Young photographer and explorer Matthew Cicanese, who is visually impaired, visited Haida Gwaii last summer in search of exotic moss. The images he created capture invisible worlds filled with exotic wildlife and stunning landscapes, all right under our noses. You just have to know how to see them
As a National Geographic explorer and professional documentary photographer specializing in extreme close-ups of nature at its tiniest, Matthew Cicanese’s work takes him all over the world. In August, he travelled to Haida Gwaii — his first trip to Canada. He came to work alongside Karen Golinski, who is a PhD and moss expert working at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., and also affiliated with the University of British Columbia Herbarium. She was there searching for rare mosses to update status reports for the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Together they spent 10 days exploring peat bogs and small, isolated offshore islands. They experienced the extraordinary landscapes and incredible biodiversity that thrives there due to isolation, heavy rainfall and mild temperatures (and the fact they missed glaciation during the last ice age).
Often referred to as the “Galapagos of the North,” there are 150-plus islands with a total landmass of more than a million hectares that make up the Haida Gwaii archipelago, across the Hecate Strait from the B.C. mainland. Its many unusual endemic plants and animals on land and sea are at least partly the effect of the frigid nutrient-rich northern Pacific meeting warm offshore currents originating in Japan. Gwaii Haanas National Park occupies the southern third of the islands. The park is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site featuring the oldest standing totem poles in the world.