Hidden in Plain Sight
Young photographer and explorer Matthew Cicanese’s images capture invisible worlds filled with exotic wildlife and stunning landscapes, all right under our noses. You just have to know how to see them
AsNational 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.
1. Bryologist Karen Golinski and her research assistant Spencer Goyette (far right) on the shoreline of Graham Island, the largest in Haida Gwaii.
2. East Limestone Island has been stripped of grass by Sitka deer (introduced in the 1890s as game), allowing a wide variety of moss to flourish.
3. A wide-angle shot on East Limestone shows moss’s typical lush coverage. Wavy-leaved cotton moss, Plagiothecium undulate, is in the foreground.
4. Moving in closer reveals the island’s rich plant diversity, including alpine haircap (Polytrichastrum alpinum) and fan moss (Rhizomnium glabrescens).
5. This extreme close-up of fan moss shows its splash cups, tiny bowls on the shoots that use a drop’s force to increase fertilization.
6. A red velvet mite (Trombidium sp.) explores the intricate leaves of badge moss (Plagiomnium insigne), found throughout western North America.
7. Shot very close up, alpine haircap evokes spiral galaxies in miniature. A common moss, it is found in temperate to cool latitudes around the world.
8. Close up, Rhytidiadelphus loreus resembles a coniferous forest thousands of times larger. Known as lanky moss, it is found in North America and Europe.
9. The spherical capsules in the heads of fat bog moss (Sphagnum papillosum) each contain more than 150,000 spores that are explosively discharged.
10. In her continuing search for rare mosses, bryologist Karen Golinski examined hundreds of specimens during her August expedition to Haida Gwaii.
11. A view of sporophytes on Splachum ampullaceum, better known as cruet dung moss because in northern peatlands it grows on the scat of large herbivores.
12. Paydirt! Karen Golinski found this rare example of Daltonia moss (Daltonia splachnoides) on Moresby Island. It was last observed in Canada in 1971.
Young photographer and explorer Matthew Cicanese, who is visually impaired, Halda Gwall last summer In search of exotic moss. The images he visited created capture invisible worlds filled with exotic wildlife and stunning landscapes, all right under...