Category Archives: Conservation Photography

The Selfish Environmentalist: religion in Morocco and caring for the land

In the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco, abandonment of religious beliefs is transforming the wild.

High Atlas Mountains, Morocco (Photo/Jerzy Strzelecki)

For Morocco’s Amazig people, who long looked to their saints for guidance on how to manage their land, a loss of religion spells big changes for nature. Locals are shifting from a communal outlook to a more self-serving one, a switch that bears consequences for people and ecosystems alike, according to a new study in the journal Human Ecology. The study indicates that when people manage the land for themselves rather than the good of all, what’s here today could be gone, or at least different, tomorrow.

Historically, beliefs in local Islamic Saints encouraged a communal mindset when it came to managing resources in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco. For instance, in spring, the Amazig would often set some pastures off-limits, saving them for harder times, a practice known as Agdal.

But as the Amazig abandon tradition, a new environment begins to take shape. Pablo Dominguez from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in Spain and his colleagues observed and interviewed families from 80 households in Warzazt, Morocco, from 2003 to 2008. They found a close relationship between the loss of traditional religious beliefs and expansion of farmland and introduction of new sheep species.

The impacts of these practices are not yet fully understood, but one thing’s for certain, this study takes a fresh tack on natural resource management, emphasizing the ways religion plays a pivotal role in how cultures use and change their environment.


Craniac Country: Nebraska’s Sandhill Crane Migration

Two girls in a jeep rumble around the country roads of Nebraska to check out the spring sandhill crane migration and can’t believe their eyes. Be careful. Watching this might make you a craniac.

Backcountry trek to study Rocky Mountain National Park fish introductions

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At the risk of sounding arrogant, I have to say that I have one of the coolest jobs in the world. I work as the science writer for CIRES, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. My job doesn’t stop at writing about science. Being a photographer and multimedia producer play equal parts.

In this instance, I got to hit the trail with Jimmy McCutchan and Tommy Detmer, a couple of CIRES scientists studying the effects of fish introductions on formerly fishless lakes of Rocky Mountain National Park. Fish were introduced to support fly fishing from the 1800s until the 1960s. Now the National Park Service is working with CIRES to find out what’s happened to those lakes, knowledge that may help guide future management.

Their study also isn’t a bad way to work a little fly fishing into your science.

You can learn more about CIRES science at, or check out the CIRESvideos channel on


The Mangrove Forests of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula

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Along the Yucatan Peninsula, in a land of heat and drenching humidity thrives a rare mangrove ecosystem, important for coastal life and home to jaguarundi, hundreds of bird species and, yes, maybe a mosquito or two.  I hope you enjoy this short jaunt into the mangroves, sans the mosquitoes, near Celestun in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. One afternoon doesn’t do a place like this justice, but it is a glimpse into this vulnerable ecosystem that is increasingly under threat from climate change, deforestation, pollution and coral reef degradation.

Slow Speed Ahead with a vintage Nordic tug in Puget Sound

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When my parents first told me they’d bought a tugboat, I thought, “Who buys tugboats, I mean, for fun?”

Let my education begin. Turns out, there are legions of tugboat enthusiasts. (A good place to start learning about them is at the Tugboat Enthusiasts Society of the Americas.) And the one my parents bought — a vintage Nordic tug and the first of its kind — makes them rather popular at tugboat get-togethers.

My firsthand experience came with a trip back to Washington State to visit my family late last September. We went out for a day on Puget Sound for what was to be one of the best and coolest family outings I’ve ever experienced. Not only did we all have a blast, but we saw more than our fair share of wildlife including seals and killer whales. And the tugs mellow pace, a cool 9 knots or less, gave us ample opportunity to soak in the view. There’s something to be said for slowing down.

After seeing how much fun my parents were having, especially my dad, a retired Navy commander, I’m no longer hard-pressed to understand why people fall in love with tugs.

What is Conservation Photography?

You can tell when someone puts their heart into something. And young conservation photographer Hunter Nichols is one of those people. The camera is but a tool to help save a place that he loves, Alabama’s Cahaba River, an ecosystem falling apart under the stress of increasing urbanization.

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Conservation photography goes beyond iconic beauty shots of nature, connecting us with these places and their struggles for survival. Nichols not only takes us through a dream-scape river echoing with a cacophony of birds and wildlife, but shows us the active clear-cutting, new neighborhoods and environmental consequences of rapid urban sprawl. As Nichols says in his video, “we never miss something we never knew, but we suffer from what we’ve lost.”

Then again because of people like Nichols, we not only learn of the unknown places, but just might get to one-day experience them for ourselves. Watch this short video to see what Hunter is trying to protect, and learn a little something about conservation photography.

You can view more of Nichols’s work at

Photo Tour: Autumn at Sawhill Ponds

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For you naturephiles out there, there’s nothing like finding that local wildlife hotspot you can explore whenever the fancy takes you. For me, that place is Sawhill Ponds, a series of 18 reclaimed gravel pits that now support a wealth of interconnected habitats from meadow to woodlands and marshes. This busy microcosm offers more than a peaceful place to take a walk, no matter the season. There is an abundance of wildlife to enjoy, including owls, coyotes, waterfowl and frogs, and it’s all within a stone’s throw of downtown Boulder, Colo.

These images are part of a project documenting this wildlife refuge and its inhabitants through the year. Stay tuned in a couple of weeks for Sawhill Ponds: Winter.

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