Growing up in a mountain town, Sabana de Mendoza, on the edge of Los Andes in Venezuela, Jose Sosa had experienced what life in the hills had to offer: heat, plains, mountains, and farms.

When he was six years old, he observed the turquoise blue waters of the ocean for the first time. When he, his aunt, and his grandparents ventured from their homeland hills to Morrocoy National Park, he was immediately struck by the ocean’s hue (impossibly blue at high noon).

Though young Jose was initially frightened by the secrets of the ocean and its abundance of rocky coral outcroppings, he soon became accustomed to the water and has since enjoyed snorkeling in the warm, shallow waters. In fact, the park became so popular with his family (as with many Venezuelans), that they returned every year, always to the same beach. Though Morrocoy is easy on the eyes (to say the least), Sosa became eager to explore the rest of the park, to see what else the protected area had to offer.

His mother and father, in agreement, negotiated with one of the many boat drivers who ferry tourists to the various cays (tiny, sandy islands). Their accommodating driver showed them all of what Morrocoy had to offer. Jose’s favorite was a cay called Los Juanes, where the water was especially crystalline. As he and his family swam around thickets of mangrove trees, Jose noticed movement in the water, eventually realizing that schools of fish also populated the area, taking refuge in the roots of the mangroves that acted as their own underwater fortresses.

This spirit of adventure characterizes much of Jose’s visits to the park. While his parents enjoyed laying on the white sand beaches and wading in the warm water, Jose prefered to venture to cay after cay in search of beautiful vistas and hidden hikes. His desire to explore also produces some beautiful photography.

Jose is modest when he talks about his photography — he doesn’t do it professionally, but it is something he really enjoys. His fascination with documentation dates to five years ago when he spontaneously bought a Nikon DSLR and began photographing everything he could. Morrocoy’s natural beauty is both inspiration for Jose and a perfect subject because of its diversity of landscapes.

And while Morrocoy is a haven in its own right, it is not impervious to the troubles of the rest of the country, nor is it removed from global environmental issues.

Venezuela has been embroiled in a serious economic crisis over the last three years and, as a result, the country has experienced food shortages, unemployment and salary cuts, general outrage with leadership, and riots.

Jose noticed the economic downturn had affected tourism to Morrocoy’s pristine beaches and had been difficult on the people who rely on visitors for their livelihoods. In the neighboring towns of Chichiriviche and Tucacas, those who run hotels and restaurants found themselves scraping the bottom of the barrel as tourism to the area slowed to a trickle. Though Venezuelans still choose to visit, they are less likely to shell out their earnings for the accommodations and restaurants, and some even started bringing their own food along to cut costs.

While the economic state of Venezuela is certainly altering the visitor scene to Morrocoy, so is the climate. Jose can remember a particular cay from his childhood that he enjoyed playing on — it was sun-soaked because it didn’t have any mangroves or palm trees, a tiny haven, a spot of sand in the sparkling blue sea. But he didn’t have much time to appreciate its beauty. When Jose returned to the park six years later, the cay didn’t exist any longer. It had been submerged under water. Jose is convinced that the disappearance of the cay is a result of rising tides; a surefire sign of global warming and a sobering reminder that climate change does happen close to home for many.

Though he has since moved from his family’s ancestral home in Los Andes to the city of Barquisimeto, where he attended college, he still visits Morrocoy with his family.

Perhaps it was these ventures, initiated when he was just a child, that sparked the sense of adventure that has remained into his adult life. Escaping the economic situation in Venezuela is of high priority for Jose (it is too difficult to work, save money, and travel the world from his home country). He’d like to travel to Europe and backpack freely across borders. But, because of the beauty he found in Morrocoy, he knows there is still much more to see in his home country.