World-renowned photojournalist Gary Braasch died on March 7, 2016 while photographing coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Gary's great passion was to visualize climate change and educate the public about the serious impacts humans are having on natural systems. His photographs told vivid stories about global change, and they inspired action in an extraordinary array of citizens. Gary was a gifted pioneer in explaining science as stories, instead of as technical publications. He doggedly followed field scientists around the planet, using his photographs to share their adventures of data collection, discovery, and working in some of the most extreme conditions. From the decline of canopy biodiversity in tropical rain forests and Andean glacial melt to plastic debris in bird rookeries and coral bleaching in Australia, Gary told science stories through his camera lens. He was tireless in his ambition to educate not only policy makers, but also youth, as stakeholders in the future of our natural systems.
Gary's images were featured as giant billboards in airports, in books for young and old, at a special outdoor exhibit at the climate change conference in Copenhagen, in science museums, (and he aspired to show them at the Super Bowl). His book, Earth Under Fire, was delivered to the desks of every Congressperson at the time of its publication. I had the privilege of knowing Gary for over three decades, teaming up in the tropical jungles of the Amazon, the redwood forests of California, and the rising seas of coastal North Carolina and Florida. He was the embodiment of Mother Nature himself - able to see the landscape as a scientist but also capable of capturing the natural world as an artist. He interwove the role of humans on natural systems in ways that left viewers laughing, crying, or simply shaking their heads in disbelief. While I worked as a canopy scientist perspiring through my research in the Amazon, Gary followed me to the tops of tall trees to capture stories about how scientists discover biodiversity in some of the most out of the way places. He also traipsed through the jungle darkness, tiptoeing around bushmaster snakes, to photograph luminescent fungi on the forest floor. Then, at dawn, he eagerly greeted the sunrise at the top of our canopy walkway, capturing the sun's first light on bromeliads clasping emergent trees. He possessed a sixth sense for nature and how to capture its inherent beauty.
Lynne Cherry, children's book author and CEO of Young Voices for Climate Change (co-founded with Gary), reflected on Gary, "His deep reverence and love of the natural world was unparalleled and it guided his life's mission to convey the sanctity of nature to others in an effort to stem the steamroller of exploitation and destruction of so many things good and beautiful. Gary wrote the first photographic book on climate change, Earth Under Fire: How Global Warming is Changing the World, and launched a website, World View of Global Warming. This book inspired us to co-author a middle school book and produce 11 Young Voices for the Planet films, which are incredibly effective at inspiring and empowering young people to take action against climate change."
We have lost a hero of the planet. Gary not only portrayed the complex stories of Mother Nature, but he spoke in her voice, and inspired millions of people to both conserve and love the natural resources of our planet. Whereas Aldo Leopold used his pen, Gary used his camera lens to convey important messages about the power of science to achieve solutions for global change.