Sydney Haney, a senior in Virginia Tech's Fish and Wildlife Conservation department is exploring Virginia's hidden biodiversity with the support of a MAOP Global Change Scholarship. Her journey began in high school when she attended the North American Nature Photography Association’s (NANPA) High School Summit at the Tremont Institute, where she discovered her passion for conservation photography. Immersed in a week of learning alongside fellow enthusiasts and guided by professional conservation scientists and photographers, Sydney found inspiration to wield her camera for environmental awareness and conservation efforts.

Now, under the mentorship of Sally Entrekin from the Global Change Center, Sydney aims to bridge the gap in public awareness regarding Virginia's unique biodiversity. Her project, titled Virginia's Endemic and Threatened Species, focuses on showcasing the state's unique and threatened species through a series of detailed photo cards. “To me, the best way to connect people and get them to care is to allow them to see the species,” said Sydney. She elaborates that the cards can help people “appreciate something they may not have previously known about.” Sydney believes this approach can inspire interest and action towards sustainability and conservation, which is her ultimate goal of the project.


front and back of photo card of a salamander
The photo card project was inspired when Sydney captured a photo of the Dixie Caverns Salamander, igniting her interest in Virginia's endemic, threatened, and endangered species. Sydney hopes that the photo cards will, "serve as a reminder that Virginia is a biodiverse place full of unique and beautiful flora and fauna that rely on both scientists and the public to make decisions that will conserve their habitats."


When asked to share a specific moment during her photography project that left a lasting impression, Sydney recounted her opportunity to go snorkeling in Southwest Virginia with the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR). Immersed at eye-level with imperiled species, Sydney witnessed the richness of Southwest Virginia, renowned as a hotspot for endangered and threatened aquatic species, including mussels, darters, and snails. Reflecting on this experience, Sydney remarked, “The DWR staff were very generous by inviting me along and identifying species for me - it showed me the importance of a good community of scientists and how impactful including outsiders (like me) can be!”


Tori interviewing a person.
Sydney’s project received support from a GCC/MAOP Global Change Scholarship, which contributed to the documentation of the Cumberlandian Combshell and other endangered and threatened aquatic species.


Her next objective for the project is to incorporate the photos into a book, saying, “In a goal-setting exercise I did a few years ago, I wrote that I wanted to make a photo book by the time I turned 25 as a loose goal to work towards.” In the book, she intends to include more in-depth information than the summaries on the back of the cards. This will involve sharing stories of pursuing the photographed species, insights from conservationists, and additional scientific information. Sydney also plans to host a local exhibition of the photos to engage the community in visual storytelling, stating, "Letting people see will be the catalyst for change." She aims to use her images to strengthen the bond between the audience and Virginia's biodiversity.

Reflecting on her self-guided undergraduate research project, Sydney acknowledges the impact of the MAOP Global Change Scholarship. In addition to the financial assistance provided by the GCC, it helped her shape the project, set goals, and validate its significance, boosting her confidence and networking abilities. She feels certain that she will continue pursuing photography wherever she ends up, with her dream job being to make a living by exploring wild environments, photographing them, and telling their stories. Beyond photography, Sydney plans to attend graduate school after a few gap years, focusing on fire ecology or a related subject. She is particularly interested in learning more about techniques for restoring habitats for threatened species and ultimately hopes to assess impaired habitats and restore them.


Haney with her camera

Learn more about Sydney Haney by visiting her website, exploring this Department of Fish and Wildlife student spotlight, or watching the Virginia Tech video featuring her photography work.