Social media （especially Instagram） is fueling harm to nature as people engage in a “photo trophy hunt” for the perfect ‘gram shot. How can nature lovers use social media responsibly？
Stay On the Trail
Tourists using the California superbloom as photoshoot background， which damages native plants.
California experienced a rare super bloom in 2018 summer， when perfect rainfall conditions cause a mass－bloom of wildflowers across the state.
The event prompted a tourist frenzy， as it did back in 2017， with visitors racing to photograph the stunning orange and yellow hillsides.
Unfortunately， hundreds of thousands of tourists intent on snapping the perfect selfie trampled whole fields of flowers， many of them laying down amid the blooms.
Small towns fought back and attempted to protect their blooms by banning visitors.
Crushed flowers might not sound like much， but these blooms need to seed the next generation of plants. It’s just bad form to destroy nature for a selfie.）
In other places， your very footprints can harm the scenic views. In Death Valley， unsuspecting tourists often walk across the salt flats to photograph the incredible “sailing stones，” which move seemily by magic across the playa.
But after rain the salt flats turn to mud， and walking across them leaves deep footprints that can last for years， impeding the stones’ progress and ruining the shot for other photographers.
So stay on the trail. Please. It might mean you can’t get your ideal shot， but that limitation will force you to be more creative and will make you a better photographer.
Stop Geotagging ＆ Scrub GPS Data From Your Photos
Your social media post could get a rhino killed by poachers. Every time you take a photo， your iPhone or camera logs metadata with that image： the date， time， and GPS location， among other things.
That information is accessible to anyone who looks at the photo， say， on your Facebook or Flickr album. Which means poachers are just a few clicks away from their prey.
Scientists are grappling with similar issues. Herpetologists are notoriously careful about deleting metadata， lest illegal reptile collectors find and harvest those animals.
As academia moves towards open－access publishing， ecologists are struggling to decide how much location information to share about rare species.
They’re also having to guard their datasets： In India， poachers tried to hack into a database with GPS data from collared tigers.
The best thing you can do is to clean your photos before posting them.
We also have to worry about the geographic info we add to our social posts — called geotagging — which can put the beautiful places that we visit at risk.
In 2018， the Wyoming tourism board begged people to stop geotagging their photos.
After a few “influencers” posted geotagged shots of the pristine Delta Lake， visitors swarmed the surrounding trails and off the trail trying to “shoot engagement photos and hawk health supplements.”
Thankfully this is an easy one to fix： Just don’t geotag. Or if you do， choose a generic geographic marker （Grand Teton National Park） instead of the specific place （Delta Lake）.
Give Wildlife A Wide Berth”
Quokkas are Australia’s social media celebrity. These little marsupials have a permanent smile－like expression and little fear of humans， making them the perfect candidate for an adorable animal selfie.
Unfortunately， tourists intent on snapping their ＃quokka shot often bait animals with food or corral them into a photo， causing them stress and disrupting their daily foraging.
Approaching other species can have deadly consequences. Every few years， irresponsible tourists in Yellowstone National Park get too close to bison， and are lucky to escape with their lives.
So be smart around wildlife. Read local warning signs， take their instructions seriously， and don’t underestimate familiar species.
Don’t use flash a bright flash or play sounds to attract an animal to you. And never touch or feed wildlife， even if they beg.
Human food can cause health problems， and predators that become too acclimated to human presence （and food） are often killed.
Don’t Move Rocks
Stone stacks can harm wildlife， cause erosion， and disorient hikers.
We’ve all seen hiking summits crowned with cairns or a stack of wave－washed pebbles on a beach.
Moving rock or two might not seem like much， but over time it can create problems for wildlife. The trend risks destroying habitat for endangered hellbender salamanders in the southeastern US.
Stacks can also disrupt fish passage， destroy stream macroinvertebrate habitat， or squash shore－bird eggs. Stone removal also exposes soil and facilitates erosion.
Travel With Responsible Companies
If you’re like me， a lot of your photography happens while on vacation. But responsible nature tourism takes work. “Ecotourism” is like “organic” — the term is absolutely meaningless.
And take particular care with wildlife tours. Some nature photography tours use dangerous and unethical practices to get the wildlife close to you. Owl－baiting is one example， where the birds are tempted with live or toy mice.
The problem？ Those same birds become accustomed to the free meal and often forgo hunting to wait at the baiting site， or are hit by cars as they try to approach people for food.
So think carefully before booking an “interactive wildlife encounter.” Ask questions to make sure operators use a portion of their proceeds to support conservation or species protection.
If it looks like the entire process is engineered to get you a great photo， instead of observing wild animals in their natural habitat， think twice.
A final word of advice： think beyond the selfie bucket list.
So get out there and take a selfie… just be sure to care for nature along the way.
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