Nick Karrick

Geotagging appears to be something we do not heavily consider when we log into Instagram, but it is one of the most prominent features employed by its users. Whether it be an individual post liked by 200 followers or a sponsored posted liked by 2,000 followers, it has most likely been geotagged and added to the growing collection of photos associated with the location of sensitive environments.

And while this has resulted in increased awareness of the sensitivity of such environments, it has additionally resulted in a “super bloom” of unsustainable tourism — tourism resulting in fractured infrastructure and the degradation of biodiversity.

We’re seeing this in a growing number of state and national parks such as Jackson Hole and the Smoky Mountains, as well as public housing projects in Hong Kong and African nature reserves. The increased number of visitors is resulting in an increased number of careless visitors, and the actions of the visitors are becoming more problematic.

The increase in visitors to parks is problematic because many state and national parks and tourist destinations do not have the monetary or personnel resources to support a need for improved infrastructure  —  often safety measures  —  and sustainability measures.

As mentioned, the Jackson Hole valley close to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks has been subjected to the consequences of geotagging, but they are responding with brilliance. The Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board is investing heavily in educating its visitors on the importance of responsible geotagging through their Keep Jackson Hole Wild initiative, wherein they are attempting to make their visitors question their impact on the natural wonders of the park and also explore more sustainable practices.

Currently, the initiative promotes zero waste, the use of public transportation, the acknowledgment that geotagging leads to a surge in human traffic and the education of visitors on their contributions to habitat degradation. Partnering with local non-profits as well, the tourism board is attempting to utilize social media to promote the responsible geotagging initiative and even overshadow posts that do not align with their initiative.

Some have viewed these measures as attempts to limit exposure to the wildlife and thus limiting tourism to the area, but that is not the goal. The goal, as said by the tourism board, is to revel in the beauty of Jackson Hole while understanding its susceptibility to human disregard.

Now, you may be asking if the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most-visited national park in the United States (which happens to be right in our backyard), has a similar program or initiative in place. With its 11.3 million visitors in 2017, it would make sense to have an initiative highlighting sustainable park and social media practices, no?

But they currently do not have an established program. In fact, all I can find is a page discussing sustainable practices in an extremely broad scope. And while this is disappointing, we can still promote sustainable practices through community and media activism.

Acts such as informing hikers and friends of proper outdoors practices (referencing the LeaveNoTrace principles is a good start) and promoting responsible geotagging through your own social media posts, if done consistently, establish a base level of knowledge about the challenges being faced in our sensitive environments, and how those close to you can help protect them.

We cannot talk about the importance of sustainable practices and geotagging without considering the larger issue, though. The issues discussed to this point are only symptoms of a larger beast, and that beast is social media and the internet.

We are witnessing social media reshape our world because of the ever-growing number of users posting, sharing and sparking conversations about content that is right at our fingertips.

And while I won’t dive into how social media is impacting for better or for worse in this column, I will suggest a reflection on how it is changing our physical and perceived landscapes. Consider what you are basing your actions on, how you are interacting with individuals and what might be different if social media usage wasn’t as prominent as it is today.

If you’d like to read a bit more about Jackson Hole’s geotagging initiative or about the rise in geotagging, you can check out the links found here and here.

Nick Karrick is a senior majoring in geography. He can be reached at nkarrick@vols.utk.edu.

Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.

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