Shenzhen's biodiversity through Isaac Cohen's lens

Writer: Liu Xudong, Wang Haolan  |  Editor: Liu Minxia  |  From: Shenzhen Daily

Discover Shenzhen

On a 1,997-square-kilometer plot of land known as Shenzhen, nature is thriving.


The lush Tanglang Mountain. Photos by Liu Xudong unless otherwise stated

The coming of the autumn and winter seasons witnessed the return of migratory birds. On the mudflats near the Shenzhen Bay Park Metro Station, countless numbers of birds gathered and foraged at low tide, as did wildlife enthusiasts with their binoculars and telephoto cameras. Several expats, including Colombian biology teacher Isaac Cohen, were also among them. They nodded greetings to the local photographers and then joined them in hours of waiting and searching for the birds.

每到秋冬季节,深圳湾地铁站旁的河口聚满了迁徙的候鸟,也吸引了众多野生动物爱好者。在一众“长枪短炮”之中,几副外国面孔格外引人注目。与身旁的鸟友简单点头致意后,他们便拿出相机,投入到长达数个小时的等待与寻找之中。来自哥伦比亚的高中生物老师Isaac Cohen就是他们当中的一员。

A disguised Isaac Cohen takes photos in Shenzhen in this undated photo.

Isaac Cohen takes photos during a visit to the Fairy Lake Botanical Garden last year.

In spite of being the rapidly developing and young metropolis that it is, Shenzhen is still home to a rich variety of animals and plants. According to a relevant investigation conducted by the Shenzhen Municipal Planning and Natural Resources Bureau, Shenzhen has recorded 585 species of terrestrial vertebral animals, including 15 species of the nation’s first-class protected animals, such as the pangolin, black-faced spoonbill and the small Indian civet, as well as 78 species of second-class protected animals including the white-throated kingfisher, Chinese hwamei, black-throated laughing thrush, collared scops owl, black kite, and the Western osprey. The city has also recorded a total of 2,086 species of terrestrial plants, including two species of the nation’s first-class protected plants and 33 species of second-class protected plants.


The Shenzhen Mangrove Nature Reserve, south of Futian District.

Yet in Cohen's lens, the statistics on Shenzhen’s biodiversity are more vividly displayed in the form of photos: a great cormorant hunts flathead grey mullets; a male common kingfisher catches a fish as a gift for its future spouse; a white-leaped tree viper devours a tree frog; a black-faced spoonbill shows off its yellow crest during the breeding season; a great egret is observed in its tutu like dress-breeding plumage; a singing Chinese hwamei; a nocturnal collared scops owl; an elusive greater coucal; a massive fish owl; a hidden Indian forest skink; a defensive banded bullfrog; the dimorphous Daurian redstart; a yellow bittern pretends to be a reed; a juvenile pheasant-tailed jacana forages in a water lettuce pond…Cohen, specialized in biology, has been able to record the local species and biodiversity of Shenzhen from both subjective and scientific perspectives. He also printed his photos and posted them in his classroom to help his students better understand the city’s amazing and diverse nature.


Isaac Cohen takes photos of local wildlife during field trips to parks in the city.

Cohen also keeps posting photos and articles on his social media account and on local media outlets, educating citizens on ecological equilibrium, bird migration, water resources conservation and released animals.


Isaac Cohen lectures in his class.

Last July, Cohen started to publish his wildlife photos and articles in Shenzhen Daily’s weekly “Discover Shenzhen” column. The contents were also published on the newspaper’s new media platforms, attached with Chinese translations and recordings read by Cohen himself. The column has gained much popularity since its launch. The articles were not only reposted several times by the “Shenzhen Release” official WeChat account, but also get published on the Shenzhen channel of the “” app starting last November, which is the first time for an expat in Shenzhen to open a column on the platform.

2021年7月,Cohen在英文《深圳日报》的纸媒及新媒体平台上开设了《Discover Shenzhen》(《发现深圳》)生态专栏周刊,撰写深圳本地物种科普图文。除刊发文章外,新媒体平台亦丰富了中文译文及由Cohen朗读的音频。该专栏自启动以来引发广泛社会关注,不仅得到“深圳发布”微信公众号的频繁转发,还于去年11月1日登上“学习强国”APP深圳学习平台,成为深圳首位在“学习强国”平台上开辟专栏的外籍人士。

A photo of Isaac Cohen's "Discover Shenzhen" column on Shenzhen Daily's public WeChat ccount.

Cohen is in close touch with local biologists and scholars. Last July, he visited the Youxi Valley and Shades Garden of Fairy Lake Botanical Garden at the invitation of Dr. Zhang Li, a local bryologist who won the Grolle Award 2021. He also made several nighttime visits to Meilin Mountain with local nature and history scholar Nan Zhaoxu to observe nocturnal species.


Last July, he visited the Youxi Valley and Shades Garden of Fairy Lake Botanical Garden at the invitation of Dr. Zhang Li, a local bryologist who won the Grolle Award 2021. Wang Haolan

During the past migratory season, Shenzhen not only witnessed the return of many common species of ducks, shorebirds, cormorants, and gulls, but was also visited by some rarely-seen species including the great knot, Eurasian hoopoe, American wigeon, Baikal teal, whiskered tern, pheasant-tailed jacana, plumbeous water redstart, purple heron, greater scaup, and the common pochard. While keeping a close eye on birdwatching news with his friends, Cohen also kept recording local amphibians, reptiles and insects to enrich his biological encyclopedia as well as to collect more writing materials for his column. He hopes to publish all of his articles as a book and to show to the world the beauty of Shenzhen.

2021年的候鸟季,深圳不仅迎来了野鸭、鸻鹬、鸬鹚、海鸥等老朋友,也见证了大滨鹬、戴胜、绿眉鸭、花脸鸭、须浮鸥、水雉、红尾水鸲、草鹭、斑背潜鸭、红头潜鸭等少见鸟类的光临。Cohen与朋友一直密切关注着本地鸟讯,在观鸟的同时也兼顾记录着本地的两爬、昆虫等生物,一边丰富着自己的物种知识储备,也为《Discover Shenzhen》专栏积累素材。他的愿望就是将这些资料集结出版一本关于深圳本土生物的科普读物,把这座城市的美丽传递给世界上所有的人。

Two great egrets in Shenzhen Bay.

A damselfly captured at Bijia Mountain Park.

An insect captured at Shenzhen Mangrove Nature Reserve.

At school, Cohen is popular among his students. His photos were auctioned at a charity bazaar at his school’s last year’s Christmas carnival.


Local expats pose with Isaac Cohen's photos they bought at a charity bazaar at his school.

Cohen’s wildlife photos have been recognized and commended thanks to his outstanding photography skills, deep understanding of animal behavior and rich biology knowledge. At last year’s Third Expats Eye Shenzhen Photo Contest, he submitted a photo series entitled “Wildest Shenzhen” that contains 10 photos showing the “wildest” behaviors of animals such as hunting and mating, and won first prize of the contest’s nature category. 


Issac Cohen at the awards ceremony of the Third Expats Eye Shenzhen Photo Contest in Bao'an District.

(From L) Francisco Vergara from Chile, Isaac Cohen from Colombia and Ashley Main from the U.K. pose for a selfie at the awards ceremony in Bao'an District.

Selected photos from Cohen's first-prized "Wildest Shenzhen" series

Shenzhen's biodiversity through Isaac Cohen's lens