If you haven’t been living under a rock, you would probably be aware of the cover image of National Geographic’s June issue and how it has stirred environmentalists, conservationists and ecologists alike. The iconic yellow frame encloses a photo-illustration (created by Mexican artist Jorge Gamboa) of a plastic bag, half submerged in water and half of it appearing like an iceberg over the surface. The cover reads: ‘Planet of Plastic?’ followed by a caption in a smaller font: “The 18 billion pieces of plastic that end up in the ocean each year are just the tip of the iceberg”. And they could not have chosen a better month – June 5 is celebrated as World Environment Day.
A senior photo editor of National Geographic shared the post on Twitter:
— Vaughn Wallace (@vaughnwallace) May 16, 2018
This, however, is not the first time that the publication has driven environmental issues home with just their images. Here’s a look at a few hard-hitting ones over the last few decades:
Cover: Our Ecological Crisis
This issue was special for more than one reason. It was the last issue as Frederick G Vosburgh as the editor. A nature lover at heart, he pushed daringly into the complex field of ecology and the cover was an outcome of his endeavours. It depicted a western grebe covered in a coat of oil from a spill off California in 1969. The issue, carrying a series of articles on ecological crisis, was Nat Geo’s first full-blown contribution to growing concerns over the state of the environment, calling attention to the fragility of the planet under the strain of the growing human population.
Cover: Dolphins in Crisis
A photograph taken by Flip Nicklen – of a pair of Asiatic spotted dolphins playing in the waters of the Bahamas – made it to the cover of the publication’s September issue in 1992. It was a chilling reminder of how, almost 10 years before the article corresponding to the image appeared, millions of these clever mammals drowned in nets or were poisoned by polluted waters. Though only limited dolphin fishing occurs today, they continue to be threatened by commercial fishing.
Cover: Wild Tigers
William Blake had rightly described them: “Tyger Tyger burning bright,/ In the forests of the night:/ What immortal hand or eye,/ Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?” The December cover of 1997 carried a photograph of Sita, one of the most photographed white tigresses of the Bandhavgarh National Park in India. Through her, Nat Geo addressed the plight of her species’ dwindling numbers and their vulnerability to poachers. Remote cameras allowed photographer Michael Nichols to capture stunning images of these endangered cats in their natural habitat. The issue featured over 40 pages of photos and maps with an account of Sita’s years successfully breeding in the wild.
Cover: The Big Thaw
The headline said it all – the effects of global warming and what it meant to the environment. Inside, icy blue pages profiling the lives of polar bears and melting glaciers communicated what was at stake as the climate grows warmer by the day. Photographer James Balog’s startling survey on retreating ice presented visual evidence of changing conditions at the Poles and elsewhere around the globe.
They say that a picture says a thousand words. And these image proves this age old saying all over again!