Storytelling through conservation photography
Sidney Opiyo is a Kenya-based conservation photographer, environmental educator, and the Focal Point for the Food Security Thematic Group at the UNCCD Youth Caucus. In an interview ahead of the GEF Assembly, he reflected on the power of storytelling for nature conservation, climate change response, and youth action.
What sparked your interest in environmental issues?
Born and raised on Mfangano Island on Lake Victoria in Kenya, where we depended on fishing for our food needs and livelihoods, I have over the years experienced the adverse impacts of climate change. From the decline in fish stocks through pollution of the lake, increased water levels that extended into the land destroying farms and structures, hippos invading farms, my community has experienced many difficult challenges. These shifts have also affected food security and increased poverty levels on the island. Over time, people on the island resorted to deforestation because fishing was no longer viable.
These experiences led to my choice to specialize in Environmental Studies and Community Development. I was interested in better-understanding environmental issues, including both the challenges and opportunities, to be able to curate solutions together with my community from a point of knowledge. You cannot care about what you do not know about.
How does your photography and storytelling relate to environmental action?
Through my climate education and conservation storytelling, climate cafes, and climate workshops, I have been able to reach more than 5,000 people with conservation and climate stories. Sharing conservation and climate stories using images and photography helps people understand why and how they need to conserve the environment and make more sustainable decisions. I find that storytelling through photography really helps connect peoples’ experiences to their immediate surroundings, inspiring action and change.
Your climate cafes and workshops sound very interesting. What happens at them?
These are an opportunity to focus on conservation, climate change, and wildlife. Through them, I have been able to promote the use of visuals as a tool for education while also inspiring and empowering local communities to support conservation and climate action and highlighting the power of their voices and actions. The workshops include conservation storytelling sessions and community photography exhibitions that show in simple terms why environmental challenges need our attention, and what each of us can do to have an impact.
Do you have a message for today’s political and business leaders?
Environmental challenges do not affect everyone the same way. Listen closely to the stories of the people who are affected by climate change and nature loss. Make plans with them for a better future for everyone.
What are you looking forward to at the GEF Assembly?
The GEF Assembly will give me a platform to meet leaders and change-makers from around the world and see how we can come together to find solutions to global issues. I hope to build networks and partnerships that can support my work in conservation and environmental activism. As a conservation storyteller, I am especially interested in learning about interventions that are already being taken in confronting biodiversity loss and climate change, and thinking through how that can shape what we say and share about the state of the environment.