Limestone islands off the coast of Thailand look like nothing more than hunks of rock to the untrained eye. Lucky for the rest of us, Bill Hutchins has a trained eye, a camera, and an adventurous spirit.
Some of the rock formations are hollow mountains called hong, which means "room" in Thai. Wind and rain have bored holes into the tops and sides of the rocks, and with sunlight streaming in, the caverns inside have evolved into lush, miniature forests with trees up to 100 feet high. Rivulets of water trickle down the walls of the hong, providing indoor plumbing for a thriving population of insects, snakes, lizards, and even monkeys.
"It was like a hidden, lost world," says Hutchins. "But from the outside you wouldn't know it's even in there." The 46-year-old has been globe-hopping for the past 20 years during summers off from his job as an environmental educator at Pine Jog Environmental Education Center in West Palm Beach. Each fall he presents environmentally themed slide lectures about his treks.
WPB Audubon Society
He snapped pictures last year while kayaking into Thailand's Swiss-cheese rocks, and the hong shots are included in his October 3 Wild Planet show, a photographic journey that includes stops in Belize, Cuba, West Africa, Australia, and Southeast Asia.
A Palm Beach County native, Hutchins has an affinity for the tropics, one of the most diverse yet rapidly deteriorating natural areas in the world. His slide shows are a form of environmental outreach. "I will mainly be showing them pretty pictures -- not a whole lot of shots of destruction, although there will be some -- to show them what's left to save," Hutchins notes.
So alongside slides of pristine mountains and jungles, he'll show one of a billboard in rural Cambodia. Placed near the edge of a corporate-owned forest, the sign depicts the company's future vision for the site: soldier-straight rows of cultivated palm oil trees and a hulking processing plant belching clouds of smoke.