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Arlington, Virginia, U.S.A. - Smoke from wildfires hung over Huntsville, Texas during the summer of 2011. Sean James, an eight-grader, watched with his family as the rainless, hot summer worsened the already existing drought and wildfires. In his first-place winning entry for the 2012 Earth Day Photo and Essay Contest, Sean conveyed his shock that an area so damaged by the devastating wildfires could recover so quickly.
Sean’s photograph captures a scene in northern Walker County, Texas. There, among trees charred by flames, green plants begin to flourish. “I’m pretty sure anybody who knew about the tendencies of nature knew that this “natural reconstruction” was going to occur after a fire like this, but I don’t know how many people knew it would happen in such a short span of time,” Sean wrote.
In addition to the photograph, Sean also collected photographs of the wildfires taken by others, and compiled them into a music video for which he wrote the music.
“The wildfires became such a large and emotional part of our lives last year that it was impossible for him not to be moved by the incredible turnaround we saw this year,” Sean’s mother, Renee James, recalls.
Sean and other young talented photographers took part in the sixth-annual Earth Day Photo & Essay Contest held by the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES). More than 400 students from across the country participated in the contest for grades 5-8, capturing scenes of our changing world.
Using their photograph as inspiration, participants then wrote an essay about the change shown in the photograph, its causes, and its impacts.
Entries were judged by IGES staff based on relevance to the contest theme (depiction of change in the environment), uniqueness and overall appearance of the photo, and quality of the written explanation.
Dominick Frank, a seventh-grader from Ames, Iowa, won second place with a picture of algae blooms taken at a lake near his home, and with his essay, helped to raise awareness of agricultural pollution. “Algae overgrowth is a result of fertilizer and manure pollution,” Dominick wrote. “Both promote the growth of plants, so algae grows like crazy claiming the surface of the water. The pollution occurs when run off from farm fields and feedlots washes down rivers, streams, and creeks.”
Third place went to Rishab Ramapriyan, a seventh-grader from Freemont, California, who snapped a photograph of the coastal wetlands near Arrowhead Marsh, Oakland, California. In his essay, Rishab noted the variety of threats to wetland areas and the importance of protecting them: “Aggressive protection of existing wetlands and the remaining upland transition areas around the Bay may be the only way to preserve the natural services of wetlands that will protect the water quality of the Bay when rising sea levels encroach on developed lands.”
The top three winners receive $150, $100, and $75 gift cards. Each of the top 10 winners receives a photo book featuring the winning entries.