On April 22, the natural world takes center stage as humans around the globe pause to reflect on the importance of protecting and enhancing the ecosystems we share with all other living creatures. Here, a colorful little red-eyed tree frog from the rainforests of Costa Rica serves as a visual reminder of the diverse, beautiful and sometimes-fragile nature of the planet Earth and its inhabitants.
Seen from above, the shores of Sandy Cay are a study in the primary colors of green, white and blue. This small island in the British Virgin Islands will remain forever wild and unspoiled, thanks to its designation as a national park. And to the delight of many, protection doesn’t mean exclusion. Visitors can arrive by boat, and are welcome to walk the pristine sands and swim in the clear waters. Photo: Christian Wheatley/iStock
In the bright azure waters of Curacao, a sea turtle glides in for a closer look at the camera. It’s been almost 25 years since a large section of the island’s southern coast was designated as an underwater marine park. Today, the vibrant reefs and abundant fish life continue to attract divers from around the world. This in turn creates a sustainable economy based on eco tourism, and serves as proof that the protection of natural resources can pay real dividends. Photo: Thomas Campos/iStock
On the island of Dominica, a swimmer is dwarfed by a cascade of falling water flowing down from green-clad mountain slopes. A majority of the island remains in a natural state, and small farms scattered through the hills supply rich harvests of fresh foods. The people of Dominica have been identified as among the longest-lived and happiest in the world. Proof, perhaps, that living close to nature can pay dividends in both physical and mental well-being. Photo: Richard Goldberg/Shutterstock
Not too long ago, it seemed that the West Indian Manatee was on a one- way route towards extinction. Sweeping conservation efforts in the state of Florida halted and then reversed that slide, and today the manatee population is on the rebound, and off the endangered species list. Swimmers who abide by accepted rules of engagement can meet up with these gentle giants, which often spend winter months resting in the clear waters of the state’s freshwater springs. Photo: Amanda Cotton/iStock
The Big Picture
When placed against dramatic natural settings such as Hawaii’s Waipio Valley, the trappings and challenges of our everyday life often seem to loom less large and daunting. Events such as Earth Day serve to remind us of the importance of preserving these landscapes, not based on some nebulous altruistic whim, but on our understanding of the very real need to keep such places intact for human well-being and balance.
Clearing the Air
On an island in the Maldives a thousand miles from the nearest factory, the rising sun paints clouds with a warm and vivid reminder of just how clear air can be. We owe some of this clarity to the actions of trees, which act like living air filters, removing pollutants and carbon from the atmosphere. On Earth Day, groups around the world will collectively plant more than a million new seedlings. Photo: Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa
Wind, waves and lots of time are the elemental forces that sculpted the unique rock formations that adorn the beaches of the Seychelles Islands. As the world ponders the possible effects of climate change such as sea level rise and coastal erosion, it becomes increasingly obvious that we need to do everything possible to prevent unique landscapes such as this from being lost to future generations. Photo: Gerard Larose/STB
A Path to Wellness
Studies have confirmed that a walk in the woods can not only create a sense of calm and well-being, but also actually change the workings of the human brain in ways that improve mental health. As seen in this photo, the island of St. Vincent provides a natural remedy for stressed-out city dwellers, as much of its elevated interior is covered in lush tropical rainforests where the only calls you receive are bird songs. Photo: Flavio Vallenari/iStock
In the sun-dappled waters of Tahiti, a diver joins a flock of graceful eagle rays. Unique and inspiring encounters such as this serve to remind us of the importance of maintaining the health of our water planet. The oceans are home to more than 90 percent of all living organisms on the planet, and the source of more than 70 percent of our global oxygen supply. Photo: Yves Lefevre/Tahiti Tourisme
A Natural Balance
A bird’s-eye view of Tonga’s Eua Island reveals a landscape where low-level human activities such as artisanal farming create only modest and easily reversed impacts on the natural order. As high-rise resorts and gated golf course communities continue to spring up on wild coastlines around the world, it’s nice to know that there are still many places that remain off limits to the bulldozers. Photo: Tourism Tonga