• From extreme weather to volcanic eruptions, 2021 has been tough on our environment.
  • Floods, wildfires, volcanoes and locusts have affected many people.
  • Yet, in a sanctuary in Mexico, an ancient migration still fills the forest with wonder.

2021 has been another tumultuous year for planet Earth as fires, floods, volcanic eruptions and deadly storms ravaged the environment and drove people and animals from their homes.

The worsening effects of climate change and volcanic activity - which triggered earthquakes as well as eruptions - cost lives around the globe. Reuters photographers have captured the devastation in a series of brilliant environmental images. Here is a small selection of what they witnessed.

A woman and child on the Cumbre Vieja ridge of La Palma, in October.
A woman and child on the Cumbre Vieja ridge of La Palma, in October.
Image: REUTERS/Juan Medina

1. Volcanic eruptions in the Canary Islands

As 2021 draws to a close, it appears volcanic eruptions on the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands may finally be coming to an end, after three months of constant seismic activity. It has so far destroyed almost 3,000 buildings and forced thousands of people to leave their homes.

2. Flash floods in Nepal

At least 15 people died when flash floods in Nepal submerged homes in mud and water during June when this picture was taken. Flooding was reported as extreme weather hit the country from May to October with at least 60 people reported killed between 7 August and 7 September, alone.

A firefighter tackles the Caldor Fire as it burns in Grizzly Flats, California, in August.
A firefighter tackles the Caldor Fire as it burns in Grizzly Flats, California, in August.
Image: REUTERS/Fred Greaves

3. Wildfires in California

Between January and the beginning of December there were 54,350 wildfires across the US, which burned over 2.8 million hectares. California has been among the worst affected states with more than 8,600 fires to the end of November.

A man tries to chase desert locusts away from a farm near Rumuruti, Kenya in February.
A man tries to chase desert locusts away from a farm near Rumuruti, Kenya in February.
Image: REUTERS/Baz Ratner

4. Swarms of locusts

Locusts are a perennial problem in East Africa as swarms migrate from the Horn of Africa to breed further south, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. But climate change is making these swarms bigger, threatening the region with food shortages. This year, though, farmers fought back, harvesting the insects and turning them into animal feed.

4-year-old Nina, accompanied by her marine biologist father, removes plastic waste at the Praia Vermelha beach in Rio in July.
4-year-old Nina, accompanied by her marine biologist father, removes plastic waste at the Praia Vermelha beach in Rio in July.
Image: REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

5. Young environmentalists

Rio de Janeiro’s Municipal Urban Cleaning Company has named four-year-old Nina Gomes its youngest ‘Green Agent’ for her efforts to collect rubbish from the sea, Reuters reports.

Glaciologists exploring the ice cave which will eventually collapse the glacier above as warmer air rushes in.
Glaciologists exploring the ice cave which will eventually collapse the glacier above as warmer air rushes in.
Image: REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

6. Melting glaciers

The rate at which glaciers around the world are melting has doubled in the past 20 years, according to a study published in Nature, in July. One of the effects of accelerated melting is the creation of giant ice caves, like this one under the Jamtalferner glacier near Galtuer, Austria.

The long march: exhausted elephants rest after trekking hundreds of kilometres across China.
The long march: exhausted elephants rest after trekking hundreds of kilometres across China.
Image: China Daily via REUTERS

7. Migrating elephants

Scientists say rising temperatures, changing weather patterns and changes to vegetation caused by climate change are forcing many species to migrate to new habitats. This image, taken in June, shows part of a herd of 15 wild Asian elephants resting after trekking hundreds of kilometres from their forest homes in China’s Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve. They are heading to the Jinning district of Kunming, Yunnan province.

Flash floods in Turkey caused buildings to collapse.
Flash floods in Turkey caused buildings to collapse.
Image: REUTERS/Mehmet Emin Caliskan

8. Flash floods in Turkey

Turkey experienced several extreme weather-related events in the summer of 2021. At least 70 people died when heavy rain caused flash flooding in July and August. Most of the deaths occurred in Kastamonu province on the Black Sea coast, where this picture was taken. Elsewhere, several apartment buildings in the town of Bozkurt collapsed when the Ezine river burst its banks. At the same time, eight people died and 10,000 hectares of land were burned by wildfires near the Mediterranean tourist resort of Marmaris.

Lava flows from Iceland’s Mount Fagradalsfjall in April.
Lava flows from Iceland’s Mount Fagradalsfjall in April.
Image: REUTERS/Cat Gundry-Beck

9. Volcanic eruptions in Iceland

Almost 80 volcanic eruptions were recorded around the world in 2021 by the Smithsonian Institute’s Global Volcanism Program: from the Philippines and Papua New Guinea to North and South America, the Caribbean, Russia and Europe. In March, Iceland saw a major eruption on Mount Fagradalsfjall, southwest of the capital Reykjavik. It was still oozing lava in November, making it the country’s longest volcanic episode for 50 years.

Monarch butterflies rest on a tree after migrating to Mexico’s El Rosario sanctuary.
Monarch butterflies rest on a tree after migrating to Mexico’s El Rosario sanctuary.
Image: REUTERS/Toya Sarno Jordan

10. Butterflies in Mexico

Every year, autumn turns trees yellow and gold in forests around the world. But in Mexico’s El Rosario sanctuary, the trees change colour as millions of butterflies arrive and paint them orange. Monarch butterflies - also known as “painted ladies” - travel 4,500km from Canada and the US to overwinter in the longest migration of any insect. The journey takes from August to November, while the mountainous reserve 100km northwest of Mexico City was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008.