In the past week I’ve come across the discussion about the conflict between people enjoying nature any way and conservation of the same nature. Is it possible to protect nature and have people enjoy it at the same time? First I was asked to give a lecture in the largest biology teachers conference in the Netherlands. I’ve given a highly valued lecture for that conference before and for the next year they’ve asked some highlights of the previous 25 conferences to give another lecture. They gave the suggestion for a lecture with the subject whether it is a good thing to have commercial tours in the vulnerable Arctic. The second time I came across the same theme was at a discussion that preceded the presentation of the new Birdpix book, the 6th part already (this time without any of mine pictures). Before this presentation there was a discussion organized that dealt with the same question.

I think it’s good to have people visit nature. Whether it’s a park just around the corner or one of the true wilderness area’s like the Arctic, people must be able to enjoy it. Letting people enjoy nature creates a more solid basis for nature conservation. And I think photographers can even play a larger role in this, as they can tell their story to others with their pictures, creating even more awareness. On the other hand, certain area’s should be closed completely, giving nature the possibility to do its own thing undisturbed. This should be the case with vulnerable habitats, area’s with species who are easily disturbed or threatened.

Spitsbergen Reindeer - Rangifer tarandus platyrhynchus
Tourism vs. conservation


But of course, people who venture into nature should behave respectful. For this knowledge of the subject and its environment are important. If you want to prevent disturbance, you have to know the behaviour of your subject. Know what he will do and see the first signs of disturbance. If you know those, you can stop and retreat in stead of keep on taking pictures because “he’s behaving so funny at the moment”. Also some knowledge of its habitat can help. You don’t want to take pictures of an undisturbed dragonfly, but crushing twenty orchids on the way.

Now, how can we get that knowledge, we aren’t all biologists… Of course you could rent one and let him have the knowledge for you. This works very well in distant area’s like Spitsbergen or the Amazon, but less when you’re home. But the Dark Bluet excursion I joined in May is a very good example of bringing people into a vulnerable area without having too much impact. Otherwise it works to stay on the tracks. Most animals are used to people walking on tracks and there aren’t many plants to crush. But if you want to take pictures staying on the track doesn’t give too nice pictures all the time. If you have to leave the tracks, you have to be really careful. Don’t do it in very vulnerable habitat or in an area with many visitors (you might be very careful and not disturb anything, it also encourages others who might be less careful). And make sure you do know when and where to stop. This might mean you’ll have to read up on your subject, but I think that will lead to better pictures and of less disturbance, which are two good things.

What are your thoughts on this?? Let me know in the comments.

Arjen Drost

Arjen is a Polar ecologist, nature photographer and full time expedition guide on expedition cruise ships in both Polar regions. With his pictures and stories he likes to show the beauty of these very fragile and threatened places.

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