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Our top nature drone photos of 2019 (Insider)

Snorkeler with three juvenile whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez off Baja California, Mexico. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

Snorkeler with three juvenile whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez off Baja California, Mexico. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

  • Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler chooses some of his favorite drone images captured in 2019.
  • While I’ve written about use of drones in conservation since 2012, 2019 was the first year that I actually had drone myself I made a lot of use of it during trips to Bolivia, Indonesia, Mexico, and Madagascar as well as at home in the United States,
  • This post is insider content, which is available to paying subscribers.

While I’ve written about use of drones in conservation since 2012 — a Mongabay story was the first to use the term “conservation drones” — 2019 was the first year that I actually had a drone myself and I made a lot of use of it during trips to Bolivia, Indonesia, Mexico, and Madagascar as well as at home in the United States, capturing pictures of landscapes, deforestation, and even marine life.

Below are some of my favorite drone photos from 2019.

Forest canopy on a private property in Volcano on the big island of Hawaii not far from Volcanoes National Park. The light color of the tree ferns provide a nice contrast from the rest of the forest. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
Remote beach in Baja California, Mexico. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Smallholder deforestation in Kapuas Hulu Regency, West Kalimantan. Trees were being cut down as I took this photo. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
Baobab trees at sunset in Madagascar. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
Rainforest, reef, and ocean on Maratua Island in the Derawan Archipelago off East Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Recent deforestation for soy production in the Bolivian Amazon and Chaco. This photo was taken before this region was ravaged by fires. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Lowland rainforest in Indonesian Borneo. This was one of the more challenging drone flights of 2019 because I had to navigate the through a closed rainforest canopy with multiple vegetation layers. Landing was harder than taking off. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Whale shark feeding on plankton in the Sea of Cortez off Baja California, Mexico. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Coastline of the Big Island of Hawaii. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Lake in the California Sierra Nevada mountains near Donner Pass. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Beach in Santa Cruz County, California. The turbidity of the ocean combine with the sunlight made the cold Pacific look unusually tropical. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
This isn’t tropical rainforest — it’s temperate oak forest near Edgewood Park in San Mateo, California. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Reef off the western coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
A riverbed that has been dug up for gold mining near Mandor, West Kalimantan in Indonesian Borneo. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
Drone view of sub-tropical forest in the Bolivian Amazon. Photo by Rhett A. Butler for Mongabay.
Small island off the west coast of Hawaii. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Deforestation in West Kalimantan. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Baobab trees in Kirindy Forest with fires burning in the background, Madagascar. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Redwood forest on the edge of Silicon Valley in San Mateo County, California. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Lake in the California Sierra Nevada mountains near Donor Pass. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Kayaker off the Big Island of Hawaii. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Drained, cleared, and burned peat forest in Indonesian Borneo. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
Fires burning in the Kirindy forest of Menabe Antimena. Image by Rhett A. Butler
Iban dugout canoes on the Utik river in Sungai Utik’s customary forest in West Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. Dayak members of the Sungai Utik longhouse community in West Kalimantan. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
Lava flows off the western coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Baobab trees at sunset in western Madagascar. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Whale shark in the Sea of Cortez off Baja California, Mexico. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Lava flows off the western coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Drained, cleared, and burned peat forest in Indonesian Borneo. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
Sungai Utik river in West Kalimantan. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Lava flows off the western coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Soy field and cerrado / chaco / Amazon transition forest. Photo by Rhett A. Butler for Mongabay.
Deforestation in Kapuas Hulu, Indonesian Borneo. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Dead and dying ʻōhiʻa lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha) trees on the big island of Hawaii. Like forests across Hawaii, this forest on the south Kona coast is dying from Rapid ‘Ōhi’a Death, an invasive fungal disease. Dying trees have brown leaves, like the individual in the center of the photo. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
Baobab trees in southwestern Madagascar. Image by Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay.
Reef off the western coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
A forest dying due to Rapid ‘Ōhi’a Death. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
Forest cleared for gold mining in Indonesian Borneo. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
Lava flows off the western coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Rainforest canopy in Kapuas Hulu, West Kalimantan. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Forest canopy in Volcano on the big island of Hawaii. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
Redwood forest on the edge of Silicon Valley in San Mateo County, California. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Reef off the western coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Road in West Kalimantan. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Gold mining tailing pond near Mandor in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Rainforest canopy in Kapuas Hulu, West Kalimantan. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Snorkeler with three juvenile whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez off Baja California, Mexico. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Sungai Utik river in West Kalimantan. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.