Ethical behaviour when observing and photographing animals

Think of it, so many forest-dwelling plants, animals and fungi owe their existence in this region to human action. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Well, it may be bad for mammoths and grasslands, but I can’t call it bad for warblers and forests.

These animals and plants did not just spring into existence when humans came around and altered the environment, there must have already been a place for them in the ecosystem. Warblers and mammoths were both thriving before humans, now it’s just the warblers. Doesn’t seem like a good thing to me. So no, we wouldn’t have had forests as we know them, we would have had forests much more biodiverse and much more interesting.

I don’t think humans can have a positive impact on an ecosystem other than undoing harm we’ve already done to it in the past.

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Please do not misunderstand me, I did not say that any species sprang into existence because of human action, I said that our Northeastern forests as we know them wouldn’t exist without human action. And why is it that you think our forests would have been “much more biodiverse and much more interesting” had humans never altered them in any way? The scientific consensus now, as far as I have heard, seems to be that without human action, large herbivores would have proliferated and much of this region would presently be dominated by grassland and meadow type ecosystems, and the majority of our forest species could not be supported in that kind of environment, some perhaps would no longer exist anywhere. But this is all just speculation. I’m not trying to be argumentative, I just don’t want to be misunderstood.


i think it’s important to separate ‘humans’ from the broad scale dominant global/colonial socioeconomic system. I don’t think the latter is capable of positive impacts beyond our limited abilities of habitat restoration we have access to. But i think the former IS capable of being a positive participant in ecosystems, though we don’t always pull it off and often do a lot of harm, it’s important to remember there’s a lot more to the cultures and history of humanity than colonial growth-based capitalism…


And why is it that you think our forests would have been “much more biodiverse and much more interesting” had humans never altered them in any way?

Because all of the forest species that exist today already existed when modern humans first entered the American continent, and had lived in conjunction with megafauna for hundreds of thousands of years (millions, if you count more distant ancestors). Large herbivores had dominated almost all ecosystems on Earth for tens of millions of years at this point, I see no reason why they would’ve suddenly started destroying all forests and their assorted species 10.000 years ago.

I agree, by the way, that other human species like neanderthals, and early modern humans in Africa as well, were an integral part of their ecosystems and probably benefited and enriched those ecosystems.
I don’t agree the destruction started with European colonization though, but with the much earlier colonizations of Eurasia, Australia, the Americas and islands by their ‘native’ inhabitants.

This destrucion isn’t unique to Homo sapiens either, something similar happened two million years before us, when South and North America collided, and much of South America’s unique megafauna was destroyed by North American colonizers. At the time I don’t think I would have considered the saber-toothed cats wreaking havoc on native herbivores an enrichment to South American ecosystems either.

Sorry for going off-topic by the way, I just think it’s a very interesting topic.

Very off-topic! Probably should be taken to direct messaging between yourselves, but I agree it is interesting!

This is just my impression, but I would think biodiversity would be greater in stable environments. Modern humans have a tendency to dramatically alter it’s habitat in a very short time frame, which doesn’t give many species an opportunity to adapt and adjust to the new conditions (evolution takes time). In nature, where there are dramatic environmental alterations such as bush fires and volcanic activity, the flora/fauna has evolved to survive those previously experienced events, ie they might be dramatic, but the species present have evolved with that pressure in their environment. Mankind comes along and introduces significantly different pressures to what the species has normally been exposed to.


Yeah, let’s keep this focused on the observing and photographing animals part of the discussion. If you want to keep talking about overall human impact, please start another thread.

For me, having a superzoom DSLR helps out a lot. The issue is most amateur nature-watchers are using their smartphones to take pictures. To be fair, smartphone technology is advancing rapidly, and that’s no different for the cameras on them. These days, phones with 20+ Megapixel cameras are relatively commonplace, and while that’s great for taking pictures of close up things like insects or plants, there is a problem with the basic design of a smartphone camera. Due to the fact it needs to fit into a thin frame, and not take up a large portion of the surface area, the zoom on smartphone cameras will always be limited. Despite this, people will try to get closeup shots of birds with their phones and in the process, they end up disrupting wildlife, trampling on plants and insects, and rarely get a good shot of the bird anyways because they scare it off. Informing people is key. There are spotting scopes and various addons you can connect your smartphone to to take photos from a long distance. Heck, a good DSLR can be found for $200 to $400 here in the US.
Personally, I try to practice ethical photography my best, but i’m sure i still could improve myself. Having links ethical photography guides and recommended equipment that can help with long-distance photos would be useful for new users and people new to nature in general.
Ps, here’s a photo ive taken with my superzoom.


I know that for identification purposes, a phone camera presents challenges. Often the pictures degrade rapidly if they are enlarged on screen. But at the same time, if a phone gets people outside and taking pictures, it’s a bonus.

@dianastuder @kaipatiki_naturewatc

an update: we have surveyed the entire length of beach (I was contracted by the environmental consultancy firm to assist) and found the colony to be only 500m by 20m area. It is likely the nature of the walkway will be reconsidered for that stretch (boardwalk or maybe diversion outside the area), and even perhaps a more active management of that area will result. Sometimes unethical behaviour has positive outcomes!


That’s great news Mark! Awareness,knowledge, ACTION! Keep us posted. (I have had false “postive outcomes” where by the time the job got done the knowledge had fallen out of the picture…)


So, I wonder, on this topic. If the disturbance of a bird nesting site on a beach is from photographers, there are compromises. If the issue comes from people trying to get pictures, then maybe setting up faraway viewing blinds for observing and photographing without causing a disturbance would make both groups satisfied. Compromise is key. I wonder though, what happens if a private entity such as a business or homeowner owns a strip of beach that contains important nesting grounds? Can the government do anything if they are disturbing the site on their property? Personally, if an important nesting ground were on my property i would make sure my property is fenced off to ward off people trying to disturb anything (probably would for privacy anyways) and observe the nesting grounds each day, recording the whole nesting season. However, birds may cause an annoyance to a land owner and in which case they may try to destroy it completely. What’s a good compromise to ensure the city/government can protect said nesting site while not making a potential land owner (like me, who wouldn’t harm the nesting site) feeling like their land is being micromanaged by the city/government?

Funny you should mention blinds etc… we are looking into this at our lagoon, to help engage the public with the species but in a non-invasive way. Currently there are a lot of “beach users” that drive down to the end of the spit, and beach use generally involves donuts in the sand and parking in the nesting site while fishing for flounder. This is technically private land, but has a long history of public use, so there is resistance from the general public in regard to changing or restricting access. It’s always complicated, but ultimately dialogue helps… getting groups together and communication, promoting “win-win” solutions and increasing awareness and sense of value


There was a heated battle between anglers and defenders of black oystercatchers along South Africa’s coast. Now the birds are protected and the anglers are disgruntled. You may not drive on the beach.


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