Crossing over a crack in the ice, a polar bear searches for food in the North Pole. Classified as marine mammals, polar bears hunt seals and even whales, from both in and out of the water. Less than 2% of their pursuits are successful. There are fewer than 25,000 polar bears left and as many as 1,000 are killed every year for both subsistence in indigenous communities and for trophy, which isolated communities rely on as one of their only sources of income.
In 2019 the United Nations declared that the natural world was declining at an unprecedented rate. At the time, approximately three-quarters of the earth’s land mass, two-thirds of its oceans and 85% of its crucial wetlands had already been either extremely altered or lost.
Waters were suffocating with pollution from the 300 to 400 million tons of heavy metals, toxic sludge and solvents dumped in them every year. More plant and animal species were threatened with extinction than at any other period in the history of humanity. Urgent change was needed, not just to protect and restore the planet but also to secure the future of human life. It is still needed.
As scientists have posited, we have entered a new geological epoch driven by human impact: the Anthropocene. This new geological era is the result of the drastic and now irreversible influence that human actions have had on the global environment and its species.
Realising we have arrived at an unparalleled moment in the history of human life on earth, we wanted to do something to respond positively to the challenges we all now face, so we turned to perhaps the most powerful form of communication: photography. We decided to engage with some of the world’s most respected and influential photographers working at the intersections of humanity and nature today.
Human Nature: Planet Earth In Our Time, edited by Geoff Blackwell and Ruth Hobday, is published by Chronicle Books
CRISTINA MITTERMEIER (see image above)
Cristina Mittermeier is a marine biologist, contributing National Geographic photographer, founder of the International League of Conservation Photographers and co-founder of SeaLegacy. She specialises in conservation issues concerning the ocean and indigenous cultures.
Brent Stirton is a senior staff photographer for Getty Images, a fellow of the National Geographic Society and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders programme. He specialises in documentary work focused on humanitarian, environmental, health and conflict issues.
Conservation rangers from an anti-poaching unit work with locals to evacuate the body of a male silverback mountain gorilla, killed along with six adults and two babies at Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is suspected that political motivations linked to the local, illegal charcoal industry were behind the killings. In 2020, 16 people, including 12 rangers, were killed in an attack in the park carried out by rebels from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda.
Brian Skerry is a photojournalist, a fellow of the National Geographic Society and a founding member of the International League of Conservation Photographers. Specialising in underwater and marine photography, Skerry’s work is centred on promoting awareness about the world’s oceans and waterways.
A tiny yellow goby fish welcomes us into its makeshift home – an abandoned aluminium can on the volcanic, sandy bottom of Suruga Bay, Japan.
Paul Nicklen is a marine biologist, contributing National Geographic photographer and co-founder of SeaLegacy, a collective of some of today’s most renowned photographers, filmmakers and storytellers working on behalf of the world’s oceans. He specialises in the polar regions with the aim of generating global awareness about wildlife issues.
A group of male narwhals perfectly framed by rotting sea ice is captured from an ultralight aeroplane fitted with amphibious floats, allowing it to take off and land on either water or sea ice.
FRANS LANTING HonFRPS
Frans Lanting HonFRPS is an author and activist whose work has been published and exhibited around the world. He photographs wildlife and our relationship with nature to promote awareness and understanding about the planet and the interconnectedness of all life.
Steam rises from the Grand Prismatic Spring in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park, USA. The spring is named for its striking colouration which matches those seen in light prisms (red, orange, yellow, green and blue). The stains along the edges of the boiling blue water in the centre are evidence of primitive bacteria.