In one of Isabelle Groc’s photographs, a Laysan albatross and its fluffy chick huddle together near a dirty plastic water bottle. The photo’s caption notes that of the 500,000 albatross chicks born each year on Midway Atoll—a military base turned wildlife refuge 1,250 miles northwest of Honolulu—about 200,000 die. The cause? Mainly dehydration or starvation resulting from the discarded plastic they ingest.
“When they opened Midway to the public, I grabbed my camera and went,” says Groc, a freelance wildlife photographer and writer. “I had known about the marine debris problem for a long time—but I didn’t know its extent.”
Groc did more research and eventually wrote a piece for Discover. Visitors to the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle can see that albatross and chick photo, which won her a 2010 International Conservation Photography Award.
“For me, photography and writing go hand in hand,” she says. “My stories are science-based and have lots of facts, and then the photos are there to help people connect on another level. Photos appeal more to emotions and the heart.”
Groc works intuitively, pursuing stories that speak to her passion for conservation and environmental education. But she also draws on her academic background: her master’s degrees from Columbia University and MIT in journalism and city planning, respectively, underlie her thorough reporting and help her make connections between human-led development and problems such as habitat loss.
Publications from around the world, including Canadian Geographic, Discover, and the Journal of Urban Technology, have published her stories and photos. “I never pass up an opportunity to try to tell people what they can do to preserve species or ecosystems at risk,” she says. “In the case of the albatrosses, we can buy reusable water bottles rather than [disposable] plastic bottles. These are simple steps that we can take every day to effect change.”
Groc lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, with her husband, Ivan Doumenc, and their two children. Emile turns one in February and Elodie, who her mother says is already showing a penchant for environmental preservation, turns eight the same month.