Top 10 Nature Images of 2020: Wildflowers, Coastal Scenes, and Ancient Treasures

Our most popular Instagram posts showcase nature—and why it’s worth protecting

Navigate to:

Top 10 Nature Images of 2020: Wildflowers, Coastal Scenes, and Ancient Treasures

Among the many indelible themes to emerge from 2020 is how much we as humans rely on healthy natural ecosystems for our well-being—and how much these places mean to the long-term vitality of our planet. Here are the 10 most popular posts of 2020 from The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Instagram feed, images that capture breathtaking landscapes, celebrate conservation milestones, and illustrate in dazzling detail the importance of protecting—and restoring—our environment.

(For more, follow @PewEnvironment on Instagram.)

10. Super bloom

The remarkable colors of California’s Carrizo Plain National Monument are captivating during the spring bloom. A bill to protect some of this area as wilderness—the highest level of federal conservation—passed the U.S. House of Representatives in February but stalled in the Senate.

By picking this issue up in the next session of Congress, lawmakers could lock in safeguards for this extraordinary area far into the future.

9. The lone shark

A shark swims through seagrass and crystal-clear water in the Seychelles. In November, the country’s government continued on its path of leadership in ocean conservation by protecting coastal wetlands—think seagrass, mangroves, and salt marshes—to help deliver on the goals of the Paris Agreement.

8. Penguins at risk

These chinstrap chicks in the Antarctic Peninsula are among the roughly 1.5 million penguin breeding pairs in the region that face substantial threats because of large-scale fishing for krill, a staple food for these birds.

Fortunately, Southern Ocean marine life won big in December when the Association of Responsible Krill Harvesting Companies said it would cease krill fishing in specific zones around the Hope Bay, Sheppard Point, and Sheppard Nunatak penguin colonies off the northernmost tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

The area will total nearly 4,500 square kilometers—twice the size of Tokyo.

7. Majestic gray heron

A gray heron presides over a red mangrove tree in the Galapagos Islands. Marine biologist and Pew marine fellow Octavio Aburto, who took this photo, uses his camera along with satellite imagery to assess changes in mangrove coverage throughout the Americas.

Mangroves provide wildlife habitat, protect shorelines, and store three to five times more carbon than other tropical forests. Sadly, nearly half of the world’s mangroves have been lost, mainly to various forms of development and human activity, in the past 50 years.

(Podcast: Scientists at Work: The Art and Science of Saving Mangroves)

6. A reserve larger than California

In one of the first conservation victories of 2020, the remote Pacific archipelago of Palau—which encompasses more than 500 islands in Micronesia—safeguarded 80% of its waters with a marine protected area larger than California.

The decision marks a big step toward meeting the United Nations goal of protecting 30% of the global ocean by 2030.

5. Seal pups in the sun

Young monk seals splash in the shallows at French Frigate Shoals in Hawaii—part of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. The monument was designated in 2006 by President George W. Bush and expanded in 2016 by President Barack Obama. It is the largest contiguous protected area—on land or sea—in U.S. territory.

4. We ❤️ coastal wetlands

For World Wetlands Day on Feb. 2, we posted this aerial shot of coastal wetlands in New Caledonia, where natural channels crafted a perfect illustration of how we feel about coastal habitats.

Hosting some of the richest biodiversity on the planet, salt marshes, seagrass beds, and mangroves serve as refuges for wildlife, including as nurseries for juvenile fish such as groupers, snappers, and other commercially important species.

3. Healthy seagrass = healthy oceans

As Rich Batiuk, a seagrass expert with the consultancy CoastWise, said when he saw this image of a seagrass meadow in Susquehanna Flats in the Chesapeake Bay, “You don’t need a microscope or a Ph.D. to understand” the value of conserving and recovering these key coastal habitats. Seagrass is home to a wide range of species and helps keep the water clear and clean.

Read the full interview for more on these vital ecosystems.

2. A tiny undersea visitor

This tiny UFO jellyfish (genus Atolla) was just one of many surreal life forms photographed during a dive off NOAA’s Okeanos Explorer ship at a depth of 1,260 meters (4,134 feet) during a 29-day deep-sea expedition in 2019. It’s a small reminder of the variety of life within our ocean, which covers roughly 75% of the globe and is home to nearly a quarter of all known species.

1. National Fossil Day surprise

On Oct. 14, National Fossil Day, researchers released a painting of what Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky might have looked like 325 million years ago.

Fossils of at least 40 different species of sharks and their relatives have been identified on site, including six never-before-seen species. The painting illustrates the Mississippian shark, invertebrate fauna, and other ancient creatures that researchers believe lived here when the area was covered by ocean.

Follow Pew on Instagram
America’s Overdose Crisis
America’s Overdose Crisis

America’s Overdose Crisis

Sign up for our five-email course explaining the overdose crisis in America, the state of treatment access, and ways to improve care

Sign up
Quick View

America’s Overdose Crisis

Sign up for our five-email course explaining the overdose crisis in America, the state of treatment access, and ways to improve care

Sign up
Composite image of modern city network communication concept

Learn the Basics of Broadband from Our Limited Series

Sign up for our four-week email course on Broadband Basics

Quick View

How does broadband internet reach our homes, phones, and tablets? What kind of infrastructure connects us all together? What are the major barriers to broadband access for American communities?