Crew Commentary

Telling Stories with Pictures for the Mission 2030 Eco-Challenge

Bob Leonard - Climate Risk Manager


by Kirstin Cowan, National Geographic Educator 


Photos are a powerful tool. They help the reader paint a mental image of the author’s message, and more. Words most definitely have power. However, photographs have a way of connecting us to a story on a deeper level as we step into a moment in time. Each photo is a moment captured. Each photo has a secret to tell. Photographs used in storytelling help to elevate the message through the power of observation. These visual observations help a storyteller create a stronger sense of connection to a topic. This connection facilitates action as the photos often have a way of urging us to become a part of them.


Why is this important when researching a topic? Can photography really help to educate, prompt the creation of new laws, change habits, and more? Yes. Let me prove it with a short story of a favorite place I hope to protect. I, as the author, have used words and photos to paint a mental picture of my place and why it needs to be protected. Please pay attention to how your mental images compare to actual images. Let’s take a journey to my “happy place”… a place of magic and wonder.


The Earth is filled with magic and wonder. One has only to open their eyes and look. Let’s journey to this mystical place where land meets the sea. Take a walk along the shore and gaze at the horizon. Be aware of life, thriving all around you. Watch as a surfer becomes one with a wave. Bury your feet in the sand. Cherish the enchanting details. Witness a child filled with joy. Beware though, for this magic may slip away. We must protect these places (like New Smyrna Beach, Florida) so the wonder will endure.


Where is your place of magic? Picture a rising sun painting the sky vivid colors as it glides above the horizon. A pelican gracefully floating above the ocean waves that are lightly kissing the shoreline. Walking in this place, where land meets the sea, creates a sense of wonder and peace.



On this day, I walk for hours as the soft sand beneath my feet is met by the occasional pulse of the rising tide. Daylight is upon me and I notice an odd shape a few feet ahead. As I approach, I see a young turtle journeying across the sand as it works to find its way home. A new life beginning its own story.



My walk takes me down to the inlet and I witness surfers entranced by the ocean. For them, life is in the here and now. To a surfer, there is nothing else but this moment. It is simply them, their board, the waves, and the endless ocean. A genuine form of meditation as they are one with the life force of the planet.



After a moment of contemplation I continue my journey, taking in all that I see. A beachgoer has added their own touch of magic and wonder as I approach a gypsy-like tent. I find myself daydreaming of vagabond adventures as I watch the tapestries flap in the breeze. 



As I approach my family, I hear my daughter’s laughter and watch her skipping into the ocean, not a care in the world. Joy, pure joy.



This is my happy place. However, every day it is threatened by trash. Trash from those visiting this wonderland, trash that has traversed the ocean and come in with the tide. It reminds me of the pollution that fills nearly every waterway, not just our oceans. The impact of destructive human behavior saddens me and I wonder if we will ever learn. So, I do my part. I gather the items that litter the coastline and place them where they belong.


Sometimes I wonder if my efforts are worth it. Then I picture those special moments, those magical bits of wonder that make this place so special. I think of that moment I witnessed earlier in the morning, a father and son heading out into the ocean for a dawn patrol session, creating moments together. I think of moments like that and I keep on doing what I can. I hope and wish that my simple act of picking up trash will ripple out and others will do what they can. I promise myself that I will continue fighting to protect this place. As the sun sets I hold on to the magic and wonder.


Take on the Mission 2030 Summer Eco-Challenge and do your part to regenerate a healthier planet while having fun! We can all help the Earth in our own unique ways, and remember that Spaceship Earth is something we all have in common. It is our only home. It is our future. Please tell us your story and include some pictures!