Wildlife photographer, Jason Edwards, has one of the biggest image portfolios at National Geographic and has been at the forefront of natural history photography for more than two decades.

The gregarious, award-winning photographer from Melbourne is passionate about species conservation, climate change and the environment, taking some of the most astounding photographs over his extensive career.

His photographs have appeared in hundreds of publications including the National Geographic Magazine, BBC Wildlife, Australian Geographic and The New Yorker.

Edwards is also an Associate Fellow of the Conservation Photographers, an organisation which utilises the power of photography to educate and inspire people globally about conservation issues.

With National Geographic a partner of luxury French line, Ponant for expedition cruises, Edwards is set to be onboard many  expedition sailings from 2020 as one of the resident National Geographic Photography Experts.

Here’s what he had to say in a special Q&A with Luxury Cruise Passenger:

Q: Tell us how you became a wildlife photographer?

A: My passion for photography started when I was in high school. My grandmother bought me a camera whilst she was on a holiday in Hong Kong. From that moment, I spent whatever spare cash I had on buying camera equipment and taking pictures. When I left High School I was offered a position as a zoo keeper at Melbourne Zoo where I began taking photographs of their animal collection. At the same time, I began studying Animal Sciences and Applied Science, all the while teaching myself the art of photography. As my portfolio of images grew, I started a wildlife photography stock agency. I worked every day on my photography business whilst studying and working with wildlife at the zoo. Whenever I had saved enough funds, I would take off, go overseas to photographs wild animals and landscapes. From Africa to the rain forest of the Amazon, I funded all of  my overseas trips with the sales of my imagery. One of my first international assignment was to photograph an ancient, scraggly-looking plant in Namibia in southwest Africa called Welwitschia mirabilis.

Q: What do you like about your job?

A: I love the variety and experience. I am a sponge for new experiences and I have great access to amazing science, people and remote habitats in my current role. I really enjoy being in the coalface of everything and no two days are ever the same.

Q: Why do you work with cruise lines like Ponant?

A: I have been working at National Geographic on their expedition cruises for numerous years. I’m very gregarious and enjoy accompanying our travellers on their adventures.  Now that National Geographic has  partnered with Ponant , I will join their cruises as one of their photography experts, giving lectures, teaching photography techniques and helping people with their cameras. I’m a brilliant storyteller and enjoy educating people how to look at the world differently through their photographs.

Q: Do you think accompanying cruise passengers to remote destinations is helping spread the word about endangered species and climate change?

A: If it is done well, then definitely, yes. If you show people the effects of climate change, for example, melting ice and you also provide them with accurate information on sustainability and the environment, then you can have a positive impact on their experience and knowledge.

Q: What worries you most about tourism and endangered species?

A:  People do not understand that travel does have an immense impact on the environment and indigenous communities, for instance, careless travellers can leave quite a large carbon footprint on their destinations.

There’s also a misconception that travel has only positive economic impact on the destination.  In fact, the trickle-down effect is no where near what people think. There are unscrupulous travel tour companies who may only pay guides $5 a day when they should be renumerated fairly. You have to see the good, the bad and the ugly in tourism. I have seen terrible things while travelling which have made me very uncomfortable. During safaris in the Serengeti and all over Africa, you may see inexperienced drivers hurtling through a national park at 100 kilometres an hour because the tourists have a limited time. These drivers are paid $10 a day and rely on tips to feed their families. Yet tourists are not tipping them because they have not seen enough of the wildlife. This is unacceptable.

Q: You also help save animals. Can you tell us about the jaguar you helped rescue?

A: This happened some years ago in Northern Peru where poachers regularly hunt for jaguars to capture their cubs. The jaguar was illegally sold as a pet to a local who treated him like a house cat. The jaguar spent his time sitting on the sofa, watching television. I was helping a friend who worked for a not-for-profit agency which subsequently built a safe facility for the jaguar after it was confiscated from the owner by government conservation officers. He is now a grown and healthy jaguar, still living at the facility.

Q: Are you optimistic about the future of remote areas of our planet – and why?

A: I am a glass half-full type of guy. The world is an incredible and amazing place – it’s not all doom and gloom. That said, everyone should do their bit for wildlife conservation and habitat preservation. This involves making sure straws and plastic bags don’t end up in the sea, where they will end up killing wildlife. We as humans need to give the fragile habitats of our wildlife a break to allow them to recuperate and regenerate. I recently witnessed young colonies of coral growing on the Great Barrier Reef where it has been devastated by acidification. I have no idea whether the growth will continue but it was heartening to see nature trying to fight back. One success story I’ve had the privilege of viewing in the flesh recently as a result of conservation efforts and other external environmental impacts.

Find out more about National Geographic and Ponant ocean cruise expeditions here  – www.nationalgeographic.com.au/travel/ocean-cruise-expeditions

Follow him on Instagram @jasonedwardsng or check out his work at jasonedwards.co.