Photography is an extraordinary tool for documenting environmental disruption around the globe. These six photographers share what it’s like to capture images of the landscapes, wildlife, and people affected by a changing world.

In the last century, rising temperatures due to greenhouse gas emissions have caused melting ice, rising sea levels, the endangerment of wildlife, and the first wave of people displaced by climate change. If this trend continues, scientists predict the flooding of major cities, the loss of agriculture and other food resources, and a mass extinction for planet Earth. Despite pleas from experts since the 1980s, some world governments and portions of the public have continued to deny the dangers of a changing climate. But, photographers around the world are helping to change the dialogue.

It’s one thing to read the studies and statistics. It’s quite another to see photographs of real people, real animals, and real places affected by climate change. Leading publications, collectives, and individual photojournalists have led the charge in raising awareness and encouraging action. They’ve shared with us what’s at stake, and they’ve paved the way towards a better tomorrow. We asked six Shutterstock contributors to tell us about their experiences coming face-to-face with climate change.

1. “While climate change affects nearly every corner of the planet, very few places show the immediate consequences as much as the poles.”

Chase Dekker

Six Photographers on the Devastating Effects of Climate Change — Immediate Consequences

Image by Chase Dekker. Gear: Canon 5D Mark II camera, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM Telephoto Zoom Lens. Settings: Exposure 1/800 sec; f5.6; ISO 500.

What’s the story behind this photo?

Once we arrived at the edge of the sea ice, polar bears began to pop up all over the place. After only an hour, we had already spotted fourteen bears wandering across the ice floes in search of seals. It was incredible to see so many bears, but it was also a heavy reminder that with all the room of the Arctic to roam, all these large predators had to congregate within this small area due to the lack of ice. While climate change affects nearly every corner of the planet, very few places show the immediate consequences as much as the poles.

Pictured: [1] Chase Dekker. [2] Chase Dekker.

What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had documenting a story related to climate change?

The closest I have ever gotten to witnessing climate change in its raw form was when I ventured to the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard. Svalbard lies north of Norway, well within the Arctic circle, and it is considered by many to be one of the best places to see polar bears in the wild. We had nearly two weeks to explore the islands and were actively looking for polar bears and other Arctic wildlife such as beluga whales, arctic foxes, and more.

We were having some luck here and there spotting the large white bears, but we knew we had to find the sea ice if we were to find more of them. It was early July, so usually the sea ice could still be found in relative abundance around the archipelago, but during this particular journey, it had melted so quickly that we had to travel all the way to the 81 degree north line to find it.

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2. “The effects of ever-increasing greenhouse gases on our planet’s ecosystems are now obvious and happening right in front of us.”

Ethan Daniels

Six Photographers on the Devastating Effects of Climate Change — Bleached Coral

Image by Ethan Daniels. Gear: Canon 5DSR camera, Canon 15mm fisheye lens, Aquatica underwater housing, a pair of YS-250 Sea & Sea strobes. Settings: Exposure 1/40 sec; f8.0; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

In this image, a large, bleached table coral (Acropora sp.) growing in Wakatobi National Park, Indonesia, stands out among other non-bleached corals on a shallow reef. Certain corals, such as table and staghorn corals, and zooxanthellae clades are more susceptible to being bleached during increased sea surface temperature occurrences. The coral colony’s symbiotic zooxanthellae have been expelled from the coral’s tissue. If temperatures do not return to normal soon, the colony will likely die.

Six Photographers on the Devastating Effects of Climate Change — Loss of Biodiversity

Image by Ethan Daniels.

What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had documenting a story related to climate change?

I spend a lot of time in, on, and under the water, observing and photographing marine life found wherever I may travel. The overwhelming scientific evidence of climate change aside, I now see with my own eyes climate-related coral reef damage on a regular basis. Coral bleaching has always been occurring since coral-zooxanthellae symbiosis began tens of millions of years ago, but it is now happening with increasing frequency and ferocity. Bleaching and subsequent coral death undeniably change reef fish and invertebrate communities for the worse. They become much less biodiverse and less productive. The “theory” of climate change is not “out of sight, out of mind” any longer. The effects of ever-increasing greenhouse gases on our planet’s ecosystems are now obvious and happening right in front of us.

Earth’s ecosystems have evolved to withstand environmental stresses, but climate change — in combination with anthropogenic sources of pollution, destruction, over-consumption, etc. — is making it difficult to sustain environmental health on large swaths of the planet. I am convinced that Mother Nature could take care of herself if humans could control our own environmental stress-inducing habits, but the question is: “Do we, as a species, have the ability to control ourselves?” Whatever the case, it certainly hurts to view and to photograph major bleaching events underwater, but it remains necessary to document it so that the general public, as well as the decision-makers, are aware of what is happening to the natural ecosystems that support hundreds of millions of people around the world.

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3. “Climate change is affecting our water resources, and there are people who struggle just to reach a bucket of water.”

Yavuz Sariyildiz

Six Photographers on the Devastating Effects of Climate Change — Water Shortages

Image by Yavuz Sariyildiz. Gear: Canon 5D Mark III camera, Canon 70-200 F2.8 lens. Settings: Focal length 145mm; exposure 1/800 sec; f7.1; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This was not a planned shot, but I knew that there were villages near the Thar desert suffering from a shortage of water. I walked from one village to another, and I came across these people. It made me think about the water resources that we consume unnecessarily every day.

Pictured: [1] Yavuz Sariyildiz. [2] Yavuz Sariyildiz. [3] Yavuz Sariyildiz.

What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had documenting a story related to climate change?

I shot this picture in a rural area of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, India. Women and children drew water from this well, which belonged to a small village on the edge of the Thar desert. These people would come to the well every day and take the water they needed at home.

They use this water for cooking, drinking, and cleaning, and they use it very carefully and responsibly. Climate change is affecting our water resources, and there are people who struggle just to reach a bucket of water.

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4. “The water temperature around these waters has increased, and climate change is most likely the reason for the seaweed mortality.”

Sander Meertins Photography

Six Photographers on the Devastating Effects of Climate Change — Human Impact

Image by Sander Meertins Photography. Gear: Canon 7D Mark II camera, Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 Sports lens and 2.0x extender wrapped in a rain sleeve, Sirui monopod. Settings: Focal length 600mm; exposure 1/1250 sec; f7.1; ISO 400.

What’s the story behind this photo?

The women started to harvest when I was in waist-deep water, so I had a great perspective on them. They weren’t bothered by me taking pictures, and now and then, they smiled to the camera during their work. Even though they seem to be very happy, their lifestyle is under threat!

Six Photographers on the Devastating Effects of Climate Change — Loss of Cultural Diversity

Image by Sander Meertins Photography.

What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had documenting a story related to climate change?

I always keep my eyes open for any opportunities, so when I saw local women harvesting seaweed from the Indian Ocean in Zanzibar, I shot some pictures of them. They plant, grow, and harvest the seaweed, which will be used for soap, cosmetics, and medicine. The industry appears to be at risk, with a lot of the seaweed dying. The water temperature around these waters has increased, and climate change is most likely the reason for the seaweed mortality. Being a nature and wildlife photographer, photographing people is a little bit out of the box for me; however, climate change is still an environmental issue. It’s satisfying to see these images being used to inform people and to protect these cultures.

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5. “I had an intense sense of the nature that surrounded me, and I hope it is not too badly threatened by climate change in the future.”

Dennis Wegewijs

Six Photographers on the Devastating Effects of Climate Change — Global Drought

Image by Dennis Wegewijs. Gear: Canon EOS 80D camera, Canon EF-S 18-135mm 1:3,5-5,6 IS lens. Settings: Focal length 56mm; exposure 1/30 sec; f8; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

The sunrise gave me some incredible moments where the shore was mirrored in the last pool of water in the lake. I enjoyed being out there. In these moments, I had an intense sense of the nature that surrounded me, and I hope it is not too badly threatened by climate change in the future.

Pictured: [1] Dennis Wegewijs. [2] Dennis Wegewijs.

What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had documenting a story related to climate change?

In 2017, there were many forest fires on Corsica, an island in the Mediterranean sea, which made the decision to go there difficult. It had been so dry in Corsica that year that there was almost no drinking water anymore. In the end, I did travel to Corsica in September of 2017, and I stayed at the Villata beach near Porto Vecchio. Just behind the dunes, there is a small lake called Padulu Tortu, which was about to be dried out completely. I woke up early in the mornings to document this dried-out lake, and every time I was stunned by the beauty of it with the Bavella mountain range in the background.

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6. “Overfishing, the shark fin trade, and plastic pollution are all problems causing a lot of damage to the environment.”

Rich Carey

Six Photographers on the Devastating Effects of Climate Change — Dead Coral

Image by Rich Carey. Gear: Canon EOS 6D camera, Tokina 10-17 lens, Seacam housing. Settings: Exposure 1/160 sec; f11; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This was taken at Mabul Island in Borneo. Large areas of the reef are now destroyed. Warming sea temperatures, especially in the shallows, cause coral bleaching and can kill extensive areas of the reef. For contrast, this is what a healthy coral reef looks like:

Six Photographers on the Devastating Effects of Climate Change — Surviving Reef

Image by Rich Carey.

What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had documenting a story related to climate change?

Working as an underwater photographer is mostly awesome; we get to dive amazing coral reefs full of marine life. Unfortunately, there is a downside: we also get to see firsthand the damage we are doing to the environment. While some reefs are pristine and full of sea life, others have been destroyed, such as this one in Borneo, Malaysia.

This reef would have been healthy until very recently, but it is now a graveyard of dead corals. This, sadly, is a sight we will probably see more of in the years to come. It’s relevant to note that while climate change and the coral bleaching it causes are getting a lot of publicity, there are also other factors causing serious environmental problems. Overfishing, the shark fin trade, and plastic pollution are all problems causing a lot of damage to the environment.

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Top Image by Chase Dekker.