Professor’s work featured in ‘Wetlands of Wonder’ documentary

Professor Steven David Johnson, conservation photographer, partnered with production company 302 Stories and writer-director Michael Oates on a new nature documentary “Wetlands of Wonder: The Hidden World of Vernal Pools.” The documentary is funded by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control with assistance from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The 54-minute program features the annual life cycle of vernal pools — unique, isolated wetland ecosystems that usually emerge in shallow depressions in the ground around forests, seasonally-flooded woodlands or floodplains.

Spotted salamander. (Photo by Steven David Johnson)

The film began airing last month on DNREC’s YouTube Channel.

Johnson’s video and images “add both visual beauty and a deeper ecological understanding” to the film, Oates said.

He reached out after seeing Johnson’s work on the Nature Conservancy website. The Nature Conservancy also featured Johnson’s photos on the cover and in a feature article in the Summer 2021 issue. The feature content and cover design later won Eddie and Ozzie Folio Awards

Johnson focuses on vernal pools of Appalachia. For more on his work, visit

Oates said he most appreciated how Johnson’s footage captures the vernal pools as an intensely competitive environment. “All of us know of the lions, leopards, and hyenas that predate the animals of the African plains, but few of us realize that similar predators, with equally large appetites, exist in these small pools. Steve’s footage captures that and does so in a way that viewers can relate to.”

Tiger salamander. (Photo by Steven David Johnson)

The documentary provides up-close views as well as rare underwater footage of the daily behavior of species that inhabit vernal pools, including the striking Eastern tiger salamander, a state endangered species in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. 

Additional production partners for the film include the Delaware Forest Service, University of Delaware, Delaware Nature Society, Eastern Mennonite University and Virginia Vernal Pools, LLC.

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