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How geotagged photos harm nature

What happens when nature goes viral?

Christophe Haubursin is a senior producer for the Vox video team. Since joining the team in 2016, he has produced for Vox’s YouTube channel and Emmy-nominated shows Glad You Asked and Explained.

Horseshoe Bend used to be a little-known roadside view of the Colorado River in Page, Arizona. But if you look at yearly satellite images of the trail that leads to the river, you can see the spot undergo a pretty dramatic transformation. In 1992, the trailhead is an empty dirt patch — and in 2018, it consists of two adjacent parking lots overflowing with cars and buses.

This spot went from a local secret to a viral tourist destination. The main culprit for that uptick? Instagram.

The social media platform is reshaping the ways we buy things: our clothes, our food, our products — and, via geotags, it’s also playing a huge role in helping people decide where they want to travel. Horseshoe Bend is now one of many hidden natural treasures across America that have become too popular for their own good. And these spaces that become popular after being geotagged often require extensive redesign to protect visitors and the environment.

Digital popularity is resulting in physical changes in what these places look like — and it’s raising serious concerns about how crowds and construction can damage the natural landscape.

Watch the video above to see how geotagged images are affecting public lands. Subscribe to our YouTube channel to view all of our latest videos.