In the hot seat with Conservation Biologist Tolga Aktas12. 04. 2021
Tolga Aktas is a conservation biologist, writer and environmental photojournalist. We caught up with him on his work, his favourite Yogi shoes and Earth Day 2021.
Tell us about your work? What do you do and how did you get into it?
As a conservation biologist and environmental photojournalist, my biggest aim is to connect people to nature, and highlight some of the most relevant issues surrounding our natural world, climate, and fundamentally the whole planet. Whether it is working on the ground to protect endangered species of wildlife, advocating for the preservation of the Earth’s last wilderness areas, or simply drafting potential nature themed children books – all of this and more is what I consider work.
I have always been drawn to the natural world. I grew up on a farm in Northern Cyprus and visited to the countryside of Jamaica a lot during my childhood with my parents. Most of these experiences had a huge influence towards what I do today. However, during my youth I got distracted from my dreams to work with wildlife and ended up working in electrical engineering. I ended up eventually having a career change because this wasn’t the path for me, went through several other job fields after this, and finally decided to follow my dream career field. Here I am today to share this tale with anybody that is interested to listen. It’s been a journey indeed!
For World Mental Awareness Week in May 2021, the theme is the nature and environment. How important is the great outdoors to you?
The natural world and the greater outdoors are extremely important to me. They not only relieve me from any stress or social pressures that life may throw at me. But it is constantly providing us with environmental services and that in itself is very reassuring and allows me to be happy, awe-inspired and secure!
What has your favourite place to photograph (before the pandemic)?
A place called ‘Alladale Wilderness Reserve’ at Inverness in Scotland. It is an absolutely astonishing place with otherworldly landscapes, and the team there who are now my great friends are working tirelessly to restore the Highland’s lost ecosystems. I highly recommend visiting there when you get a chance and see the awesome conservation and rewilding work that is happening at the reserve. By far one of my favourite places I have ever taken photographs.
How has lockdown affected your work? Where have you been photographing in lockdown
It had impacted me quite a lot yes. Most of my work involves travelling around nationally and internationally. To be confined to my local area alone during the pandemic has had its challenges. However, fortunately for me during my years of university I have been living in the British Countryside around many counties in Gloucestershire.
World Earth Day 2021 focuses on restoring our earth. What steps do you take to make sure we have a healthy planet?
Ensuring that my footprint is as small as possible, whenever possible! Whether it is shopping locally, growing my own produce, saving water and electricity, reducing food waste, recycling waste sensibly and travelling by public transport. These are just a few of the many steps we can all take to ensure that we obtain a healthy planet. The planet is expected to have around 10 billion people by 2050. Imagine if we all decided to do these things and worked together towards a common goal – wouldn’t planet Earth be a pleasant place!
What does #GoFeetFirst mean to you?
For me personally, I believe it means putting an emphasis of care towards your feet. From obtaining the correct sizing, ensuring that comfortability is fully met, the way the shoes contribute towards great posture, all the way to how the shoes ground you and bring you closer to the Earth’s surface. Nowadays, I try to invest in things that truly contribute towards good values. By doing so, then you can truly understand the meaning of ‘everyday above ground is a good day.’
Describe your personal style:
I used to care about brands a lot when I was younger. Now all I care about is whether the products are sustainably made, the company treats their workers properly, and whether the clothing is not only comfortable – but they are built to last! My style nowadays is really simple: My Patagonia jacket, a decent backpack, a hat, a decent pair of footwear, my binoculars, my camera, and other pieces of clothing to match. I’d happily wear the same style over and over without getting bored of it.
Tolga wears Yogi Footwear Caden Shoes with recycled soles
What was the first item of clothing you ever bought for yourself?
That’s a tricky one! If I recall correctly then perhaps it was a pair of white Nike Air Force 1 trainers. I remember those were a big thing back when I was younger. It’s funny because I totally hate those brands now. Anything with less branding on it…the better!
Any faux-pas you'd rather forget...?
Volunteering to speak on behalf of my university group, where each and every one of them didn’t want to speak to the lecturer and the whole class during a Zoom call. It was all rushed and I thought I’d done a favour taking one for the team by volunteering. I ended up totally melting and everyone was witnessing it all in real time. Ha! Yeah, that was quite embarrassing, and I hope people have forgotten about it!
What's the most expensive thing you've ever bought, clothing-wise?
When I was working as an apprentice electrical engineer at a place called Harrods in London, I was surrounded by luxury brands on a daily basis. It was quite dangerous actually! I ended up buying a Corneliani jacket worth £700. I obviously got a discount, but to this date that was the most expensive piece of clothing I have ever purchased, and the scary thing is that I do not even have it anymore. I have a rule now where all of my stuff should be ‘Built to Last’ and sustainably made. Products should be made to outlast you – that is when you know it will and has paid for itself.
How do you style your Yogi shoes?
Rolled up trouser legs, a baser layer of various kinds, and my Patagonia industrial hemp Barn Coat.
What do your Yogi shoes say about you?
That I care about the planet, its resources, the production of the products, and the care received to the people that craft these beautiful shoes.
Yogi was born in the 90s, what were you doing, what were you wearing and what were you listening to back in the day?
Well, I was born in 1993, so I was perhaps a part of the lucky bunch where our mothers dressed us in anything and everything. I have evidence man, there was no such thing as swagger back then. Not sure what I was listening to, but I do know I was certainly watching a lot of wildlife documentaries by the Late Steve Irwin ‘The Crocodile Hunter’ and the legend himself…Sir David Attenborough!
This season you'll be wearing...
Various kinds of sustainable clothing lines that I have acquired over the past two years. I have donated so many clothes to charity now, so all the clothes I have now are everything I ever need to wear. As the Spring season approaches, perhaps a light jacket, a t-shirt, chinos, and my Yogi shoes or hiking boots.
What fragrance do you wear?
Malin + Goetz ‘Cannabis’; Dior ‘Savage’; and Mont Blanc ‘Explorer’.
Which is the best dressed nation?
The United Kingdom brings so many people from all kinds of ethnicities, religions and places. Having such diversity here in this nation and experiencing it all my life has allowed me to embrace many cultures and admire different fashion styles. It is difficult to say as I like them all, but if I had to narrow it down then I’d say Africa. I love the colours and styles that are incorporated into their unique clothing ranges.
If you enjoyed this, why not read our article on how gardening can help with Mental Health here.