When Deborah Albert's photo of a Gentoo Penguin parent with its chick took Grand Prize in the 2017 Audubon Photography Awards, she won more than just the respect of the hundreds of photographers who also submitted photos. She also took home $5,000.
But instead of using that money to upgrade her equipment or go on a once-in-a-lifetime birding trip, Albert, who lives in Wilmington, North Carolina, decided to donate it. According to StarNews Media in Wilmington, Albert gave every penny of her winnings to the SkyWatch Bird Rescue and Conservation Center, where she currently serves on the board and has been an active volunter for the last four years. SkyWatch rescues and rehabilitates about 3,000 birds each year. The center then either releases them or keeps the recovered birds on its 10-acre sanctuary in Castle Hayne, North Carolina.
Speaking with StarNews, Albert says that she has always been passionate about wildlife. Ironically, though, she found photography to be a distraction from the experience of observing nature. But then a friend convinced her to get her first DSLR camera before a 2010 trip to Brown Bluff, Antarctica. The photographs she took during that trip would prove fateful. Seven years later, Albert submitted the touching Gentoo Penguin shot that she took on that trip to this year's APAs.
Describing the story behind the shot to Audubon, Albert set the scene for the winning photo: “We were walking along the beach and, as the group moved on, I noticed this penguin in a nest made of rocks. I watched for a long while and, finally, one chick appeared. I took many shots, but this one, with the parent leaning down, touched me the most—the warmest love in the coldest place. Beginner’s luck, I guess.”
Albert says her outlook on photography did a complete 180 after her trip to Antarctica. She now believes it brings “greater awareness of wildlife on our planet and the need to start doing things to save wildlife,” she told StarNews. Albert is doing more than her part on that front. In addition to her time spent volunteering with Skywatch and donating her APA winnings, Albert also has a website where she sells her photographs and donates 100 percent of the proceeds to SkyWatch.