Winners of Nature – Stories | World Press Photo 2021
Here is a look at the most inspiring narratives from Nature–Stories category of the World Press Photo 2021 contest.
Over the years, World Press Photo has played a pivotal role in showcasing significant stories—revolutions against corrupt governments, migrations due to conflicts, the battle of survival of endangered species, and stories of hope and resilience. The contest recognises and awards the best visual storytellers who have gone out of their way to document these moving narratives, with an aim to bring about change. This year’s winning images represent perseverance, as the world grapples with a pandemic amidst ongoing chaos and destruction. However, there is a glimmer of hope, as a few citizens have begun to take charge.
First Prize: Jasper Doest, the Netherlands
Pandemic Pigeons—A Love Story: A pair of feral pigeons befriended the photographer’s family, who were isolated in their apartment in Vlaardingen, the Netherlands, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ollie and Dollie, as the family named them, were regulars in the house, their daily visits a reminder that humans are not alone on this planet, even while living isolated in urban areas. Feral pigeons (Columba livia domestica) are descended from the rock dove, which naturally inhabits sea cliffs and mountains. They find the ledges of buildings to be substituted for sea cliffs, have adapted to urban life and surroundings, and now live in urban areas on every continent except Antarctica, with a global population in the hundreds of millions. Rock doves were the first birds to be domesticated, between five and six thousand years ago, in Mesopotamia. They were bred for food, and later trained to carry messages. Birds escaping or released from a domestic environment became the first feral (or city) pigeons. Although they are believed to be vectors of diseases, the evidence is to the contrary. It is rare for city pigeons to transmit a disease to humans, and while they do transmit contagions such as Salmonella and avian mites, infecting mammals is rare.
Second Prize: Ezra Acayan, Philippines, for Getty Images
Taal Volcano Eruption: Taal volcano, in Batangas province, on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, began erupting on 12 January, spewing ash up to 14 kilometers into the air. The volcano generated ashfalls and volcanic thunderstorms, forcing evacuations from the surrounding area. The eruption progressed into a magmatic eruption, characterized by a lava fountain with thunder and lightning. According to the Department of Social Welfare and Development, a total of 212,908 families, nearly 750,000 people, were affected by the eruption. Damage caused to infrastructure and livelihoods, such as farming, fishing and tourism, was put at around US$70 million. Taal volcano is in a large caldera filled by Taal Lake, and is one of the most active volcanoes in the country. It is a ‘complex volcano’, which means it doesn’t have one vent or cone but several eruption points that have changed over time. Taal has had 34 recorded historical eruptions in the past 450 years, most recently in 1977. As with other volcanoes in the Philippines, Taal is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, a zone of major seismic activity that has one of the world’s most active fault lines.
Third Prize: Luis Tato, Spain
Locust Invasion in East Africa: In early 2020, Kenya experienced its worst infestation of desert locusts in 70 years. Swarms of locusts from the Arabian Peninsula had migrated into Ethiopia and Somalia in the summer of 2019. Continued successful breeding, together with heavy autumn rains and a rare late-season cyclone in December 2019, triggered another reproductive surge. The locusts multiplied and invaded new areas in search of food, arriving in Kenya and spreading through other countries in eastern Africa. Desert locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) are potentially the most destructive of the locust pests, as swarms can fly rapidly across great distances, traveling up to 150 kilometres a day. A single swarm can contain between 40 and 80 million locusts per square kilometre. Each locust can eat its weight in plants each day: a swarm the size of Paris could eat the same amount of food in one day as half the population of France. Locusts produce two to five generations a year, depending on environmental conditions. In dry spells, they crowd together on remaining patches of land. Prolonged wet weather—producing moist soil for egg-laying, and abundant food—encourages breeding and producing large swarms that travel in search of food, devastating farmland. Border restriction necessitated by COVID-19 made controlling the locust population harder than usual, since it disrupted pesticide supply and affected multiple neighbouring countries already facing high levels of food insecurity.