Conservation Photographer Paul Nicklen Spreads a Little Love for the Manatees

Conservation Photographer Paul Nicklen Spreads a Little Love for the Manatees

Everyone's favorite aquatic marshmallow, the manatee, is having a bit of a moment. Just a couple weeks ago, Florida's warm waterways set the mood for a sizable manatee orgy, causing traffic jams on nearby roads. Rubberneckers first thought they were witnessing a whale in distress, but it was just good old fashioned sea cow polyamory.

Manatees have also been in the headlines recently for less fun reasons, specifically concerns of habitat loss thanks to pollution. All-star photographer and underwater and harsh-environment specialist, Paul Nicklen, recently took to Instagram to relive one of his favorite assignments for National Geographic, an article called "Manatees: When Push Comes to Shove — The Florida manatee is thriving in Kings Bay, and so is tourism. Therein lies the problem.” Nicklen, who spends his life telling the stories of animals most threatened by climate change, was surprised by how much the assignment affected him.

At first, it was supposed to be a story on behavior, but it very quickly became a story on conservation, water over-usage by humans, encroachment, effects of tourism, boat traffic in critical manatee corridors, and the importance of keeping these disappearing warm water springs alive. [Christina Mittermeyer] and I were super proud that the work we did actually played a role in how these manatees and their habitat were managed going forward.

A subsequent post describes realizing that to do the story the justice it deserved, he needed to shoot from the air. After a flight in a small airplane wasn't successful for getting his shot, Nicklen decided that the still image wasn't enough to show the harmful effects of tourists on a group of manatees. Determined to make a time-lapse of tourist behavior, he rented a 90-foot boom lift, found his ideal angle, and let the scene play out.

What resulted was a powerful short video demonstrating the fragile behaviors of the manatees and the callous, self-important actions of visiting tourists. Nicklen, traditionally a still photographer, pushed beyond his regular techniques to find a way to communicate more through his footage, an important reminder that sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, but a carefully recorded video speaks volumes.

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