The Municipality of Zeist in The Netherlands (Gemeente Zeist) donated a collection of two crates with 'wildlife souvenirs' from their archives to WWF The Netherlands (WNF of Wereld Natuur Fonds) in June 2014. The collection goes back many years, even decades. Though many of the items are truely beautiful: big pieces of coral, beautiful shells, they are illegal to trade. And most of the pieces would get you into serious trouble if customs would find them between your undies at Schiphol Airport. WWF can use these pieces as show-and-tell to create more awareness of what you should and should not buy on holidays. And of course for people to enjoy their beauty in all its delicate details without the need for damaging the coral reefs far away.
Since I'm a volunteer for WWF in The Netherlands I had access to this collection, I decided to photograph the corals, starfish, shells and fish. The photos will be used by WWF as well for creating awareness and letting people enjoy the beauty of nature. I've photographed the pieces as they were, with all the dust and damage collected over the years. The first part of the photo series are the complete pieces, the second part close ups.
You have to really zoom in to appreciate the intricate details and delicate architecture of especially the corals. And to see why starfish (zeesterren) are called echinoderms (litterally 'hedgehog skins', in Dutch: stekelhuidigen). The big gray piece of coral baffled me. Coral skeletons are usually white, because they are composed of calcium carbonate. But gray? If you look really close with your macrolens, you discover that the coral is actually white. But consists of dozens of bigger and smaller pores that capture the light. White skeleton plus lots of dark holes make effectively a gray surface for your eyes. I've also made this photo special so you can enjoy and appreciate this collection of wildlife specimens in all of its beauty. For esthetic reasons.
WWF campaign: Souvenir Alert / Foute Souvenirs
Back in 2000 the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) launched the campaign Souvenir Alert. For the Dutch better known as Foute Souvenirs. This campaign was launched to stop holidaymakers buying souvenirs made from endangered species as part of combatting the illegal wildlife trade. Each year customs seizes tons of illegal wildlife products. If customs catches you with illegal wildlife products in your luggage like items made out of alligator skin, corals or tortoise shells, you can be in deep trouble. However, the endangered species you buy the products of are in deeper trouble.
The illegal wildlife trade is good for billions of euros each year. "Tourists could be placing some of our most beautiful and unusual wildlife on the road to extinction, all for the sake of an exotic gift," warned Stuart Chapman, Head of WWF's Wildlife Trade Programme, back in 2000. The public should be aware - and nowadays luckily is more aware - what to buy and not to buy abroad. Sellers on tropical beaches will ensure you that it is perfectly fine to purchase their products. But often it is not the case. And when in doubt: don't buy it. In Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), when I was there back in 2009, at the fish market you could see huge collections of shells, corals, complete turtles, dried sharks and stuffed puffer fish. Sad to see, but it is still happening. As long as people are buying, illegal traders try to sell.
Like with all holidays to places with stunning nature: take only pictures or memories, leave only footprints, kill only time.