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National Geographic Magazine May 2021

The latest news in science, exploration, and culture will open your eyes to the world’s many wonders. Get a National Geographic digital magazine subscription today and experience the same high-quality articles and breathtaking photography contained in the print edit.

United States
National Geographic Society
$6.63(Incl. tax)
$25.20(Incl. tax)
12 Issues

in this issue

2 min
hope for solving our seas’ problems

THE WORLD’S OCEANS, more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, are rife with problems: Overfishing, warming and acidifying waters, plastic pollution, a loss of abundance and diversity. Finding solutions, or even reasons for optimism, can seem a daunting task. But that’s what we seek in this special issue. It’s dedicated to our seas, the people who explore them, and the creatures that inhabit them—from enormous whales to the tiniest corals. To care about the ocean in the 21st century is to feel conflicted: despairing what’s been lost, optimistic about what we can save. To discuss this tension, I called photographer David Doubilet, who went on his first National Geographic assignment 50 years ago. By Doubilet’s calculations, he has spent more than 27,000 hours underwater—or just over three of his 74 years. Doubilet…

1 min
mining marks a landscape


1 min
the backstory

TOM HEGEN MAKES portraits of the Anthropocene, this current age in which the dominant influence on Earth is human activity. His work often requires observing from above: leaning out of helicopters, operating drones. Taken from these heights, Hegen’s series of images show the broad effects of receding glaciers, exploited farmland, polluted quarries—and here, coal mines in Germany, Hegen’s homeland. Some mines are still operating; others, spent and shut down. The lignite coal here is almost always buried, requiring industrial excavation that can foul ecosystems and waterways. The coal yields cheap electricity, but at a high cost in scarred land. Though the scars are upsetting, Hegen says, he gives the portraits an abstract beauty in the hope that people will look at them—and consider the ecological issues they present. These photographs are of…

7 min
the conservation popularity contest

IN THIS SECTION Wandering Rocks The Iceberg Graveyard Moving Giraffes by Ark Yo-Yo Ma’s Activism Beetle: Adult American burying beetles feed their babies, an extremely unusual example of parental care among insects. ILLUMINATING THE MYSTERIES—AND WONDERS—ALL AROUND US EVERY DAY NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC VOL.239 NO. 5 TAKE A GOOD LOOK AT the American burying beetle, aka the giant carrion beetle (left). Essentially the vulture of the insect world, this bug once scuttled in droves across 35 states, scouring our fruited plains of all manner of carcasses. Today the beetle is assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as critically endangered. Habitat loss, pesticides, and light pollution may be some of the factors that have left this natural recycler hanging on in only four scattered populations. Like the tiger, the American burying beetle has orange and black…

1 min
which species could be saved?

They may not charm us with fuzzy paws and puppy dog eyes, but many less photogenic, oft ignored species deserve some love. The world needs to better recognize the contributions of these underdogs rather than “only spending money on cool species,” says conservation scientist Bob Smith. National Geographic Explorer and photographer Joel Sartore is founder of the National Geographic Photo Ark, a multiyear project using the power of photography to inspire people to help save species at risk before it’s too late. The National Geographic Society has supported the Photo Ark since 2012. THESE ANIMALS WERE PHOTOGRAPHED AT DUKE LEMUR CENTER, DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA (AYE-AYE); TAMARAW GENE POOL FARM, OCCIDENTAL MINDORO, PHILIPPINES (MINDORO DWARF BUFFALO); HEALESVILLE SANCTUARY, VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA (NUMBAT); AND PHOENIX ZOO, ARIZONA (CALIFORNIA CONDOR).…

1 min
hummingbirds and habitats

To inform British Columbia’s conservation efforts, wildlife ecologist Adam Ford created a model showing which of a thousand Canadian species overlap the most in province habitats. A top surrogate species—so named because it’s representative of other species that thrive in a given area—surprised them: the rufous hummingbird, a feathered dynamo just three inches long. “If you conserved habitat of the rufous hummingbird, we would have the greatest impact on the species in British Columbia,” Ford says. “Could you build a conservation program with hummingbirds? I don’t know. But it tells us that people who elevate charismatic megafauna ought to consider the utility of these other species.”…