How Your Instagram Geotag Might Be Putting Wild Animals and Natural Areas at Risk Around the World

People pose for a picture among wildflowers in bloom Monday, March 18, 2019, in Lake Elsinore, Calif. About 150,000 people flocked over the weekend to see this year's rain-fed flaming orange patches of poppies lighting up the hillsides near Lake Elsinore, a city of about 60,000 residents. The crowds became so bad Sunday that Lake Elsinore officials  closed access to poppy-blanketed Walker Canyon. By Monday the #poppyshutdown announced by the city on Twitter was over and the road to the canyon was re-opened.  (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Woman taking photos on safari

Undoubtedly, the advent of social media changed the way we travel. Take one look through your Instagram or Facebook feed and you’ll likely come across at least a post or two that gives you just a touch of jealousy or inspires your wanderlust.

While all that posting certainly has its perks — like getting more people to get out and see the globe — it can also bring unexpected downsides that are becoming more and more critical to understand. Especially the issues brought on by geotagging.

In case you’re unaware, here’s how geotagging works: While traveling with an internet-connected device like a cellphone, a person may knowingly or unknowingly share their location thanks to global positioning system, or GPS, technology.

GPS technology, first developed for the military, is used in both your car’s navigation system and any map apps on your phone. As How Stuff Works explained, “GPS photo tagging, also known as geotagging, is the process of embedding a digital photo with latitude, longitude and even altitude data.”

While being precise is great for navigation, it may also be giving nefarious people — like poachers — a leg up in finding their prey.

“Poachers are now using unsuspecting tourists to hunt their prey,” Sherwin Banda, president of Africa Travel Inc., shared with Travel + Leisure. While on safari, tourists post photos of animals to social media sites, not realizing that embedded within the post or the photo is a geo-tag containing the GPS location of the photo. This allows poachers to track animals of value.”

This is a quintessentially 21st century photo

Of course, it’s not just animals who are harmed by geotags. Landscapes and natural areas are suffering thanks to too many people trampling the land just to get the same shot as a social media influencer.

The New York Times reported in 2018 that Delta Lake, a remote area in the Grand Tetons, became one such place after influencers discovered its beauty.

“Influencers started posting from the top of the lake. Then it started racing through social media,” Brian Modena, a tourism-board member from Jackson Hole, told The Times. Modena noted that just a few years ago perhaps just one or two hikers would make the nine-mile journey to Delta Lake each day. Now, however, he said as many as 145 people hike it just to get the same exact photo. Because of this, smaller trails are now heavily trafficked, leading to erosion of precious land.

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