Photographing Change Through Mangroves

It is special, walking through a mangrove: the grand trees, their unique root structures, and the exchange between the land and sea. It is comforting to know that they barricade against storms and protect animals living among them. They provide resources for those who live around them and adventure for those who go within. Photography helps us see and learn about places that we haven’t been or perhaps will never venture to other than through visual mediums. The beautiful photos captured in the Mangrove Photography Awards show strength and vulnerability of people and mangroves around the world.

Mangroves at Dawn, by Melodi Roberts, USA

We can identify trends through the lens - rates of reforestation, deforestation, and ecological issues amid climate change. Now more than ever, we are seeing exacerbated effects of a warming climate across all regions of the world. Mangroves, though resilient, face their own dangers. Warmer and deeper ocean surface temperatures mean stronger tropical storms, damaging mangroves like Hurricane Irma did to many in the Caribbean region in 2017. Sea level rises can mean mangroves are underwater for longer and deeper durations, affecting saturation of their roots in hypoxic soils. Reductions in colder temperatures can mean mangroves begin to migrate towards higher latitudes, invading local flora populations.

Mangroves importantly also act as blue carbon systems, meaning they help sequester and store carbon dioxide, but as deforestation occurs, much of this carbon is released back into the atmosphere, furthering the issue of global warming.

In 2017 Puerto Rico was hit by hurricanes Irma and Maria just 2 weeks apart. Destroyed Habitat by Shane Gross

Looking back on previous photo contests, we can see the challenges between the intersections of people and sustainable management of the environment. Many photos from previous contests have reflected development among mangroves intertwined with widespread land-use and deforestation. The photo below by Srikanth Mannepuri is called “Left or right, towards what should we progress?” Like many aspects in nature at this time, humans are faced with a choice of preserving the environment, sustainably managing it, or unsustainably exploiting it. There’s a tough balance that comes with this: development to boost the economy, but also at times, loss of biodiversity and habitat. Policies can both help stewards receive the services needed from mangroves, including fish nurseries and fuelwood products, but also how services can be accomplished sustainably with efforts. Much of this has been done through indigenous and local knowledge passed through generations, with restoration efforts helping manage and preserve the forest while using it.

Left or right, towards what should we progress? by Srikanth Mannepuri, India

Many of the beautiful photos received in our Human categories, like the winning photo in 2019 called “Mangrove Crab Fisherman”, reflect the intersection of society and the environment. Each moment captured by photographers makes reverence to the situation occurring in a mangrove, the consideration and consent for the backstory of the person being photographed as well as consideration for not disrupting the ecosystem. The photo of Mister John, the crab fisherman (below), both represented a current moment of crab harvesting practices yet also generations worth of knowledge passed down to individuals still benefiting from the forests of their ancestors. Capturing the story by photo meant capturing a moment in time in Mister John’s life but also recognition that people have been interacting in mangroves for generations, and usage can be accomplished sustainably. When bringing this story back, photographer Enrico Marone had to exercise honest storytelling and portrayal of the life captured on his camera. For all life that lives in and around mangroves, consideration should be provided for their space and wellbeing.

This can be branched further in other areas of photography: not staging animals, being courteous of noise and sound pollution around animal populations, and leaving the forest with nothing but footsteps left behind.

Mangrove Crab Fisherman by Enrico Marone, Brazil

Mangroves provide resources to over 18 million people per year, from sharing space for nurseries to timber production and honey collection. Reforestation efforts and local policies have become abundant in many countries, seeking to preserve mangroves, many being at continued risk of high sea level rises, increased temperatures, oil spills, deforestation, and other forms of degradation. This, again, is why photography is a great mechanism for accountability and storytelling. Photos can be time lapses, showing indicators and struggles in worlds more unseen and the power of restoration and conservation.

The power of photography opens peoples’ understandings of the importance of mangroves and ways we can continue to protect them, even if from afar.

Mangrove Roots & Baitfish by Matt Potenski, Bahamas

By Isabella Corpora