2019 Photo Contest, Environment, 3rd Prize

Ghosts of Guano Islands


Thomas P. Peschak

National Geographic

11 June, 2018

An image of one of Robert E. Coker’s research assistants holding a dead Peruvian pelican is projected onto the guano-stained walls of a ruined fisherman’s chapel on Isla Lobos de Afuera, Peru.

Archive images were projected into contemporary scenes on Peru’s Guano Islands, where the seabird population that declined dramatically as a result of 19th-century guano harvesting is now beginning to recover. Guano, the nitrate-rich droppings of birds such as pelicans, boobies and cormorants, became popular as a fertilizer in the 19th century, and Peru’s Guano Islands were a prime source. The boom ended with the introduction of ammonia-based chemical fertilizers in the early 20th century, but the bird populations had nosedived. Today, guano mining is much less frequent, rotates location, and is supervised by conservationists, allowing some of Peru’s seabird populations to recover. The archive photographs were taken by the marine biologist Robert E. Coker, who began working in Peru in 1906. 

About the photographer

Thomas P. Peschak

Thomas P. Peschak is a National Geographic Photographer and National Geographic Explorer who specializes in documenting both the beauty and fragility of the world's oceans, i...

Technical information

Shutter Speed
Focal length
56 mm

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