equipment. And, since the very start, I’ve loved birds and have been fascinated by their behaviours … and have done my best to photograph them.”
Gertsman’s love of nature does not seem to have come from his parents, who are both businesspeople. His dad is a real estate tax consultant and his mom is an accountant.
“It was a big combination of things,” said Gertsman. “A lot of it was self-learning things – reading on the internet, reading books, and there were [other] influences because the bird-watching community is very large…. I would go attend bird walks and meet people that way. My Grade 2 teacher was a really big environmentalist and created an environmental conservation club at school.”
Now that he is heading to UBC, Gertsman is not sure if he will integrate photography with research on birds, or if he will become a professional nature photographer.
“There are a lot of biologists who use photography to document their work,” he said. “They’re doing work that is hopefully going to benefit conservation and they need photographers, or they, themselves, will document their own work … to put it into a format that is easier for people to comprehend. Hopefully, I’ll get involved in some research projects – maybe over the summers – that will allow me to do things like that…. But, I’ll see what calls me more in the years to come and make a decision in a few years.”
Gertsman posts his photos on his website and social media accounts, and some have won contests. Most recently, three of his photos were recognized by the Audubon Photography Awards, winning the youth category prize and honourable mentions.
“It’s a great way to show more people your work, show them the beauty of nature,” said Gertsman. “Some of my photos have been featured, in the past, in magazines and in web articles.
“We are at a point now in the world where, if we don’t change something big … we’re going to be heading into some dark times. The environment is at a very unstable point right now. Our actions in the next little while are going to have a big impact on whether there’s going to be nature and a natural environment to live in, in the years to come.
“Everything we have as people comes from nature,” he continued. “Without nature, we can’t survive. But, it can be hard for people to understand that. It’s not a direct link. If you cut down a tree, it’s not going to have an impact on most people’s lives.”
But, on a larger scale, it matters. “So,” he said, “what I’m trying to do is, by photographing the natural world in the most beautiful way I possibly can and showing it to as many people I possibly can, I’m trying to educate the world the best I can on how incredible the environment is and how worth protecting it is.”
This past spring, Gertsman was in Israel, one of the most amazing places in the world for birdwatching, as “all the birds migrating from Africa to Europe pass through in Israel,” he said.
There are many ways people can help promote the environment, he added. “You can help me spread my message – tell your friends, share my website, follow me on social media, my Instagram. I post, almost every day, my latest pictures on Instagram. Hopefully, through that, I’ll be able to reach more people.
“It’s increasingly difficult to motivate people to do things individually, but individual action can have wide affect. When a government adds a regulation, it has an impact and, when regulations are taken away, that too has a huge impact. So, in the way we think about our political leaders, there’s something we can do as a nation there.
“But also, just on an individual scale, cutting down on driving, not using plastic straws … little things, like carpooling, things you do every day can make a big difference. And, just spreading the message of how amazing nature is, and getting out and enjoying nature yourself.”
Pictured on the cover of this year’s Jewish Independent Summer Celebration issue is a great blue heron. Winnifred Tovey, who lives in Vancouver, shot the photograph in Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park. The heron was a frequent visitor, and Tovey has taken scores of photos of him over the years. When she lived in Strathcona, Tovey would walk to the park and the gardens next door every day after work. The heron would usually hang out in a tree or elsewhere higher up, waiting for the gates to close and the tourists to clear out, but occasionally he’d pose for a picture. Tovey took up photography when she lived in New York City, 2000-2007. Perhaps because New York was such a city, Tovey took to hanging out in wildish places and photographing birds. She’s kept it up ever since.