The Power of Pictures to Promote Conservation

Photography can communicate the beauty and fragility of nature. It can also help build a movement to save it.

My mother is a librarian, and I’m an unabashed nerd, and so I relished the recent excuse to dig deep into the hardbound volumes that make up Audubon magazine’s archives. I was looking for the first issue I worked on when I arrived as a senior editor, in 2001, and when I found it, facts about the perilous state of Florida’s Everglades came rushing back. 

At the time, this iconic ecosystem was in dire straits: Wading bird numbers had dropped 90 percent over the preceding century. And while a multibillion-dollar federal/state plan to restore the wetland’s natural water flow had just been passed, the Everglades’ future was very much an open question. “No one knows if any of this will really work,” we wrote then, “whether the wildlife will actually rebound.” 

This issue holds—finally, tantalizingly—evidence that the answer is “yes.” As you’ll see in our story about the recent Everglades breeding boom, wading birds have responded to last year’s heavy rainfall, one that mimicked the region’s past hydrology, in tremendous numbers. The phenomenon, as captured through the lens of photographer Mac Stone, is stunning.

It is this promise that brought me back to Audubon recently, after nearly a dozen years at other science magazines: Birds and ecosystems can rebound, if people understand their value and are motivated to help save them. Environmental journalism, of which this magazine has long been a standard-bearer, plays a critical role in securing that future—as does the organization, with its impassioned staff and vast network of members and partners. 

In 2001, as now, Audubon knew the power of compelling visuals in making the case for protecting birdlife and its habitat. The 2018 Audubon Photography Awards provides further proof of that, while also demonstrating this power is wielded not only by professionals but also legions of young and amateur photographers.

Of course, a sustainable conservation movement is not built solely on pictures of animals (even exquisite ones). In the very first story I edited for Audubon, a couple recounted that during visits to 14 national parks, they had seen only two other African Americans. Their experience is echoed in Teresa Baker's essay on diversity, kids, and the outdoors, which points out that images in social media can help make wilderness more welcoming to everyone. 

For all of these reasons, and more, I am thrilled to return to a publication and organization I have long admired—and to be here, at the helm of the content team, at a time when our work matters more than ever. 

This story originally ran in the Summer 2018 issue of Audubon as The Power of Pictures. To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.