Interview with Romina Bottazzi: Protecting Patagonia's fauna

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Photo: Romina BottazziPhoto: Romina Bottazzi
At just 6-years-old, Romina Bottazzi already had learned to dive and assist her father with the whale watching excursions that their family pioneered in Península Valdés. Today, she captains the boats and helps run Bottazzi Whale Watch, and is also the founder and director of Fundación Protejamos Patagonia, which carries out environmental education campaigns to protect the puma and other wildlife in Argentine Patagonia. Patagon Journal editor-at-large Patrick Nixon spoke with Romina, who is also a member of the panel of judges of the 5th Patagonia Photo Contest, about her work protecting and conserving fauna in Argentina and her perspectives on wildlife photography. Excerpts:
NIXON: You have been a strong supporter of reintroducing pumas on the Peninsula Valdés but have faced some opposition from ranchers who fear that pumas attack cattle. How have you addressed this?
BOTAZZI: Some way must be found for it be beneficial to cattle ranchers to have wild animals coexisting with their cattle, like through the development of ecotourism. For example, in Torres del Paine, many ranchers can increase their income by receiving photographers and taking them on wildlife safaris to photograph pumas. The idea is to make progress little by little studying how the animals behave here on the peninsula.
Having observed conservation management on different continents, what examples for you stand out?
I have observed conservation management in Corrientes, Argentina, in Spain and in South Africa, where there are many committed people, both professionals and the local community. I do not have enough information to fully answer this question, since all countries make some kind of effort to develop wildlife conservation.
Photo: Romina BottazziPhoto: Romina Bottazzi
Would you say that Spain is a model for conservation?
Yes, totally. I would say that Europe in general is working together to protect native species. There is much better funding available there than in other countries. In general, there are very good projects that are well-supported and financed.
Has the pandemic affected progress on the conservation projects you were working on?
We have used recent months to work on future projects. We've held some seminars, applied for funding, and spent time on the computer writing and researching.
Could you tell us a bit about the Fundación Protejamos Patagonia and what projects are you currently working on and plans for the future?
The foundation came about because of the conservation message we were trying to get across to tourists on our whale watching tours. I realized that we needed to establish something more formal, to professionalize it, and that's how we founded the NGO. On our boat trips it was important to me to create awareness among the passengers and students that not all was well with the whales at Peninsula Valdés. They saw it as natural that the seagulls were pecking at the whales, when that is not normal. We want to change people's habits so that they are more responsible with their garbage: we have a problem with open trash dumps that is gotten so out of control it is causing the growing population of seagulls to start attacking whales.
Today, whales generate more income through their conservation. Our idea as a foundation is to continue taking small actions, to be able to continue bringing professionals to the local community and to raise awareness about what we have, because it is one of the few places that remain virgin in the world and with so much fauna. We must not neglect the places that have not been protected. Sometimes, fishermen who visit those areas scare the animals with their dogs or injure them with their fishing tackle and do not realize how important it is to take care of nature. It is precisely these people that we want to target.
Your foundation is organizing a number of seminars that are coming up soon. Can you tell us more about them?
Yes, we want to continue with our series of seminars and continue working with the Madryn community and with the Puerto Pirámide Primary School. We were able to hold an environmental film festival for the Pirámide community. The idea was to generate spaces where the community can come, enjoy, learn and watch movies that show what happens in other places. We want to talk about the different species, invite other professionals to talk and try to get funding to finance projects such as an aerial whale census.
Photo: Romina BottazziPhoto: Romina Bottazzi
Which places do you like to photograph the most and which animals are the most difficult to shoot?
In the environment I move in, one of my favorite creatures to photograph is the sea elephant. They are so nice and you can shoot them from so many angles. Amongst the most difficult to shoot, I think, are dolphins. Jorge Cazenave is an excellent dolphin photographer. I am always so impressed with how he gets his photos. Whales are also a difficult animal to photograph, although it might seem easy.
As a judge for the 5th Patagonia Photo Contest, what are you going to be looking for in a winning image?
I think I will pay attention to what the photo conveys both to me and to the rest of the judges. The contest includes a Climate Change category, so I think that the images that convey a message about caring for nature, will be the most important for me.
What advice would you give to wildlife photographers that are just starting out?
Dedicating yourself to being a good photographer does not necessarily mean having expensive equipment or a lot of time. It's about being in the right place at the right time and being patient to capture an image that will have an impact on others. Photography is a tool that will help us to become more aware of and take better care of the world we live in and the natural resources that exist on our planet.