Local National Geographic Team At Rio Theater On Saturday

Feb 1, 2019

A local husband and wife team behind several National Geographic stories and books will share some of their work Saturday at the Rio Theater. The program is a benefit for the Seymour Center in Santa Cruz.

It would be easy to mistake Chris Eckstrom and Frans Lanting’s West Side Santa Cruz studio for an art gallery. Inside is a polished concrete floor with well-lit walls of photos featuring plants, animals and outdoor scenes from around the world.  It’s a reflection of the couple’s business and life.

Chris is the reporter and Frans the photographer. They met while working at National Geographic in Washington, D.C.

This Saturday at the Rio Theater they’ll share the story of a project they have worked on for three decades.

It’s about the two little-known wetlands.  They’re the largest wetlands in western hemisphere: South America’s Pantanal and Ibera.

In her script for Saturday’s program, Chris describes the beauty and talks about challenges that faced the wetlands: "the surface of the Rio Negro is glassy; the sky it reflects is boiling black clouds.  Big weather is coming,” she reads.

That “big weather” is both literal and figurative because the wetlands have been threatened by several assaults over the last 30 years. In fact, it was a proposal to dredge the Pantanal for shipping that first got their attention.

"If you dredge a shipping channel through that you upset the hydrology and in those days people outside Brazil had hardly heard about the Pantanal. So, we went there to document what was there and to help publicize what was at stake,” says Lanting.

And it worked. The publicity and environmental efforts by the Brazilian people stopped the dredging project. Later, encroachment by cattle ranchers and poachers have also been reduced and the Pantanal and Ibera are now major South American tourist areas.

“Every natural place on Earth is under threat not just from climate change but from the ongoing, increasing population and the pressure on natural resources in general. But we're also seeing that there's a real hunger for people worldwide to experience authentic nature on its own terms,” says Lanting.

To document the change, the couple made four trips to the South American wetlands over the past 30 years. The successful turnaround has only fueled the couple’s advocacy for wild things and wild places around the world.

Frans says they pick their projects after hearing or reading about endangered areas. They then seek support from magazine and book publishers.  That method gives them both funding and a way to distribute their stories when they are completed. Their current project involves documenting migratory birds in the Sacramento Valley.

“Even after all these years, after all these experiences and publications, we are still as passionate about what we do and I think we feel more and more of an urgency. We really don't have much time to restore a balance between human activity and the natural world that sustains us,” says Lanting.

Their presentation “Land of Jaguars: Wild Wetlands of South America” has two showings on Saturday at 3:00 pm and  7:00 pm at the Rio Theater in Santa Cruz.