The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is the largest coastal mountain in the world, rising majestically from pristine Caribbean beaches along Colombia’s northern coast through dense tropical forests, and peaking among glacial lagoons and snowcaps at 18,000 feet above sea level. Thanks to the 35 rivers that flow down from its peaks, the massif sustains life over a vast region of South America. The Sierra Nevada (Snowy Mountain) is home to the highly traditional Kogi, Wiwa and Arhuaco native peoples who, along with the now-assimilated Kankuamo, descend from the ancient Tayrona culture that flourished on the mountain until it was attacked by Spanish conquistadores in the 17th century.
Detailed studies by the US Geological Survey show that the glaciers on the Sierra Nevada have shrunk 75% since 1800, just as ice and snow are disappearing from mountain peaks the world over. The traditional peoples of the Sierra Nevada refer to the mountain as the Heart of the World. In their view, when the natural equilibrium of the Sierra Nevada is disrupted, the whole planet suffers. They are deeply alarmed by the melting of the glaciers on the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, which indeed bodes ill for high-altitude glaciers the world over.
Since the late 1980s, Stephen Ferry has traveled to dozens of countries, covering social and political change, human rights, and the environment, on assignment for publications such as National Geographic, GEO, TIME and the New York Times. A fluent Spanish speaker, Stephen has developed an understanding of Latin America from over twenty years of covering the region. Stephen’s first book, I Am Rich Potosí: The Mountain that Eats Men (Monacelli Press, 1999), documents the lives of the Quechua miners of Potosí, Bolivia. His second book Violentology: A Manual of the Colombian Conflict (Umbrage, 2012) has become a referential work for the study of Colombian history, armed conflict and human rights. His last major publication, La Batea, documents the struggles of gold mining communities in Colombia to defend their way of life against armed criminal organizations and multinational corporations seeking their gold.
Stephen has won honors from the World Press Photo, Picture of the Year, and Best of Photojournalism contests. He has also received grants from the National Geographic Expeditions Council, the Fund for Investigative Journalism, the Alicia Patterson Foundation, the Howard Chapnick Fund, the Knight International Press Fellowship, the Getty Images Grant for Good, Open Society Foundations and the Magnum Foundation.