For several years now we’ve been hearing about problems with bees. Mass die offs. Colony collapse disorder. Potential shortages of hives for commercial pollination. In 2013, after hearing about the troubles bees were having, Clay Bolt started photographing bees around his South Carolina home. After posting photos of two tiny bees online, and finding people (even entomologists) couldn’t identify them, a new project was born, which led to Clay Bolt receiving this year’s Environmental Impact Award.
Clay discovered that there were thousands of species of bees in North America yet, aside from the European honey bee, most of us—even scientists—know little about them. And, while the honey bee population is relatively stable, native species are struggling.
“The primary mission of my project,” says Clay, “has been to increase awareness and conservation of native bees.” He uses photographs, presentations, films, articles and social media to reach and educate people and policymakers and change people’s habits.
When he encountered the rusty-patched bumble bee in an insect collection at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, he was stunned to learn that it had once been one of the most common species of bee in North America. After a 90% decline in numbers, its survival was threatened.
That inspired Clay to research and document the rusty-patched bumble bee, write articles and create a film “A Ghost in the Making: Searching for the Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee.”
His work contributed to it becoming the first native bee to be placed on the Endangered Species List.
But his work hasn’t ended there. Clay says that “one out of every four species of our North American bumble bees is at risk of extinction, so I continue to focus my efforts on protecting these beautiful, critically important pollinators.”
Clay Bolt is a natural history and conservation photographer specializing in macro and close-up photography with an emphasis on invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians. His images and projects have been featured by organizations and publications such as National Geographic, The Nature Conservancy, Scientific American, Outdoor Photographer, Audubon Magazine, New Scientist, BBC Wildlife and many others. Originally from South Carolina, Clay now lives in Bozeman, Montana where he works as the communications lead for World Wildlife Fund’s Northern Great Plains Program. He is an Associate Fellow in the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP).
In 2009 Clay co-founded the international nature photography project “Meet Your Neighbours” (www.meetyourneighbours.net), which has grown to include dozens of photographers representing locations around the world. The mission at MYN is to reconnect people with the wildlife that lives within their own communities. In 2012, in partnership with The Highlands Biological Foundation, he co-founded Backyard Naturalists, whose mission is to inspire an appreciation of the natural world in children through science, art and technology.
See more of Clay’s work at www.claybolt.com.