Protected areas are the cornerstone of global conservation efforts. They maintain functioning natural ecosystems, are set to act as refuges for biodiversity and maintain ecological processes that provide valuable ecosystem and cultural services to society.
Yet the idea of setting land aside for safeguarding and public enjoyment didn’t come about because of some cost-benefit or sustainability analysis or ecosystem service valuation. Rather, for hundreds of years, people who have advocated and worked to set aside special areas, be they indigenous communities in Ghana, or early advocates of the more modern concept of national parks, were driven to do so by a much simpler motivation: a love of nature.
To paraphrase the Senegalese naturalist Baba Moual: ultimately, we protect what we love.
However, whereas there is no shortage of places in Africa to love, we can only love what we know, or at least, know about. And in a world where our lives are increasingly disconnected and removed from nature, “to know” might require someone to tell us about our special places, what makes them so, and why they’re worth protecting.
One person who realizes the importance of this is photographer and writer Scott Ramsay.
In June 2011 Scott set off on his first “Year in the Wild”. In just over a year, he travelled to 31 of South Africa’s national parks and nature reserves. He interviewed rangers, community leaders, ecologists, activists, researchers and school kids, and translated what he had learned and discovered through photographs, blog posts, and magazine articles. His aim: to promote the appreciation of these wild places and to inspire people to go and visit them for themselves.
For best viewing, you can also play the tour in Google Earth. Download the KMZ file (17MB) for Google Earth by clicking on this link: http://goo.gl/AozLj
Being in the business of making conservation more visible and accessible ourselves, albeit through maps rather than photographs, we recently teamed up with Scott to create a virtual tour of the Wild Coast’s Mkhambathi Nature Reserve. In combining the contextual power of Google Earth with Scott’s captivating photographs, we hoped that we could better share not only images, maps and information, but a little piece of what Scott calls “Mkhamathi’s special soul”.
In the video above you can see the result of that collaboration and, in three-and-a-half minutes, virtually travel to this little Wild Coast wonder. We hope that, through Scott’s photographs and the beautiful landscapes revealed in Google Earth, you will be sufficiently seduced by the cascading waterfalls, beach-trotting antelope, soaring vultures, rolling hills of grasslands, swamp forest patches and wild, pristine beaches to go in search of ways you can experience Mkhambathi for yourself.
You might just find yourself falling in love with it.
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