Saturday, 23 March 2013


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Pictures: Dipping Under Unspoiled Rivers
By Brian Clark Howard,
National Geographic News, 22 March 2013.

1. Wadi Wurayah, Fujairah, United Arab Emirates

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Swiss photographer Michel Roggo captured this image of Wadi Wurayah in Fujairah, United Arab Emirates as part of his Freshwater Project, a four-year effort to document 30 rivers around the world.

A wadi is a desert stream that is typically dry for much of the year. In this case, Roggo hiked for miles through an arid landscape, and was then startled by the sound of moving water. When he visited, the wadi only had water in it for a few hundred feet before the channel returned to dust.

"There are fish that can survive when this water dries out completely, then when the water comes back they appear again. No one knows how they do this," said Roggo.

He added that vegetation can spring up around the wadi, and that many animals, from snakes to leopards, come to drink and look for prey.

Roggo and some local student photographers put on exhibits of photos from the wadi in the United Arab Emirates. "Local people couldn't believe this was in their country," he said.

"This water is, for those people, probably of more value than oil."

So far, Roggo has lensed about 20 rivers for his Freshwater Project, with the goal of making beautiful pictures and educating the public about the importance of protecting freshwater - also the goal of World Water Day, held annually on March 22.

Roggo told National Geographic News that he has specialized in freshwater photography for about 25 years. He does not do any diving, and instead makes most of his photos via remote-controlled cameras, while standing on the shore. "I try to work fast to catch the spirit of different freshwater locations," said Roggo.

Roggo said freshwater habitats face many threats around the world, although there is still much to discover. "Every time I go out I spot something completely different," he said. (Related: "8 Mighty Rivers Run Dry From Overuse.")

2. Serra da Bodoquena, Brazil

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A few months ago, Roggo visited the Pantanal (pictured) in Brazil to photograph the springs, creeks, and rivers that flow through the world's largest wetland. He explored Serra da Bodoquena National Park, where he trained his camera on the clear waters that cut through the local limestone.

"I discovered an underwater rain forest, it was amazing how beautiful it was," said Roggo. The area is relatively well protected and is a popular freshwater snorkelling attraction for "eco" and adventure tourists, he pointed out.

"Guides teach people how to avoid destroying the fragile riverbed," said Roggo. (Related: Change the Course: Help Save the Colorado River.)

3. Ozernaya River, Kamchatka, Russia

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When Roggo visited the Ozernaya River in Kamchatka, Russia, he saw around 20 brown bears fishing for sockeye salmon. The female and younger bears behaved aggressively to his remote-controlled cameras, knocking them around and biting the housing. But an older, large male [pictured] "became the perfect model," he said.

Roggo said he never approached the dominant bear, but was able to record his natural behaviours through his camera, from a safe distance on the shore.

Roggo called it the "experience of a lifetime."

4. Verzasca River, Switzerland

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Roggo also turned his attention to the Verzasca River in his native Switzerland. The river flows through the Verzasca Valley in the southern part of the Swiss Alps.

"Over millions of years, the Verzasca has carved its way through the rock, leaving it smooth and polished," said Roggo. "The water is crystal clear, up to 10 meters [33 feet] deep, and very cold, even in the summer."

Roggo warned that the Verzasca has strong currents, fed by Alpine runoff, and that many people have drowned there while swimming or diving.

Although Roggo normally uses remote controls to make his images, he made a rare exception and shot this picture while snorkelling. It was the day after his 60th birthday.

5. Te Waikoropupu Springs, New Zealand

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Te Waikoropupu Springs are the largest freshwater springs in New Zealand and the largest cold-water springs in the Southern Hemisphere. According to Roggo, they contain some of the clearest water ever measured.

Roggo made this picture a few weeks ago by mounting his camera on a pole. He made no contact with the water, because touching it in any way is prohibited in order to protect water quality and cultural heritage.

"To local Maori, Te Waikoropupu Springs are a taonga (treasure) and wahi tapu, a place held in high cultural and spiritual regard," said Roggo.

He added, "As a European, it was really amazing to see that people have such respect for water.  For us water is to make electricity, or put waste in it, or I don't know what."

6. Rio Negro Igapo, Amazon, Brazil

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An Amazon river dolphin looks for fish in the Rio Negro Igapo, in Brazil's Amazon Basin. The region's forests flood seasonally with freshwater, sometimes for as long as six months at a time. The influx of aquatic life and nutrients can be a bonanza for wildlife.

"The red colour and acidity of the water is due to the acidic organic humic substances, such as tannins, that dissolve into the water," said Roggo.

Many trees are adapted to maximize fruit production during floods, to take advantage of the opportunity for seed dispersal. Fish feast on the fruit, then later excrete the seeds in another location. Dolphins, snakes, felines, and other predators feed on the fish.

7. River Itchen, Hampshire, England

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River Itchen in Hampshire, England, is one of a series of streams in the southern part of the country that are famous for fly-fishing. Host to rich plant and insect life, especially mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies, they are prime habitat for trout and grayling.

"But even on those outstanding beautiful rivers, mistakes have been made in the past, and some stretches of the Itchen have been transformed into channels," said Roggo.

"Today, the Itchen has been revitalized on many parts, and very quickly the diversity of plants and animal life has been restored."

8. Taman Negara Gunung Mulu, Sarawak, Malaysia

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Taman Negara Gunung Mulu is a national park in Sarawak, Malaysia, on the island of Borneo. Near the border with Brunei, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Area.

Roggo explored the streams in the park's rain forest, where he made this image.

9. Blue Hole Spring, Ichetuknee River, Florida, USA

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Underneath much of Florida is an enormous subterranean stream called the Floridan Aquifer. "Many huge springs are pouring out of the limestone, creating crystal clear rivers, flowing through a jungle of water plants towards the sea," said Roggo.

He shot this image with an extreme wide angle lens from above. "It looks like an eye, with the shape of a fish created by dark sediments on the ground. So it's really a fish-eye view of a fish-eye," said Roggo.

10. Abismo Anhumas, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil

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The limestone under the Serra da Bodoquena in Brazil has been dissolved to form many caves. One of the most famous is the Abismo Anhumas, which is 236 feet (72 meters) deep. Much of it is filled with crystal-clear water.

Adventurous eco-tourists can abseil down into the cave, and then snorkel or scuba dive among the unique formations.

11. Northern Rockies, Canada

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When Roggo visited the Northern Rockies in British Columbia, Canada, he found a clear stream with a beaver lodge. He spent five days trying to get a good shot with his remote-controlled camera.

The lodge had six entrances, and the beavers kept avoiding the one closest to the camera. But eventually, his patience paid off.

12. Umeälven Tributary, Swedish Lapland

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While fly-fishing in Umeälven tributary in Swedish Lapland, Roggo noticed an unusually dense collection of freshwater mussels. The next day, he returned with his camera and underwater housing.

Freshwater mussels are increasingly threatened in many parts of the world, said Roggo, because they tend to be sensitive to pollution and other ecological changes. If undisturbed, they can live to be 200 years old.

13. Pantanal, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil

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Much of the water in the Pantanal is murky (and home to piranhas), but there are some crystal clear tributaries that flow from the surrounding limestone mountains into the floodplain. "With the help of a good guide we were able to find a hidden creek," said Roggo.

"This was the experience of a lifetime, snorkelling down in this extreme clear and cold water, and then entering the murky and very warm water of the main river. But it was almost impossible to make photographs.

"The creek had such a concentration of oxygen, or other dissolved gas, that in seconds the dome glass of my housing was covered with bubbles. So I had to compose the picture, holding stable in the strong current, then wash away the bubbles and make one shot...and start that again."

Top image: Taman Negara Gunung Mulu, Sarawak, Malaysia.

[Source: National Geographic News. Edited.]

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