Leave No Trace

In so many ways, photographers have the responsibility to document and encourage best practices for a sustainable future.

I wish the national park didn’t have to build so many fences. But they do. And people still jump over them for various reasons.

The sand dunes surrounding Prince Edward Island are delicate. They are held together by marram grass and when that grass dies or is uprooted from foot traffic, the root system is weakened and the dune’s biggest defense against wind erosion is lost.

It doesn’t matter how many signs are posted, climbing and sliding the dunes is a popular activity.

Shoreline birds are at risk and the Piping Plover is endangered. The park restricts dogs on select beaches to prevent nesting disruptions but on any given day, you can be on those beaches with a dog off-leash running free.

Not unique to Prince Edward Island, but feeding wildlife is a dangerous,  irresponsible but common activity. Heavy fines are not even enough of a deterrent to even be discrete about it.

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Plastics and garbage not disposed of properly find the way back to dens and become chewing objects. In this case, a plastic toy snake.

How many dog-dropping pickup bags do I need to see tied to fences and trees? I appreciate that the owner made the effort to bag it but who are they expecting to collect them? Bagging feces in plastic and leaving it as tree ornaments is worse than not picking it up in the first place.

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We can all respect the environment just a little bit better and should be actively talking about how to do so.

What role does a photographer play in the political spectrum?

In 2019, a small group of photographers branded under the identity Nature First started to encourage that necessary conversation within the photography community using a few defined principles designed to prioritize the well-being of nature over photography.

“Help conserve the places we love and photograph through wise use, education, outreach, community, and research.”

And although the group is targetted directly at the behavior of landscape photographers, I feel it could and should extend to the general public who views our images.

Let’s be clear. Principles are not rules. This isn’t a policing endeavor. It is a way to remind ourselves to think about cause and effect.

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As co-author of the book “A Photographer’s Guide to Prince Edward Island”, I’m well aware of the risk of publishing location data. I, like many others, enjoy learning of new locations and I’ll not be hypocritical about suggesting we should never share. We all want to experience locations and in no way, do I feel entitled enough to keep it a secret. But we should consider how we share and what potential impact can result from that sharing. That might be a sensitive farmers field or a fox den unable to handle a crowd of people swarming it.

Prince Edward Island has a population of 150,000 but sees 1 million visitors during the tourism season. Having now been to Greenland 4 times in the past 5 years and feeling a bit guilty of being part of the tourism growth, it’s easy to see the changes in a short amount of time. Larger visitors centers, bigger airports, and an overall bigger tourism presence.

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When I first went to Iceland in 2012, we were alone on beaches and traveling down unpaved roads. When I returned to those favorite places 5 years later, the roads were paved, they were charging an entrance admission and there was a cafe coffee shop. It was far from the remote feeling I remembered.

I’m a big supporter that experience is more valuable than owning material items, so it does feel a bit odd to encourage seeing the world while preaching too much foot traffic can be bad... As the world population endlessly grows, we need to learn to behave appropriately and be aware of our actions.

We can do better. The world deserves better.

Together, we can make a difference by being mindful.

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