As we sit and scroll through our newsfeeds, we’re sure to see them: the picture perfect ‘grams. Our screens are constantly inundated with impeccable shots of beautiful people posing in luscious fields, before magnificent mountains, or atop towering hills. There’s no hiding the fact that Instagram users love photogenic outdoor scenes, especially when we pay attention to the amount of ‘likes’ such images receive. After all, there’s nothing more photogenic than mother nature herself, and nothing quite so popular as a field of brightly colored blooms.

Whether it’s indoor jungles, floral walls, or flower fields, society has become infatuated with the bursts of color and pleasing textures that only flowers can give. In recent months, however, this infatuation has escalated into something a little more sinister. Flower field “superblooms” have been cropping up around the world, with avid Instagrammers flocking in droves to capture images amongst these precious petals. It’s one thing to stand back and admire the natural beauty our planet has to offer, but now we’re seeing what happens when we step too close. Flower fields are being irrevocably damaged and Instagram tourism is to blame.

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As a society, we can no longer deny the human impact we have on the natural environment, given the recent urgent warnings and conversations concerning climate change this year. But Instagram trends seem to have enabled neglect for our environment in its users, fostering the notion that one can do whatever it takes and go wherever necessary in order to get the perfect pic.

The quest for likes and follows on social media can, unfortunately, cause a cycle of overtourism with destructive consequences, just by doing something so seemingly innocent as discovering and sharing a picturesque location. With the help of hashtags and geotags, any post from any location can go viral. Naturally, other travelers will become attracted to the site in their own quest for similar photographs and for first-hand experiences with what they’ve seen online. In the worst-case scenario, a location can be decimated due to overpopulation. At the end of its cycle, the location is either closed for rehabilitation or worse — ruined forever. If that sounds far-fetched, here are just a few examples.

Following a few months of plentiful rain, the usually barren landscape of Southern California exploded in astonishing blooms this spring. An even bigger explosion followed on Instagram. Thanks to the sharing of images of Walker Canyon’s brilliant display of orange poppies, masses of people descended upon the valley and Lake Elsinore’s nearby township. The sudden popularity was so immense that the poppy fields had to be temporarily shut down after days of unbearable crowds, traffic jams and severely trampled flowers.

 

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Bogle Seeds sunflower farm in Ontario, Canada saw a huge influx in Instagrammers last year after opening their family-run farm to “photographers” in July 2018. After a deluge of destruction and damages to their crops, the farm was forced to close its gates and has not re-opened since.

Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm in Oregon has also seen its visitor numbers skyrocket in recent years thanks to Instagram popularity — the usually sleepy town is now often all but overrun with casual snappers. Huge crowds have caused trampled tulips to become an ongoing issue, with a quick look on Instagram confirming swarms of people are still ignoring signs to stay out of the fields.

 

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These are only some of the most recent flower-focused sensations to become a part of this destructive tourism cycle. Instagrammers have been happily stomping through, trampling on, and laying in fields of fragile flowers, wreaking havoc on delicate ecosystems in the name of a good selfie.

The situation is made even worse by the fact that this neglect effectively goes unpunished. While there are very real consequences to this behavior for the planet in the long term, people happily leaving with their photo hardly have any immediate sense of the true damage left in their wake. First and foremost is the physical damage to the plants and ecosystems themselves, with severely damaged stems and roots diminishing the chances of future blooms. Secondly are the pernicious and naive underlying messages being shared in regards to how our environment should be treated, namely that such behavior is somehow inconsequential or acceptable.

 

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It might seem ok for one person to venture a little off track, gingerly stepping over flower heads and sitting amongst the blooms in order to get one stunning photograph. But what about when this is replicated by thousands of people? When we see the photos of people lying among the flowers and witness the positive reinforcement of hundreds of likes, it’s only natural that we want to grasp at that too. Instagram is full of subliminal messaging, and we need to be mindful of how we react to it.

Following the emergence of this “superbloom” abuse, certain vigilante groups have formed to shame influencers who are caught engaging in inappropriate and sometimes illegal activities on public lands. Instagram accounts such as @publiclandshateyou open followers’ eyes to irresponsible trends of visitors to national parks across the US, uncovering behavior that might have otherwise flown under the radar and highlighting the negative connotations attached to certain social media posts. In addition to the naming-and-shaming, these pages emphasize educating their followers on wildflower and national park ethics, in order to create more awareness surrounding these matters and hopefully deter others from making similar mistakes.

 

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When you dig a little deeper, these Instagram obsessions hint at an underlying issue that we all must address. We, as a community of travelers, need to ensure that we aren’t becoming part of the problem. The reality is that the elusive ‘Instagram influencer’ is not solely to blame for these distressing trends. If we travel in any way, we all possess a certain duty to wander this earth responsibly.

We must not only educate ourselves on the consequences of our actions but inform others of them as well. We must remain cognizant of the hidden messages and meanings behind curated photos shared online. We must remind ourselves and each other to uphold a deep level of respect for our environment, the respect that it deserves. We must address the state in which we find it today and be mindful of the state in which we leave it for tomorrow.

We are fast becoming a generation of people too focused on surface-level impressions that only constant upkeep on social media can create. Travelers can especially fall victim to the lure of social media notoriety, which can allow us to lose track of what travel is all about. Whether it’s taking photos, posting photos, or finding photos for general inspiration, we must remind ourselves of what’s truly important in our lives. Is getting that perfect photo for the gratitude of other’s eyes truly worth it when it’s at the expense of a living organism? Or is it more important to simply be in the moment, safely and responsibly admiring what it is that surrounds us?

 

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If you have plans to venture outdoors sometime soon (which we recommend that you do!) we simply ask that you please keep all of this front of mind. Be sure to pick up trash (whether it’s yours or not) and honor park officials and signage by staying within park boundaries and on the trails. Avoid lighting campfires and taking plant materials with you — flower pickers, we’re looking at you — and above all else, leave no trace behind.

At the heart of it all lies the very basis of what we at Passion Passport are all about. Traveling mindfully, with well-intentioned purpose; our eyes always wide open to the impact that we have on our environment and the messages that we choose to share with the world. These tales of blooming disasters stand testament to how we are treating our planet, and the desperate need to do better.

Header image by Charlotte Coneybeer

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Tara Worthington
Tara is a writer at heart and a traveler by nature, recently making the move from her hometown of Auckland, New Zealand, to Melbourne, Australia. When she isn't thinking up new stories, she's dreaming of faraway places — and potentially adding them to a wanderlust list as long as her arm.