By Stephanie Wear, PhD, Senior Scientist & Strategy Advisor at The Nature Conservancy
The Nature Conservancy is hosting a photo contest this very important Earth Month – “What’s Your Nature?” – encouraging nature lovers around the world to participate by uploading their photos and stories, highlighting their connection to nature, and why it’s important to them. The submissions I’ve seen so far are fantastic and inspirational – epic scenery, incredible wildlife, and some pretty cute kids.
I’m so excited about "What’s Your Nature?" that I'm sharing my own submission.After all, I feel like I have the best job in the world, and would gladly shout it from the rooftops. I have daily opportunities to protect our earth’s natural treasures and educate people on the many ways nature can improve their lives – and I get to travel to some pretty incredible places.
Hope you enjoy my nature-loving life in photos!
Photo 1: Palau Coral Reef
I have spent the last 20 years studying and working to protect coral reefs. They are wild, weird, wonderful. Maybe they are even impossible to describe. I spend a lot of time explaining how cool they are, how important they are, how imperiled they are – I feel like I know them pretty well. Yet, few things delight or surprise me more than spending time nosing around on a reef.
Photo 2: Virgin Islands Mangrove
For me, nature provides an opportunity to explore and discover. Mangroves are the ultimate exploration experience. They are a lush tangle of branches, roots, birds, and crabs above the water, and below the surface they are full of secret hiding places for miniature versions of reef fish, lobster, and pretty much any creature you’d find on the reef. You never know what is going to pop out at you, and that is at least half of the fun. The best is when you come across a tiny barracuda – what looks quite menacing in the larger version is adorable when it is 3 inches long.
Photo 3: Palmyra Coconut Crab
I have been very fortunate in my nature encounters – getting opportunities to go places few ever go. This coconut crab, with its psychedelic colors and giant claws, is rare in most parts of the Pacific. But in the Palmyra Atoll, a thousand miles south of Hawaii, I was tripping over them at night when I forgot my flashlight. Places like Palmyra are truly spiritual experiences for me. Looking back on a day spent in a place like Palmyra usually makes me say “that was a good day on earth.” I have been lucky to have many of those days in my work.
Photo 4: Grove of the Patriarchs Fallen Tree
My family has a lot of annual rituals that involve nature. One of them is visiting the Grove of the Patriarchs at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state. We always climb this fallen giant and get a family photo. We spend most of the hike staring to the sky in complete awe of the giants around us – even though we have done it for many years now. These massive trees are important reminders to me of how short my life is on this planet relative to many other living things, how even though we are small and short-lived, we manage to have a big impact on this planet, and how important it is that we do everything we can to protect the giants that remain for generations to come.
Photo 5: Chasing Dolphins
The ocean evokes many things but the first thing I think of is joy. Even though I live near the ocean, we often forget to go to the beach! I took this photo on an unusually warm January day when we couldn't resist a visit to the beach. My kids were playing in tide pools when we noticed a huge pod of dolphins jumping in the waves. We chased them down the beach for twenty minutes until we got too tired to run. Joy was in abundance that day.
Photo 6: Summer Frog Hunting
Nature means family time. Since my children were toddlers, we have given them headlamps and tromped around at night looking for spiders, lizards, and frogs. This is a shot of my family heading out in early summer to hunt for frogs (always immediately released) – complete with snake boots, nets, and buckets. The joy and excitement of my daughter here says it all.