Social Media is filled to the brim with gorgeous photos of places all over the world. Locations that are perhaps on your wish list ( I know a lot of them are on mine!), places you’ve never even heard of, and maybe even some places close to where you live. These photos are meant to make you want to see those spots. And they do! We want a chance to see those spots with our own eyes. For those of us who love to explore, there is always the allure of discovering somewhere new, long before social media came along. The joy of doing a long day hike to find a spot you never even knew existed. And once we find places we love, many of us also enjoy sharing those places with others. We want them to experience the same joy we felt, the same peacefulness. But what happens when you tell someone about your favourite spot, and then they tell five other people, and then someone posts it on their Instagram and 5000 other people see it?
Well, we’re starting to find out. There have been a growing number of cases of people sharing photos of a beautiful location on social media, but now with the speed and reach of information, some of these once secluded places are now being overrun by selfie-obsessed tourists. Some of these tourists are respectful, staying on designated paths and following posted signs. However, many tourists are not and it’s the environment that is paying the price for all of these selfies. Before social media, if you wanted to see a new spot, you needed to research, you had to plan, you had to hike and work for those spots. They weren’t simply handed to you with Instagram posts, hashtags, and geotagging. With social media on the scene, it is opening up these delicate and precious locations to a different kind of audience. Now, you don’t necessarily have to be an outdoor enthusiast to find those perfect spots. No more preparing, planning, exploring, getting lost, sweating, or effort of any kind. Social media has made the outdoors accessible to the lovers of instant gratification, where all you need to do is check out the latest social media feeds to discover a collection of these spots just waiting for you. With this new ability comes a new group of people who are now heading into nature with no real understanding or awareness of how delicate nature can be, or how lasting a person’s destruction of it is. These individuals often regard nature as more of their own personal playground rather than the sensitive and essential environment that it is.
Thinking of opening your farm property up to visitors? You may want to think again…
Nature encompasses so many things, from hiking trails, to mountains, to oceans, to rivers, and so many other wonders! But we also have many amazing farms and land in Ontario, and sometimes we’re lucky enough to be allowed to experience some of those places. Sadly, it seems that social media is helping to ruin these wonderful opportunities. For instance, a Lavender Farm called Terre Bleu in Milton, Ontario had opened up to the public so that people could roam the lavender fields and purchase items from their farm store. However, as tourists began to abuse the privilege by detroying the lavender, the farm was forced to beg tourists and selfie seekers to stop trampling the flowers in their search for the perfect photo.
People seem to get the idea that if you open your property to the public, it means you lose all rights to protect your property and you give free rein to the public to do whatever they want. Well, guess what? That’s not the case! That would be like you inviting friends over, and then being okay with them breaking all your things and ruining your house, because, you know – you invited them over, right? It’s a ridiculous notion to think we have some right to destroy the environment and someone’s livelihood for the sake of our own selfish interests.
A sunflower farm in Hamilton, Ontario had a similar experience, when the farm owners opened up their farm for visitors to come see the sunflowers. At first things started out wonderfully, meeting new people, about 150 on the first day and easy for the farm to manage. Everyone was respectful and careful around the flowers. And then eight days in, their farm was being tagged on social media, and the posts went viral. The farm owners were completely unaware of what was about to happen.
They had intended to allow viewing of the flowers for two weeks, but about nine days in, on a Saturday that they thought would like any other, there were approximately 7000 visitors in one day. 7000 people trampling the flowers, putting bags down on the plants, picking flowers to take selfies with. They were destroying the fields. The police ultimately had to be called, the main road was shut down, and everyone was eventually asked to leave.
Nature spots have also been forced to close for their own protection.
This destruction of tourist spots and natural wonders isn’t just limited to businesses like lavender and sunflower farms. It has also been happening to what used to be cherished nature spots. One such location in Ontario are the Cheltenham Badlands. These were open to the public, however the location started making appearances in lists of spots to visit in Ontario, blogs, social media of all sorts. After dealing with increasing numbers of visitors walking on the badlands, ignoring and sometimes even vandalizing or removing the signs asking that visitors not walk on the badlands, they ultimately had to be closed to the public in 2015 for over three years, only reopening in September of 2018. Upon reopening, the badlands have been closed off for walking and viewing boardwalks and platform were erected to try to protect the formations against future tourists.
This isn’t just a problem in Canada, but worldwide.
While my examples thus far happen to all be in Ontario, this is by no means a Canadian issue and is happening all over the world. One international example is a beautiful canyon in Iceland. I went to Iceland about two years ago and since I’m a lover of waterfalls and all things nature, Iceland had a long list of spots that I was dying to see. Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon was on my list of must-see spots, close to the top!
I mean, can you blame me? Look at that photo! It’s an incredible canyon, absolutely gorgeous. Like something from a dream, really. However when we got there, they had signs saying it was closed. My partner at the time wanted to bypass the signs and go anyways, and we sat in the parking lot debating it for a good amount of time. But as much as I wanted to see it, I refused to disregard the signs. While I was desperate to see the canyon, my love of nature and desire to respect and protect it will always trump my urge to see something just because I want to, or because I want a good photo opportunity. This canyon is often closed in the spring due to delicate conditions, and is closed at other times due to various reasons, including increased tourism due to social media and a Justin Bieber video featuring the canyon. Ultimately, the canyon simply can’t handle the number of visitors that are now trying to see it. Fjaðrárgljúfur has announced that the canyon will be closed for all except five weeks out of the year, according to the Environmental Agency of Iceland. Iceland has many sensitive natural spots, and this is becoming a much more common issue there with the increase in tourism. Too many people walking through sensitive areas and tourists not adhering to the signs are destroying the delicate vegetation and ecosystems.
The environmental impact of social media: there’s good and bad.
This issue is a difficult one because posting photos of our natural wonders and beautiful locations can also have positive benefits. They can encourage more people to get out in nature and increase awareness of the environment and the need to protect it. Through social media, we now have the ability to reach thousands, sometimes even millions of people instantly, and place nature’s wonders right in front of their eyes. It can and has inspired people to lead initiatives and environmental movements, from garbage clean ups to tree planting. But on the other side, what may have been a hidden treasure, may now become a tourist hot spot in danger of being destroyed because the location can’t handle the number of visitors that social media can trigger. So what is best for the environment? Are we doing more damage by promoting these places on social media? We may never know.
The list of overrun nature spots is truly endless at this point. From Canada, to Iceland, to the beaches of Indonesia, it seems that we are doing more and more damage to these beautiful spots, in large part due to social media. As Damon Shaw, an outdoor photographer says “The result can be the backcountry becoming increasingly trashed by people who know how to “like” a place, but not know how to love it.”
Nature before Selfies!
I’ll admit, while I have a travel, outdoor, and mental health focused account on Instagram where I like to share photos of the places I’ve been in nature, I’ve become more reluctant to post photos of my favourite spots, for fear that it could contribute to damaging them as I’ve now seen happen so many times. And this has become an emerging trend in an effort to stop the destruction of these spots. Travel influencers as well as nature and outdoor photographers, and others are no longer posting the specific location of the spot or geotagging where a particular photo is taken. But these travel and nature lovers have not gone unscathed by this move. They have to put up with angry messages and comments from those who want to go to the same spot, some extremely rude and threatening comments in some cases. This means that while people can still admire the photo, they can’t necessarily find the spot without doing some research or exploring. And personally, I think that’s for the best and I commend those standing up for the environment.
Until we start to realize that each of us has an impact on the world around us, this will never change. Maybe you walking past that ”ecosystem regrowth: keep off the grass” sign doesn’t seem like a big deal, but what if someone else sees you do it, and they figure it’s okay to do it too? And what if 10 people see that person follow you? It’s a ripple effect, and we are all responsible. We aren’t just one person acting in isolation, we influence the actions of others. Until people start to respect nature, to understand the damage they can do to it and how difficult the recovery process is, we have a duty to protect these spots. Nature doesn’t owe us anything, this world doesn’t owe us anything – but we owe it to the world to protect it, not destroy it.
Have you ever found a new spot to explore through social media? Have you ever disregarded a sign to get a good selfie? Have you noticed any of your favourite spots getting busier? How have you experienced this issue, let me know your thoughts!
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