Instagrammers beating destructive path to Tasmania's natural gems
“The whole [Chasm Falls] area had just become degraded now as a result of sharing that location,” says Jason Futrill. (Supplied: Tassiegrammer)
The sharing of stunning photos on social media is becoming a destructive force as Instagram trophy hunters beat a path to Tasmania’s natural gems, warns professional photographer Jason Futrill.
Jason Futrill, aka Tassiegrammer, has had a serious rethink about the photos he shares. (Facebook: Jason Futrill)
Futrill said waterfalls and alpine areas were being trampled underfoot by Instagrammers seeking to claim their own version of shots they’ve admired online.
And, as he is the first to admit, Futrill has been part of the problem — some of the degradation he has witnessed has been a direct result of his own photos being widely shared.
In a blog post, he called for photographers, tourism accounts and travel websites to reflect on their own impact and take more responsibility for the conservation of the photos they post and share.
Futrill described a chain of events starting with ego-massaging reactions to a nice photo, followed by requests for the location, followed by a travel account sharing the photo with a multiplier effect, followed by a swelling number of people sharing it or adding it to their Tasmanian itinerary or weekend wish list.
Before long, a stream of snappers and bushwalkers will be beating a path to that (often fragile) location.
The process prompted Futrill to ask:
“Are we slowly but surely causing some of the most beautiful, previously out-of-reach, unknown and hard-to-find locations to die a slow [or in some cases, a very, very quick] death?”
The awareness of his own direct role in the degradation of places like Chasm Falls in the Meander State Forest forced Futrill to reflect on the consequences of his photo sharing.
“I was the first to publish it [Chasm Falls] to a large social media profile and literally a week later a huge amount of traffic started to go into the area,” he told the ABC.
“I’ve been in recently and all of the moss has gone.
“The whole area had just become degraded now as a result of sharing that location.”
‘It will never recover’
At not-so Secret Falls in Wellington National Park near Hobart, Futrill said the toll of an Instagram-fuelled spike in visitation was alarming.
He said there were paths appearing that weren’t there just a few years ago.
“There’s just literally tracks that are just now mudslides. All of the ferns, the foliage, the moss — everything that used to be in there — has just been torn out because people just don’t respect the area, and the foot traffic that we’ve caused,” he said.
“Unfortunately, what we’ve done to it now from sharing that location is it will never recover.
“Everyone’s chasing their own unique compositions which leads to the whole area being destroyed.”
The iconic photos of Peter Dombrovskis promoted preservation not visitation. (Supplied: Peter Dombrovskis)
‘Conservationist message missing’
Once, before Instagram, before the internet even, the stunning landscape photos of Peter Dombrovskis sold the Tasmanian wilderness as a public asset to be protected.
In particular, his photos helped make Australia care about the fate of the Franklin River as the prospect of damming it loomed in the early 1980s.
Futrill said such a strong environmental conscience was missing from Instagram’s follow-me culture.
Added to that was a false sense of accessibility to isolated and precarious locations.
Futrill said he no longer posted photos of Lake Oberon in the Southwest National Park, which involves a multi-day round trip hike to reach, but “I still get asked about this location more than anything else”.
“Everyone wants to go to Lake Oberon and there’s a belief that it’s a day trip.”
Promotion of World Heritage areas questioned
Futrill said Tourism Tasmania’s Instagram account @tasmania, which has almost 380,000 followers, was part of the problem in its keenness to repost photos from Wilderness World Heritage Area (WWHA) sites.
While these areas are open to many recreational activities, they are not equipped to handle a steady stream of tourists like, say, the Bruny Island Neck Lookout or the Three Capes Track.
Tourism Tasmania’s posts do contain advisory messages about the difficulty of reaching certain locations, but Futrill said its marketing clout was helping to drive huge traffic into undeveloped areas of environmental significance and sensitivity.
“That’s the whole point of them being designated ‘World Heritage’ — so they’re protected forever,” he said.
“They’re [Tourism Tasmania] not thinking about the environmental protection — that’s not the message they’re delivering.”
Damage from foot traffic of hikers and photographers in the Southwest National Park. (Supplied: Nick Monk)
‘We reinforce the leave no trace message’
The Tourism Tasmania social team scans Instagram photos with particular hashtags and shares about 18 per week to its followers.
Thousands of photos are tagged #discovertasmania or #tassiestyle, leaving Tourism Tasmania spoiled for choice when it comes to beautiful images to inspire someone to visit.
The images serve to promote the location as a destination while boosting the personal account of the source photographer — a promotional win-win.
When asked what consideration Tourism Tasmania puts into the environmental impact of increased foot traffic to areas it promotes, a spokesperson replied:
“We consider a number of elements when selecting images for reposting, that show a range of travel experiences to appeal to a broad range of travellers, interests and activity levels, including a spread of images from across Tasmania’s regions,” they said.
“Tourism Tasmania regularly reinforces the ‘leave no trace’ or ‘pack it in, pack it out’ messages when sharing images of wilderness areas.”
Ethical photo guide
Whether or not other Instagram photographers or tourism groups adopt a similar practice to Mr Futrill remains to be seen.
But as the hunt to capture Tasmania’s scenic treasures is not about to stop, one group has taken action to try and limit the damage.
Natural Resource Management South has published a guide to ethical nature photography in Tasmania.
The guide’s final section is devoted to “social media culture”.
Point three in their tips on the subject reads:
“If you are going to share images of nature online, consider using them as a platform to raise awareness about nature conservation and threats to the subject of your photos.”