Quebec ecology student scoops trio of BES photo prizes


McGill University ecologist has snapped up three prizes in this year’s British Ecological Society photographic competition.

PhD candidate Kiyoko Gotanda captured the award-winning photos on her Canon 7D Mark II camera while on a research trip to Santa Cruz Island in the Galápagos in January 2015.

The Galápagos Islands inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution almost 150 years ago and have since been crucial to evolutionary biology, including to Gotanda’s own research on Darwin’s Galápagos finches. 

Gotanda explains: “Photo opportunities are everywhere in the Galápagos because of the naïveté of the endemic animals that has evolved in the absence of predators, and there are increasing interactions between humans and animals as the number of residents and tourists increases.”

Her striking photo of a brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) staring into the camera under a moody sky impressed the judges so much they awarded her the prize of overall student winner. Gotanda was also awarded student winner in two of the four competition categories. 

In the Ecosystems and Communities category, which called for photos of interactions between different species, Gotanda’s photo of a Darwin’s finch (Geospiza fuliginosa) nibbling the skin off the back of a huge marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) won her the prize.

Gotanda reveals: “I took both of these photos at El Garrapatero Beach – a beautiful beach where the locals come to picnic and swim in the ocean.”

In the third award-winning photo, Gotanda’s camera catches a Galápagos sea lion (Zalophus wollebaeki) red-handed as it eyes the fish scraps at the local fish market at Puerto Ayora – an image that beat off competition from other student photos in the Ecology and Society category.

According to Gotanda: “I was just in the right place at the right time. The sea lion was hoping to get some of the scraps, and the fishmongers were using the plastic crates to keep the sea lion from stealing the scraps.”

Gotanda – a keen blogger as well as a photographer – likes to use her photos to tell stories and to document her experiences as a field biologist.

“I maintain a visual diary of my field seasons by taking lots of photos and use these to tell stories on my blog. This way, readers can get a sense of what I am experiencing in the field,” she says.

Kiyoko Gotanda wins £100 and her award-winning photographs will be exhibited at the BES Annual Meeting, which takes place this week at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre.

Notes for editors

1.    For more information and high-res images, please contact Kate Marshall, BES Press Intern, km547 [at], +44 (0)7769 691862, or Becky Allen, BES Press Officer, beckyallen [at], +44 (0)7949 804317.
2.    Images should be credited as copyright of the photographer.
3.    Open to all BES members, the BES photographic competition attracted over 250 entries this year. The overall winner receives £750 and the overall runner-up £250. The student award winner receives £100, and winning entries for each category are exhibited at the BES Annual Meeting and published in the BES Bulletin. Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press kindly donated £40 book tokens to each category winner and to the runner up entries that did not receive the overall runner up prize or the student prize.
4.    The British Ecological Society Annual Meeting runs from Sunday 13th to Wednesday 16th December at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. A full programme is available at
5.    The British Ecological Society was established in 1913 making it the oldest ecological learned society in the world. The BES promotes the study of ecology through publishing a range of scientific literature, organising and sponsoring a wide variety of meetings and funding grant schemes, education initiatives and policy work. The society has almost 5,000 members from 80 different countries.