Photographer Captures Beautiful and Tragic Sides of Nature

Daniel Beltrá dedicated 20 years of his photography career to preserving nature.

Nov. 20, 2009— -- A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the photographs of world-renowned conservation photographer Daniel Beltra have left countless viewers speechless.

In the last 20 years, Beltra has dedicated his career to conservation and captured the beautiful, the comical, and the tragic side of nature through photography.

"I have a strong sense of responsibility and a duty also to try to show what's happening so people know," Beltra told ABC News' Bob Woodruff this past July in Sumatra. "The wider the audience, the better, so we can do something together to try to solve this problem."

ABC News joined Beltra exclusively as he visited and documented Bukit Tigapuluh, the last remaining lowland forest on Sumatra.

Beltra's work in Indonesia is just one of the latest ventures on a long list of conservation projects that has educated a large global audience and been received with much deserved accolades.

Just this year Beltra was recognized with Prince Charles' Rainforests Project Award, the top prize of the Sony World Photography Awards 2009.

Click Here to See Beltra's Stunning Photographs From Across the Globe

Beltra was hand-picked by the prince to document the world's most beautiful and most endangered rain forests.

"Photographic imagery can tell a compelling story about the truth of the situation, and the truth is, if we lose the fight against tropical deforestation, then we lose the fight against climate change," Prince Charles said in a video message.

Giving a Forest Value

Prince Charles' organization aims to combat deforestation with incentives to keep the natural resources intact.

"The idea is to create a fund to compensate the country that still holds the big chunks of tropical rain forest, so the forest is more valuable standing than logged," Beltra said.

Tropical deforestation has struck Indonesia hard. With just 30 percent of its natural forest remaining, it is third, behind China and the United States, in carbon emissions worldwide.

"When I came here for the first time, I was really shocked by the deforestation, and there was basically almost nothing left," Beltra said.

'Trashing Our Planet Too Much'

Between 1985 and 2007 Sumatra lost approximately 55,000 square miles of natural forest.

"It's heartbreaking," Beltra said in an interview with ABC News. "The degree of destruction here, it's amazing. … I want people to be aware of what's happening and do something. And in order to do something you need to understand that there's still 80 percent of the rain forest standing and it's so gorgeous. So that's why we need to try to protect that," he said.

When forests are burned or cut down, they release large quantities of carbon dioxide, which affects the planet's climate.

"Tropical deforestation around the world is responsible for 20 percent of the CO2 emissions worldwide, so if we stop tropical deforestation that's a great way to control global warming," Beltra said.

Beltra has seen his share of natural disasters. His work has documented melting icebergs in Antarctica and devastating forest fires in Africa.

But Beltra most vividly remembers the emotion he felt photographing the droughts that ravished the Brazilian countryside. Beltra saw devastation everywhere in a drought that hit the Amazon in late 2005.

Hard to Show Tragedy

"I was really stunned by what I saw," Beltrá said. "I do a lot of aerial photography and so we found stranded boats in the middle of huge sand dunes. The river was really, really very low. Millions of fish were dying."

It is not easy for Beltra to show so much tragedy and still keep people engaged. While his work can be difficult at times, Beltra said he remains optimistic that people are paying attention.

"People are getting more and more concerned about the direction we're taking as humanity in the planet," Beltra said. "I always say that in this world there's no Republicans or Democrats. There's not a right or a left. We're all under the same roof. It's our house. We need to take care of it."

Person of the Week: Photographing the Rain Forests

Beltrá shot more than 40,000 images in Sumatra. More than 100 of the most striking photographs will be bound in a limited-edition book that will be sent to world leaders, nongovernmental advocacy groups and corporate executies in advance of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference this December.

With his poignant photography in the hands of some of the world's most prominent figures, Beltra said he hopes rainforest conservation will get more of the world's attention.

Top Stories

Top Stories

Top Stories

Top Stories

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events