The Mashpi Project

Raising awareness of the forest with every click

Mashpi Lodge and its reserve are special places. Whether measured by the 1,200-hectare reserve’s astoundingly-biodiverse forests, or by the lodge’s unique, strikingly-contemporary architecture and design, the project is truly one-of-a-kind.

We’re therefore pleased to bring you news of a creative endeavor that will attempt to bring home just how special this small but significant part of our planet is.

A collaborative effort created and devised by a talented, varied group, the project will encompass both multimedia and a stunning coffee table book, published at the end of 2017.

Co-produced by Tropical Herping and Mashpi, it will be available for sale at the lodge, all good bookshops in Ecuador, and worldwide in 2018. Once the initial production outlay is covered, 50% of all sales proceeds will go to funding conservation efforts at Mashpi.

The project brings together both Mashpi staff and invited award-winning photographers and graphic designers.

These include Carlos Morochz, expedition manager at the lodge and formerly its wildlife project coordinator; Lucas Bustamante and Frank Pichardo, photographers and collaborators in Tropical Herping; as well as North Americans Greg Basco and Nick Hawkins, both talented nature photographers with years of experience in the field. The book will be edited and designed by Ecuadorian Belen Mena, who has published several beautiful books that combine science with nature over the last years.

“Fundamentally, we all love the natural world and are all concerned with conserving it,” explains Greg Basco, who has led nature photography tours in Costa Rica for over a decade.

“This project is exciting because not only will the book bring the wonders of the Chocó ecosystem to a wider audience, while highlighting its fragility and threats, it also represents an innovative and collaborative format, bringing together several photographers’ visions.”

Photography by Greg Basco
Photography by Greg Basco
Photography by Greg Basco

By publication, the project will have taken nearly a year to complete. Nick Hawkins, a specialist in camera traps in rainforest environments hailing from Canada, will have spent three months in all in Mashpi’s forests, attempting to capture some of its most elusive creatures – felines in particular.

Nick describes his work like “setting up a studio in the forest” where he first begins by placing video cameras on certain trails or sites where animals are likely to pass. Then he sets up his large, DSLR cameras, along with flashes and sensors, framing up his ‘dream shot’ of an animal in the wild.

“For me, success is for the cameras to still be working when the moment I hope to capture happens,” he admits with a smile.

“These humid forests are extremely challenging environments for our equipment. You have to be really resourceful, to adapt your gear to the terrain and climate. There are so many things that can go wrong, I’m happy if I can capture just one shot from three different camera set-ups in these forests!”

Photograph by Nick Hawkins
Photography by Nick Hawkins
Photography by Nick Hawkins

With a beautiful book about The Amphibians and Reptiles of Mindo under their belts and two further book projects on the amphibians and reptiles of Ecuador on the way, Tropical Herping were the perfect partners for this project.

“Over the years, we’ve come to understand that we need to create an emotional reaction and connection between science/conservation and people,” says Lucas Bustamante, a biology graduate and conservationist, who also leads nature photography tours around the world.

“Scientific publications, research papers and raw science data don’t create empathy. For this project, we’ve used the aesthetics of conservation photography, coupled with great design, in order to create that empathy, that impact that these forests need to attract.”

“We want to really touch people so that they’ll first learn something new, and second, react to the fact that the Chocó ecosystem is increasingly threatened. Only through graphic and narrative story-telling can we hope to raise awareness and change policies towards this unique environment.”

Photography by Lucas Bustamante
Photography by Lucas Bustamante
Photography by Lucas Bustamante

The “Mashpi veteran” of the group is Carlos Morochz, who was hired way back in 2009 as a young biology graduate to begin mapping out the 1,200-hectare reserve – to literally “find out what was out there.” Following years of tramping the forests, camping out, cataloguing, describing, creating collaborations with researchers from Ecuador and around the world, and being involved in describing new species, Carlos has also been honing his skills as a nature photographer.

“I’m very excited by what this team can produce”, he says. “The Mashpi environment is really tough for any photographer and it’s wonderful to be able to bring together specialists in their field who can really capture all sorts of wonders, from stunning landscape shots with wisps of clouds, through to really challenging camera trap images and on to the macro world that is so often ignored here. The project is a dream come true for me.”

“We firmly believe it will help spread Mashpi’s message of how tourism can further both conservation and scientific research, as well as create awareness for the Chocó on the world stage.”

Photography by Carlos Morochz
Photography by Carlos Morochz
Photography by Carlos Morochz
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To follow the team’s adventures and updates from the field:

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