4 Instagram Trends that are Harming the Environment
Social Media can be a great tool for spreading awareness about environmental issues. A beautiful mountain picture may inspire people to donate to a park in need, a picture of a successful litter cleanup may spark a trend of thousands of people cleaning up a beach, and the right image may make a petition or environmental action go viral. But unfortunately, if something can change the world for the better it can also change it for the worse, and so there are also social media trends are detrimental to the environment. Today we’re going to look at four Instagram trends that are very much not good for the planet.
Building rock cairns, or stacking rocks into a tower, is a cultural practice seen around the world, including in ancient Tibet, Peru, Iceland, and Ireland. Balancing a small tower out of rocks can be meditative, entertaining, and beautiful. Unfortunately, it can also be destructive, and so rangers everywhere are begging instagrammers to stop doing it in parks and wildlife preserves. One stack of stones has a small impact on the environment, but with #rockstacking, #rockbalancing, and other similar hashtags going viral on Instagram the hobby has created quite a mess. Many species of small fish, lizards, insects, salamanders, mice, and so on live under or around rocks, especially the large flat rocks and smooth river stones commonly used by rock stackers, and so when hundreds of tourists are all trying to get the tallest, coolest, and most picture perfect rock sculpture this has a major impact on the environment. Moving rocks around also speeds up erosion, further disturbing habitats. There’s also a safety issue at work here. Park Rangers often stack rocks to mark trails for hikers, and so a random Instagrammer’s rock stack has the potential to mislead hikers off the trail. So please, if you enjoy stacking rocks just do it in your backyard, and leave the wildlife areas and national parks untouched.
Next up we look at a much more high tech problem, drone photography. Drone technology overall has actually been a wonderful thing for the environment, as it has allowed scientists and wildlife researchers unprecedented ways to monitor environmental health, spot poacher camps, and study previously inaccessible areas. But drone flying in national parks is banned for most visitors and for very good reasons. While it may be tempting to get that breathtaking aerial shot of the treetops or a mountain range, drones scare animals, cause noise pollution, and have been known to disturb nests. Famously a drone flown by a visitor at Zion National Park caused a herd of bighorn sheep to scatter, separating several young from the herd. In addition to the animal distress, drones also bother the visitors, get in the way of search and rescue operations, and bring up privacy concerns.
If a park says stay on the trail, then stay on the trail, no ifs, ands, or buts. This issue is the reason instagrammer PublicLandHatesYou decided to make their account, after watching what happened to Walker Canyon. The canyon is famous for its yearly poppy super bloom (pictured above), whose beauty has attracted visitors and Instagram influencers of all sorts to take photos of the area. Unfortunately, photos “of the area” were not enough and so a rapid influx of people taking photos in the fields themselves has had a major destructive effect on the flowers over the past five year, to the point where the park actually closed this year during the bloom. Even the people who weren’t stepping on the flowers to take the photos were still a problem, as that reinforces the “trail” created by the tourists, degrades the soil, and threatens to spill rocks down the hillside. The moral of this story is to respect the “stay on the trail” signs you see. You are not the one exception that’s allowed to go off trail to get the perfect shot, everyone needs to respect the park’s rules.
Finally, ever discover a relatively unknown restaurant or bar with the perfect chill vibes, only to come back to it a few years later to find that it’s now packed with people and so lost the atmosphere that made it cool in the first place? Geotagging is that but with much more important consequences than to your social life. Geotagging is the act of electronically posting the coordinates of a location you’ve been to on your social media, and while it may be a cool way to show your friends and followers what cool places you’ve been, they’re actually creating a big problem for the environment. Certain environments are delicate, and some parks and areas are not equipped to handle a large amount of visitors at a time. Geotagging has the potential to make random spots of wildlife go viral and quickly become crowded with tourists. It takes a lot of infrastructure and maintenance to make an area of wildlife able to accommodate thousands of tourists without harming the area through makeshift campsites, foot traffic, litter, human waste, trampled vegetation, and so on. Of course visiting interesting spots of nature is amazing and we encourage people to do it, but geotagging that location may spread the word faster than the wildlife can handle.