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!