Kelso quarry wide view. treestops in foreground, lake and grasses and trees behind, light clouds in the sky

Environmental storytelling through photography: bringing art and science together for stronger engagement

Monday, August 28, 2023
Rob de Loe standing next to a camera on a high tripod with forest and grasses in the background.

Ontario’s conservation authorities (CAs) own and operate conservation areas across the province that provide recreational opportunities such as camping, beaches, and hiking. Many people who live and work in the Waterloo region spend time during all seasons at facilities operated by the Grand River Conservation Authority’s nearby conservation areas.

Providing recreational opportunities at conservation areas is only one of many important ways Ontario’s CAs are involved in protecting, conserving and restoring the lands and waters of the province. They also have important roles to play in protecting communities from natural hazards such as flooding and erosion, permitting and planning, and watershed management.

Like other science-based organizations, CAs struggle to make the important work they do understandable to members of the general public, and to key decision makers in governments and the private sector. I’ve been working with CAs in Ontario for almost three decades, and have seen this challenge firsthand. Therefore, when I was looking for partners for my new research program, which brings art and science together to improve environmental awareness and understanding, CAs were my first stop. They’re also a great choice because many of my former students have found careers with CAs.

One of my partners is Conservation Halton, whose jurisdiction covers a large area centred on Milton, Ontario. We’ve developed several projects together so far that use photography for environmental storytelling about key watershed processes. Last summer I worked in Sixteen Mile Creek, north of Oakville, in a site called Glenorchy. Our focus was the impacts of human uses on water quality and habitat, upstream-downstream connections on urban creeks, and hazards and low flows.

This summer, the focus of our work is a new recreational site next to Kelso Conservation Area. Known as Area 8 or the Kelso Quarry, this is a former limestone quarry that is being transformed into a recreational site. We’re using this site to explore how photographic storytelling can create a stronger foundation for conversations and shared learning about restoration, habitat, and the impacts of human activities on land and water.

The site isn’t open to the public yet during the week, so I had the rare opportunity focus exclusively on Area 8 as a kind of clean slate on which the full story of human use has not been written yet. The next step in the project is to bring people into the picture.

Photos from the Area 8 (Kelso Quarry) project by Rob de Loë.

wide view of Kelso Conservation area with treetops on the foreground, a small lake and vegetation and trees with a cliff in the background
Kelso Conservation area view from top of a hill looking down the hill to the small lake and the dock.
the shores of a water body with low vegetation, then deciduous trees, limestone rock outcrop, with trees and grass growing on top of the hill