Ethical Geo Tagging: Why I Made A Conscious Shift in Social Media Sharing

Conservation

In an age dominated by social media, ethical geo tagging has emerged as a hotly debated topic. Geotags allow people to tag their exact location when sharing posts. However, as our world becomes increasingly interconnected, we are witnessing the negative consequences of geotagging on wildlife and the environment.

Reduced Geo-Tagging: A Failed Prediction

Back in 2018, I predicted that geo-tagging would decline due to the rise of over-tourism. If anything the rise in popularity of geotagging has become almost an expectation from some users of these platforms. As someone who witnessed the negative impact of geotagging on local wildlife in the coastal waters of San Diego, I made a conscious decision to shift my approach. 

While it’s great that more people are venturing outdoors, the surge in foot traffic driven by social media often leads to wildlife harassment, dangerous situations, and habitat destruction. I’ll delve into the downside of geotagging and share my perspective on how we can embrace ethical geo tagging practices to strike a balance between sharing our experiences and preserving the environment.

Reflections on the Shift: Ethical Geo-tagging and Responsible Encounters with Green Sea Turtles

As an avid explorer of San Diego’s coastal waters, I have always had a deep appreciation for the marine life that inhabits these environments. However, in recent years, I noticed a significant shift in the dynamics of the underwater world, particularly when it came to the green sea turtles that call these waters home. Prior to 2019, these majestic creatures were relatively unknown in San Diego, but as their presence became more widely recognized, I found myself grappling with the decision of whether or not to geotag their specific locations on social media.

Initially, I saw geotagging as a means to share the beauty and uniqueness of sea turtles with others, especially those who may not have known about their existence in these waters. I believed that by tagging their location, I was not only showcasing their presence but also encouraging others to appreciate and respect these incredible creatures. I saw it as a way to foster awareness and conservation efforts.

However, as the popularity of sea turtles grew, so did the number of people venturing into the water to catch a glimpse of them. While it was heartening to see more people taking an interest in these magnificent animals, I soon realized that many of them were unaware of the proper etiquette and behavior around sea turtles. I witnessed firsthand individuals chasing after the turtles, attempting to touch them, and inadvertently causing them stress and discomfort.

This influx of people in the water had unintended consequences. The once serene and tranquil underwater world was now teeming with inexperienced snorkelers, their excitement often overpowering their consideration for the animals and their environment. The delicate balance that the sea turtles relied upon for their well-being was being disrupted, and I felt a sense of responsibility to protect these creatures from the negative impacts of overzealous human interaction.

It was this realization that prompted me to reevaluate my geotagging practices. I understood that by tagging the area where the sea turtles could be found, I unintentionally contributed to the increased foot traffic in those areas. The rise in popularity had the potential to overwhelm the turtles’ habitats and put additional stress on these already vulnerable creatures.

Consequently, I made the decision to stop geotagging the specific locations of any wildlife or sensitive environments. Even if they are considered extremely popular already. Instead, I focused on sharing the broader experience—the thrill of the encounter, the awe-inspiring beauty of their natural surroundings, and the lessons learned from observing their behavior. By shifting the focus away from pinpointing their precise locations, I hoped to inspire others to appreciate sea turtles and the importance of protecting their habitats without contributing to the potential harm caused by overcrowding.

In making this choice, I also became more proactive in educating others about responsible sea turtle encounters. I utilized my social media platform to highlight the need for maintaining a respectful distance, avoiding any form of disturbance, and following guidelines for ethical wildlife interaction. By sharing this information, I aimed to raise awareness and empower others to make conscious choices when encountering these remarkable creatures.

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Hi! I’m Daina. I am an Underwater and Drone Photographer and Videography. I use visuals of the ocean as a spark to ignite the soul to create a connection with our natural environments.

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A majestic green sea turtle rests peacefully on the ocean floor amidst vibrant sea grass, with crystal-clear blue water stretching into the background. The turtle's dark green shell contrasts beautifully with the surrounding marine vegetation, while the sunlight dances through the water, creating a serene and captivating underwater scene.

The Downside of Geotagging Popularity

Geo-tagging popularity has inadvertently given rise to various negative consequences that impact wildlife, ecosystems, and even human safety. One significant issue is the increase in wildlife harassment and inappropriate behavior. As more individuals seek out unique animal encounters for their posts, there has been a noticeable rise in unprepared individuals entering the water without the necessary knowledge or understanding of how to interact responsibly with wildlife. This lack of awareness often leads to disturbing instances where animals are pestered, disturbed, or even harmed in the pursuit of capturing that perfect shot. And it’s not only the lack of awareness that is concerning, people are willing to bend the rules on best practices if it means “getting the shot”. According to a recent study by Wildlife Society, “When shown a photo in a protected area that performed well on Instagram, many said they would want to recreate it. However, respondents also prioritized a good view over protecting the area. Most stated they would not mind breaking rules to take a better photo.”

In fact, social media content that violates nature protection guidelines is often more popular. – Wildlife Society

Moreover, the popularity of specific outdoor locations driven by geotagging can result in the over-tourism phenomenon. Social media platforms have the power to turn once-hidden gems into viral sensations overnight.

While it’s wonderful to see more people embracing the beauty of nature, the sudden influx of visitors without proper planning and preparation can have severe consequences. Many adventurers fail to conduct thorough research before visiting these places, resulting in dangerous situations and damage to fragile ecosystems. The lack of understanding about sustainable practices and “leave no trace” principles often leads to habitat destruction, overflowing garbage, and strain on local infrastructure.

It’s not only the impact that an influx of people can have on an area or wildlife. There is some evidence that suggests that poachers are using geolocations to find vulnerable wildlife, lie Rhinos.

An Imperfect Solution: Raising Awareness While Reducing Environmental Impact

Recognizing the need for change, I made a conscious decision to shift my approach from tagging specific locations to using generic tags. This allowed me to contribute positively to ocean conservation efforts while minimizing the potential environmental impact of increased foot traffic. I redirected my focus towards sharing the experiences, lessons learned, and the intrinsic beauty encountered during my adventures.

Responsible education is a significant component of my approach. If I find it necessary to highlight a particular place, I make sure to provide additional context. This includes sharing information about the fragility of the ecosystem, ongoing conservation efforts, and responsible practices that visitors should follow to minimize their impact. I aim to raise awareness while fostering a sense of responsibility among those who were inspired to explore these places. 

Moreover, I prioritize conservation in every aspect of my social media presence. I share stories and information about the environmental challenges faced by these delicate ecosystems. Additionally, I highlight the work of conservation organizations and provided guidance on how others could support these efforts. By redirecting the focus toward preserving our planet’s natural wonders, I aim to make a positive impact and inspire others to do the same.

Is it a perfect approach? Not even close, but it’s one that I feel comfortable with at this time. I know my approach to social media will continue to evolve, and what guides the evolution is what is best for wildlife and the environment.

5 Ethical Geo Tagging Tips

1. Use Generic Tags

Opt for broader descriptors like regions, cities, or general areas instead of pinpointing specific locations. This allows others to discover the beauty of an area without overwhelming it with sudden influxes of visitors.

2. Emphasize the Experience

Share the stories, lessons learned, and the beauty encountered during your adventures. Focus on capturing the essence of a place rather than solely fixating on the exact location.

3. Educate Responsibly

If you feel compelled to highlight a specific place, provide educational information about its fragility, conservation efforts, and responsible practices. Inspire others to be mindful of their impact on the environment.

4. Encourage Research

Urge others to conduct their own research before visiting a place. This promotes awareness and understanding of potential impacts, helping individuals make informed decisions and plan their trips responsibly.

5. Prioritize Conservation

Share stories and information about environmental challenges, conservation organizations, and ways to support their efforts. Inspire others to take an active role in protecting our planet.

A heartwarming image of a mother harbor seal and her adorable baby floating in clear water. The playful duo is surrounded by bubbles, their whiskers adorned with sea grass as they affectionately nuzzle each other. The scene captures the pure joy and tenderness of the mother-child bond in the natural marine habitat.

Positive Impact of Geotagging on Local Communities

While it’s important to address the challenges and negative impacts of geotagging, we must also recognize that it can have positive effects on local communities, leading to economic growth and environmental stewardship.

  • Economic Benefits: Geotagging has the potential to boost local economies, particularly in areas dependent on tourism. By sharing the beauty and uniqueness of a location, social media users can generate interest and attract visitors, stimulating local businesses and creating job opportunities. The influx of tourists can result in increased revenue for hotels, restaurants, guides, and other tourism-related industries. This economic growth can contribute to the overall development and well-being of the local community.
  • Conservation Funding: Increased tourism driven by geotagging can generate financial support for conservation initiatives. Local authorities and conservation organizations can leverage the popularity of certain areas to raise awareness and fund environmental preservation efforts. Revenue from entrance fees, permits, and donations can be directed towards habitat restoration, wildlife conservation projects, and educational programs. This financial support plays a vital role in protecting fragile ecosystems and ensuring the long-term sustainability of these areas.
  • Environmental Education: Geotagging allows for the dissemination of environmental education and conservation messages on a broader scale. Social media platforms provide a platform to raise awareness about the importance of protecting natural spaces, wildlife, and ecosystems. By showcasing the beauty and diversity of a location, influencers and users can educate their followers about responsible practices, sustainable tourism, and the need to preserve fragile environments. This increased awareness can foster a sense of environmental stewardship and inspire individuals to take action in support of conservation efforts.

By adopting ethical geo-tagging practices, we can strike a balance between enjoying social media and preserving the environment. While geotagging has its downsides, such as wildlife harassment and over-tourism, it also offers economic benefits to local communities and opportunities for conservation funding and environmental education. It is essential to consider both the positive and negative aspects of geotagging. Let’s be conscious adventurers, inspiring others to explore responsibly, supporting local communities, and protecting the environments we love. Together, we can create a positive impact and leave a lasting legacy for future generations to enjoy.

Daina - Founder of headedanywhere.com

Daina - Founder of headedanywhere.com

Videographer, Photographer, Writer

Daina is the ocean-obsessed videographer, photographer, and writer behind the underwater and adventure blog, Headed Anywhere, featuring videography and photography to connect you with our natural environments. Her goal is to help create a sense of wonder for our oceans and wilderness and create a connection so strong that it leaves you driven to protect our beautiful world.

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