Violent clashes in Antarctica's Southern Ocean between 'eco-pirates' and Japanese whaling ships have crescendoed alarmingly in recent years.
Antarctica - the world's only continent with no native human population - was set aside as an international scientific preserve in 1961 with the signing of the antarctic Treaty. 47 countries have signed the agreement, which among other things bans all military activity, except for peaceful or research purposes.
But the bottom of the world remains far from peaceful. Since 2002, Sea Shepherd - a radical spin-off of environmental group Greenpeace - has aggressively harassed Japanese ships which sail its icy waters each summer hunting whales.
The self-styled, modern-day 'eco-pirates' assert the whaling fleet's activities are illegal under a 1986 international ban on commercial whaling. Japan, in turn, insists its operations are for "scientific research", accusing the activists of ecoterrorism.
While both parties claim non-violence, each has used everything short of conventional firearms to attack the other, including lasers, water cannons, LRAD acoustic weapons, and metal shrapnel. In Jan. 2010, the annual clashes climaxed when a Japanese harpoon ship ran over a Sea Shepherd speedboat on the high seas, cutting it in two and sinking it to the Antarctic seafloor. Onboard crew suffered injury, but narrowly escaped death. Both sides rigorously blamed each other for the collision.
Loss of human life has so far been avoided, but the coming 2010-2011 whaling season threatens to be the most hazardous yet. Sea Shepherd has vowed to return to Antarctica with bigger, faster ships, and Japan, having already invested over $15 million in ship "defenses", adamantly insists it will continue hunting, defying even legal action by Australia in the International Court of Justice at The Hague.
I spent the 2009 whaling season documenting the sea battles from aboard Sea Shepherd's ships. With no independent, international observers able to cover the conflict, POYi's Emerging Vision Incentive would help fund my endeavor to continue photographing this unfolding story during the coming 2010 whaling season.
Having gained acceptance from Sea Shepherd's controversial Captain Paul Watson and his crew, I will continue my independent work from their vessels. In addition, I propose this season to spend time photographing from the opposite perspective - embedded with whaling crews onboard Japanese ships.
My hope is not that these photographs will provide easy answers to the whaling controversy, but raise ethical questions on both sides. Whether hunting continues in the name of science or cultural sovereignty, I hope the body of work will spark international awareness, forcing the global community to confront tough solutions to an issue which it has so far dragged its feet on.
I believe the cost of doing nothing while conflict spirals out of control one of the last remaining, liquid Serengetis on Earth, outweighs any diplomatic pains that may await us.
This image: Crew brace themselves on the bow of Sea Shepherd ship, the M/Y Steve Irwin, as it plunges through Antarctic swells on Friday, Jan. 9, 2009. Sea Shepherd (a radical offshoot of environmental group Greenpeace) sailed Antarctica's Southern Ocean for three months clashing with Japanese whaling ships, which they accuse of hunting commercially under the guise of "scientific research." Japan insists its operations are legal, according to a loophole in a 1986 international whaling ban.