Your Stacking Rocks photos look cool, but they are killing animals

Feb 11, 2020

David Williams

Dave Williams is an accomplished travel photographer, writer, and best-selling author from the UK. He is also a photography educator and published Aurora expert. Dave has traveled extensively in recent years, capturing stunning images from around the world in a modified van. His work has been featured in various publications and he has worked with notable brands such as Skoda, EE, Boeing, Huawei, Microsoft, BMW, Conde Nast, Electronic Arts, Discovery, BBC, The Guardian, ESPN, NBC, and many others.

Your Stacking Rocks photos look cool, but they are killing animals

Feb 11, 2020

David Williams

Dave Williams is an accomplished travel photographer, writer, and best-selling author from the UK. He is also a photography educator and published Aurora expert. Dave has traveled extensively in recent years, capturing stunning images from around the world in a modified van. His work has been featured in various publications and he has worked with notable brands such as Skoda, EE, Boeing, Huawei, Microsoft, BMW, Conde Nast, Electronic Arts, Discovery, BBC, The Guardian, ESPN, NBC, and many others.

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Photos of rock stacks adorn our Instagram feeds. There are videos of them being created in elaborate styles. Sometimes they defy gravity with anything from pebbles to boulders in their formations. These eye-catching photos are usually framed against stunning natural backdrops and have a calm and tranquil quality to them.

There’s a darker side to these stacks, though. Two of them actually. So much so, that researchers are warning against making them. Is this another side-affect of the ‘doing it for the gram’ culture?

Ecologist Nick Clemann from Australia’s Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research told ABC News:

It’s a global phenomenon … anywhere there [are] rocks, this trend is really taking off. Last year we started finding it within the habitat of some of the endangered species we work on. That really started to ring alarm bells.

The problem is something environmentalists have been telling us for years: when people rearrange the rocks they discover in natural landscapes (whether beaches, forests, deserts, or otherwise), it’s more than rocks they’re shifting around.

What might seem like a lifeless stone simply lying in the sand or a riverbed could be an integral part of an animal’s home environment. By disturbing it for the sake of a photograph, you could be putting creatures and potentially even species at risk.

Rock stacking is a way of quickly making your mark and having an image of it,” John Hourston from environmental nonprofit the Blue Planet Society told The New Yorker in 2018.

“People are posting pictures of them on Instagram, saying, ‘I’ve been here, and I made this.’”

Stacking rocks might seem like a harmless pursuit. It isn’t harmless for species who make their home in rocky enclaves, with the stones providing shelter from the elements and defense from predators.

According to Clemann, the problem can present itself even when well-meaning rock-balancers replace the rocks where they initially found them. Even the simple act of removing stones once can be enough to disrupt animals, who may then have to abandon their compromised habitat.

Another problem caused is potentially life-threatening to humans. Humans have used stacks of rocks as trail markers since prehistoric times. The boom in contemporary rock-stacking on social media is purely aesthetic. When rock stacks are used as trail-markers for navigation, an additional rock stack can mislead walkers. In extreme environments, this change can be enough to take entirely off a trail and risk their life.

Conservationists understand that most people taking rock-stack images have no ill intent. They’re merely trying to capture beautiful photos in the outdoors. They say it’s time people woke up to the realities of what their habit might be doing to the natural environment they’re supposedly celebrating.

People are doing it with no education of the environment, so they don’t know what site they’re in – whether the site has any wildlife significance or historical significance,” Hourston told BBC News in 2018.

Everything has its place. I think creativity is great, and I think getting into the environment is great. With the growth of social media, it’s reached a point where everybody’s doing it. The first rule of the environment is to leave no trace.”

Bottom line, folks: – Take as many photos as you like of the rock piles you find. Don’t make new ones!

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David Williams

David Williams

Dave Williams is an accomplished travel photographer, writer, and best-selling author from the UK. He is also a photography educator and published Aurora expert. Dave has traveled extensively in recent years, capturing stunning images from around the world in a modified van. His work has been featured in various publications and he has worked with notable brands such as Skoda, EE, Boeing, Huawei, Microsoft, BMW, Conde Nast, Electronic Arts, Discovery, BBC, The Guardian, ESPN, NBC, and many others.

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73 responses to “Your Stacking Rocks photos look cool, but they are killing animals”

  1. Russ Higgins Avatar
    Russ Higgins

    Slow news day?
    Let’s focus on open pit mining, deforestation, fracking, fossil fuel pipelines, tar sands projects, road building thru pristine UNESCO designated areas. Next article will about kids skipping to rocks over water and destroying fish habitat.

    1. Justin Smith Avatar
      Justin Smith

      Those things profit the donors, so we can’t stop them

    2. Dimitri Gathy Avatar
      Dimitri Gathy

      Yes, you right & it’s one thing more which destroy nature, also it concern photography which is the main subject of this site!

    3. Gary Strain Avatar
      Gary Strain

      Justin Smith Precisely. I was going to write just that.

    4. Gary Strain Avatar
      Gary Strain

      Russ Higgins Next thing will be locking people without scientific credentials out of all natural areas. I’d be fine, but what some of my peers think about conservation is f’’king scary.

  2. Del Robertson Somerville Avatar
    Del Robertson Somerville

    This is how the corona virus started, humans invading and upsetting ecosystems that they have absolutely no right in doing so. Upsetting ecosystems and uprooting otherwise dormant viruses, or creating new ones. Obviously this is a microcosmic example of the bigger picture. I see tourists all the time crossing fenced off areas to take photographs. These areas are fenced off for their own safety and for animals habitats too. ‘This area is forbidden’ … “oh, we better go check it out… d’ohhhh” *chucks crisp packet* “this photo is going to get me so many hits on insta… d’ohhhhh” *slips off cliff taking selfie*

    1. DankerThanNoir ? Avatar
      DankerThanNoir ?

      I’m actually hanging from a cliff now, if I fall can you post my last photo to IG with cool filters?

      1. ohiogrl64 Avatar

        Please fall.

    2. RangeTheLeafHolder Avatar

      Who do we go to to get the rights?

    3. John Pouw Avatar
      John Pouw

      You lost me when you included corona virus in your analogy, I am not sure where the connection is between this article and that event unless you are thinking so laterally that comparing a new virus to stacking rocks and upsetting an eco system is somehow similar.

  3. Joseph Hubbard Avatar
    Joseph Hubbard

    I hate them. They destroy so many landscapes photos

  4. Mario Dennis Avatar
    Mario Dennis

    I consider them outdoor graffiti and have been known to tip them over.

  5. Anubhav Raikar Avatar
    Anubhav Raikar

    but what about the small rocks or pebbles that get misplaced by foot when we go to a mountain trek or something like that? the number of pebbles getting misplaced in this scenario is far greater than when someone purposely picks up a pebble or may be 7-9 pebbles to form a pyramid ..


    1. ClosetNerd Avatar

      You should have opted to not comment and let people assume that you are stupid, now you have removed all doubt.


      1. Jaqen H'ghar Avatar
        Jaqen H’ghar

        A man is great at describing himself. Perhaps he should stay in the Closet.

      2. Jada Baudelaire Avatar
        Jada Baudelaire

        Pot calling kettle black, you….

      3. Christopher Capaldi Avatar
        Christopher Capaldi

        One of the funniest responses I’ve ever seen lol

    2. DankerThanNoir ? Avatar
      DankerThanNoir ?

      Small rocks and pebbles are probably not an issue, it’s when slabs of rocks are ripped up and torn out to make piles. Might as leave the rocks alone, are you a child?

    3. Madara Avatar

      You have just created the Butterfly Effect causing a chain of events that will cause the planet to end in disaster.

      1. Anubhav Raikar Avatar
        Anubhav Raikar

        happy to help

  6. jazzmsngr Avatar

    Ok C’mon, By this logic, even you (a human not of said environment) just being in the environment has effected everything in that environment. Im sorry for the ants and small mammals that will get effected when I walk through a forest, but in the end, I am a human and they are a lower species…..and they would not look at it any differently if it were the other way around. This is absolutely not the same thing as crossing marked areas or actually harming animals or breaking laws. My son picks up rocks all the time, and yes, unfortunately he may be upsetting insect ecosystems and other smalls mammals things when he does so…..I may be doing the same by walking through the forest and clearing a spot to sit down, or breaking a branch while walking, or GOD FORBID….I need to use natures bathroom….I probably destroyed an entire colony of something flooding their lands……Im the last person to call people out for being a conservationist, or trying to help our planet, far from it, but really? The Rocks? We need to protect the rocks? Again…I can go on….what if Im climbing and I knock down a side of rocks on a slip or slide……are we saying we should never go out again because we might effect that environment in some way? Should I not mow my lawn? Im literally killing thousands and thousands of things when I do that, and its 100% for the look of my lawn, not any other reason purely vanity… just like instagram. I sometimes take a pic of it;)

    1. Grant Wise Avatar
      Grant Wise


    2. Madara Avatar


    3. Jaigh R Avatar
      Jaigh R

      The way I see it, you’re right about how it is impossible for a human to not unintentionally cause a difference in our surronding environment. Cracklings twigs we step on, skipping rocks in the pond, being a curious child, being a grown up adventurer. Theres endless and unavoidable things like that we have a part in, but when it’s someone going to a waterfall and grabbing a big boulder from the waterbed, and searching around for a handful of more “perfect” rocks to make their “I’ve been here, look at my rocks” stack, that disturbs a ton of creatures for no reason. Then their instagram “friend” sees it, thinks ooo I’m hip I can stack rocks, and goes out into the usually undisturbed wooded area, grabs the giant rock that a chipmunk has been living under since birth, then dug up another couple rocks nearby that were structurally important to a rabbits burrow, some wood mice families tunnels, formed the perfect pit of dirt for a box turtle to lay her eggs year after year, and dozens of insects, probably some you’ve never even seen or heard of. Now imagine their friend sees this “trend” and goes out, then another, and 100 more, and 10000 more, and now theres been 800,000. That’s 800,000 homes (yes, homes, even if they are tiny and insignificant to YOUR daily routine, they are homes with lives within them) destroyed. Just because humans are larger then the majority, and build buildings? Created toilets? Live as hostages to a monetary system? Depend on society ‘norms’ to define how ‘successful’ we are? We are better then the other creatures we share this planet with? Humans that knowingly and intentionally harm the only Earth we have instead of learning to live in harmony with it like “the lesser ones” do. I agree with your thoughts on inevitably shifting nature here and there, we definitely do and cannot change that, even the animals inevitably shift things with their steps, even how tiny those steps may be. But thousands to hundreds of thousands, to millions even, purposely going out and shifting large structures in nature so they can “fit in with the next trend” does harm countless creatures… and we as humans are no more important then the creatures among us. Without them, we would all die too. If the environmental naive want to go explore that’s awesome, it really is great, but instead of leaving giant Mark’s on the way, maybe they could carry a sack with the rocks they want to stack with them TO THE PLACE. rocks from their desktop water fountain from walmart, or rocks they found around their home (a place they aren’t clueless to) or rocks laying in the road cause something already uprooted them… stack them. Photograph them. Sack them back up. And explore some more.

    4. Jesse Gault Avatar
      Jesse Gault

      Good job taking zero responsibility for your actions. As long as people “like” you? Gtfo

      1. RangeTheLeafHolder Avatar

        Shut up noob

        1. Jesse Gault Avatar
          Jesse Gault

          Wow. Intelligent ?

          1. Timothyf7 Avatar

            As intelligent as your drivel.

          2. Jesse Gault Avatar
            Jesse Gault

            I know you am but what am I. F-n moron, I’m proud of you, you know what the word drivel means. Gtfoh

          3. Timothyf7 Avatar

            You’re the perfect example of someone that doesn’t know how to quit while you are ahead. Waiting for your next intelligent comeback. LOL. Love seeing someone show their lack of self control. Please don’t disappoint us.

          4. Jesse Gault Avatar
            Jesse Gault

            Nice book you wrote. Nothing else to do, huh? Sad.

          5. Timothyf7 Avatar

            You’re just proving my point! Dance my little puppet… dance!

          6. Jesse Gault Avatar
            Jesse Gault

            Take a break from the internet my friend, try real life. Go out and get an ice cream cone or something, you don’t need actual friends to do that.

          7. Timothyf7 Avatar

            Your the one that has to have the last word Dude! I even have a $100 bet with my buddies that you have a psychological predisposition to having the last word. I told them that even if it benefits me… you can’t go without replying. I told them that you have the Right to remain silent, but you lack the ability!

          8. Jesse Gault Avatar
            Jesse Gault

            Haha wow you and your “buddies” sound like the life of the party. Sad.

          9. Timothyf7 Avatar

            Woohoo! Thanks Dude. Checked before I left out! Chu-ching! I’m never wrong about people and you danced me into a $100! Tonight will be a great night all thanks to you! Thank you Bro for being so predictable! Out of here and no need to reply… I’m through and got you to win me a night out! Thanks again!

          10. Jesse Gault Avatar
            Jesse Gault

            Nice fantasy world you have there. You should write for television, loser. Sad.

          11. RangeTheLeafHolder Avatar

            I may lack intelligence, but you lack self-control and are completely child-like, it’s so easy to get you to dance. I told you to shut up 4 days ago for your own good, but you’re still babbling. That’s how you self-proclaimed intellects are. I wish i was smart enough to make a $100 bet, Tim, there, is a man of opportunity

    5. defuncted up Avatar
      defuncted up

      There’s a difference between intentional, unnecessary vs minimal, unintentional damage. The latter is the best way to do as little impact to the area as possible so striving for that isn’t the hardest thing ever. Stacking rocks isn’t a split-decision “mistake”. It’s a (mostly) thought-out time-consuming act that, at any moment, could be stopped so that less of the natural habitat is disturbed. Those differences are important to point out.

    6. PuncheonRun Avatar

      Don’t mow your lawn if you can arrange things that way. Lawns are deserts for insects and the wildlife that depends on them. Of course homeowners associations (ass’s) like to make things difficult for those of us who hate lawns, but some landscaping with native perennials can cut down a lot on the area you have to mow. Professor Doug Tallamy at the U of Delaware (Timber Press) has a good book about how we can make an impact in this way.

  7. Jennifer Allen Avatar
    Jennifer Allen

    Ah yes. Let’s replace all megalithic specimens back to their quarries also ?

  8. UhHuh Avatar

    I like how this article never once mentions what species rock stacking affects. Of course it says multiple species, but not even an example of one ? It’s just kind of fishy to me. Also if I was walking through the outdoors and I saw a stack of rocks I wouldn’t be using it as a navigation marker, just saying.

    1. UhHuh Avatar

      Also, if rock stacking really is detrimental to the ecosystem of different species no one should be using rock stacks for navigation markers in the first place.

    2. Christopher P Watson Avatar
      Christopher P Watson

      It affects human beings. Instead of being a person in nature and enjoying the beauty of their surroundings, they are transformed into rock-stacking douches who have to make the scene about them. A step away from grafittiing a tree. IMHO ?

  9. Christopher P Watson Avatar
    Christopher P Watson

    Personally I love kicking these over when I find them, so this article makes me feel really good ?

  10. Seraphim Avatar

    Yeesh. Talk about clickbait. Rearranging rocks into little displays isn’t some out of control trend. It’s a niche little thing some people do. It’s not like your average reader is out there with back hoes pulling up slabs of rocks to build Stonehenges “for the gram”. And can we give creatures a little more credit than assuming they can’t survive if their rocks are moved?? Bears, raccoons, Badgers, etc have been flipping rocks to grab some grub for millennia. The critters persist.

    1. John Pouw Avatar
      John Pouw

      Completely agree with all of that. Be mindful of nature, absolutely and never intentionally disturb a habitat, but next we will be told that breathing while out in a forest disturbs the fragile air patterns that are required by the tibetan snow moth. Common sense and realism has to prevail at some time :)

  11. ogotaj Avatar

    “Humans have used stacks of rocks as trail markers since prehistoric times.” And since prehistoric times this has not been a problem for the ecosystem. Until this article happen. Seriously, Greta Thunberg ripping a fart has more impact on the environment than stacking some stones.

    1. John Pouw Avatar
      John Pouw


  12. Jada Baudelaire Avatar
    Jada Baudelaire

    Driving your car during warmer months is devastating the airborne insect populations… You need to stop driving STAT!!

  13. Terry Gunderson Avatar
    Terry Gunderson

    This implies that as humans we should just go extinct. Roads, dams, buildings, now the slightest movement of a single grain of sand can cause irreparable harm to the ecosystem we’re all a part of. In defense of the lonely dung Beatle there is plenty of habitat for you right here on the internet

  14. Jada Baudelaire Avatar
    Jada Baudelaire

    We need to all go out and make rock stacks them post em on the internet and put the links to our stacks here in these comments. We should all continue doing this for at least the next two or three decades. The comment section of this article can be the gallery of rock stacks….. So mote it be.

    1. Jada Baudelaire Avatar
      Jada Baudelaire

      Dave’s worst nightmare begins!!!!!!

  15. Ian Lantzy Avatar
    Ian Lantzy

    Alright, how is this affecting entire species? If your species rely entirely on the couple dozen rocks that are being moved for someone’s dumbass Insta post, then that’s probably Darwin’s way of telling you that you’re done.

    Yeah, us moving things in nature is probably going to disturb something, but so is anything else that happens to move something. But you know what REALLY affects animals? All the other shit humans do to the environment globally on a daily basis. This has got to be one of the dumbest photography articles I’ve ever read.

  16. Chris Hutcheson Avatar
    Chris Hutcheson

    Certainly we displace objects just by walking through a site – so do animals. I don’t see the value or benefit, though, in popping something up that doesn’t occur naturally in a landscape. Why not just photograph what’s already there?

  17. Steven Massy Avatar
    Steven Massy

    Pure speculation.

  18. Idiot Avatar

    Ok…so I guess this means we shouldn’t have kids either?

    Don’t kids fucking kick rocks all the time? GTFO of here with this crap. Go kick rocks.

  19. Don Inman Avatar
    Don Inman

    Enough with the stacked rocks already. It’s getting tiresome.

  20. Punditator Avatar


    1. John Pouw Avatar
      John Pouw


  21. Richard Wiseman Avatar
    Richard Wiseman

    Watch out guys. Picking up rocks is going to doom the planet.

  22. Jim Zakany Avatar
    Jim Zakany

    Will no one think of the microbes?

  23. Jordan Laboucane Avatar
    Jordan Laboucane

    Is this really what we’ve come to? Humans can’t even stack ROCKS without damaging the environment.
    We don’t stand a chance.

  24. Rick Coswan Avatar
    Rick Coswan

    Man I have to wonder how mankind and the earth survived for the last 100k years before the environmental kooks came on the scene. Funny thing about animals and insects, if you move a rock they will just go find another one the nest or do whatever they do. Good thing the environment kooks were not around when the pyramids were getting built….?

  25. Mike Shwarts Avatar
    Mike Shwarts

    What about the way rock stacking affects my experience? I don’t leave the house to see your rock stacking. I’m out to experience nature. If I want to see rocks stacked, I’d visit an art museum or some kind of garden.

  26. Patrick Noone Avatar
    Patrick Noone

    That’s not the real problem mate, pissing in the woods that’s the big issue, lazy people not even bothering to attempt the massive hike to the toilets in Wetherspoons, so they piss in the woods, or worse, I know some leave it too long knowing they are never going to make it,, but as chairman Mao said that “yellow grass begins with the first wet” ?

  27. Robert King Avatar
    Robert King

    Sorry, almost left without writing a word. But as I was leaving I read this article’s title again.

    I’ve been a wildlife biologist/ecologist for 40+ years. It’s the second half of the title that irks me “..but they are killing animals.”

    I asked myself, “in what specific way(s) can rearranging rocks kill wildlife”?

    Then finally, I opened the link that you provided with the acronym “ABC news”. Here is a link to that article:

    For those who think the author is exaggerating, first open the article and then pass your judgment.

    1. chrisozman Avatar

      If it was written by ABC Australia I have already passed my judgement.

  28. Jurgen Lobert Avatar
    Jurgen Lobert

    Good grief, when will you attempt to improve your article quality? This is supremely stupid! If we are worried about destroying the habitat of an ant by removing a 1 inch rock, we should be much more concerned about destroying the ants themselves by simply walking around. Stop walking then??

  29. Chris Oaten Avatar
    Chris Oaten

    If you need to rearrange rocks to make the world look better, you have no right to be out in the world with a camera.

  30. chrisozman Avatar

    oh FFS! Will you Church of Greeniology people just STFU! So sick of this garbage, nature is WAY smarter than we are, thank God.

  31. cbenci Avatar

    Just stacked some rocks in solidarity.

  32. Deacon Blues Avatar
    Deacon Blues

    Correction: This tired cliché bullsh*t doesn’t “look cool”.