Refined wildlife photography

Materials World magazine
1 Mar 2017

While disused oil refineries have long seen returning wildlife flourish, Juan Jesús González Ahumada’s Refinery Refuge reveals the tenacity with which some animals endeavour to claim territory.

Striking wildlife photography is not often the first thing one thinks about when considering the Gibraltar-San Roque oil refinery, owned and operated by CEPSA. However, for Juan Jesús González Ahumada, the ‘noisy, polluted and constantly floodlit’ oil refinery was the ideal place to capture a pair of storks that had chosen to nest on nearby electricity pylons, despite the constant threat of electrocution from collision.

Storks often return to the same nest sites throughout their lives, and Ahumada returned several times. ‘The billowing emissions […] highlighted against the dark storm clouds’ presented the perfect photo opportunity.

There are numerous instances of wildlife flourishing in disused and abandoned oil refineries including Rainham Marsh in Essex, UK. Asphalt bases and roads were put into place in preparation for an oil refinery that was never completed, and the site was abandoned in 1973. Now a protected nature reserve, Rainham Marsh is home to more than 1,400 species.

It is rarer, however, for animals to repeatedly nest at active sites. The CESPA Gibraltar-San Roque refinery, the largest in the Iberian Peninsula, open since 1967, has a daily crude oil processing capacity of 240,000 barrels.

Ahumada’s photo, Refinery Refuge, is an entry in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 competition, developed and produced by the National History Museum, London. Several of his photos feature in the competition’s exhibition, now open in select museums across the UK.