Gary Braasch, renowned environmental photojournalist, died Monday while snorkeling on the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef. Seventy-year-old Braasch was documenting climate change impacts to the reef at Australian Museum's Lizard Island Research Station when he was observed floating face-down in the water, according to a statement issued by the museum. The cause of death was not immediately clear and Queensland Police are currently investigating the incident.
Since 1974, Braasch's photographs looking at climate change and other environmental issues have appeared in National Geographic, Smithsonian, Time, Audubon, and Discover, among others. "He was one of the first people who started documenting climate change, back in the '80s, when people were laughing at the idea," says Cristina Mittermeier, the founder and former executive director of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP), of which Braasch was a founding Fellow. "And he was unapologetic and uncompromising about it, just continuing to document issue after issue regardless of who was listening."
Braasch's book Earth Under Fire, published in 2009, was called "essential reading for every citizen" by Al Gore. Braasch's biggest impact though, came in the form of eye-opening exhibitions at museums worldwide, most recently "Climate Change in Our World" at the Boston Museum of Science in 2013. He won numerous awards and citations for his work, including the Sierra Club's Ansel Adams Award for Conservation Photography in 2006, and the North American Nature Photography Association's Outstanding Nature Photographer award in 2003. But Mittermeier says Braasch wasn't after the awards and recognition; "For Gary, it was always about the message. I have a quote from him; he said that our job is not to take pictures that people want to look at, but rather that force them to look the issue in the face."
Boyd Norton, recipient of the Sierra Club's 2015 Ansel Adams Award for Conservation Photography, called Braasch's death a "great loss," and lauded Braasch's groundbreaking work to publicize the effects of climate change and bring it into the public's eye.
"We are all devastated by Gary's passing," says Alexandra S. Garcia, iLCP's Executive Director. "He worked tirelessly to educate us all about climate change and its many impacts. We can only be grateful that he has left us with an important legacy, an amazing body of photographic work that will no doubt continue to inform and challenge us all to do better by our planet for years to come."
Braasch's leaves behind the legacy of the website World View of Global Warming, which he founded in 2000 to aggregate all of his climate change work from all over the world. It remains an invaluable resource for scientists, educators, research students, and the general public.