National Geographic Photo Ark: Portraits of the world’s biodiversity

Joel Sartore, world-renowned photographer, is on a quest to create a photo archive of the world’s biodiversity, one portrait at a time.

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Joel Sartore, world-renowned photographer and founder of the Photo Ark. © Photo by Grahm S. Jones/National Geographic Photo Ark (www.natgeophotoark.org)

Earth’s sixth mass extinction is under way and it has been under way for a while. Sceptics can bury their heads in the sand as much as they want but the facts are undeniably there: species are becoming extinct at an alarming rate.

A recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences  talks about “biological annihilation” of wildlife declaring that this mass extinction is even more severe than previously feared.

Despite the doom and gloom, a world-renowned photographer is still hopeful and made it his life mission to ensure that endangered species are remembered. This crusade started over a decade ago when Joel Sartore decided to undertake an incredible photographic project in his hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska.

Back in 2005, Joel is unable to keep working as a National Geographic photographer after his wife, Kathy, is diagnosed with breast cancer. Staying at home for a year to take care of her and their children gives Joel a new perspective on the fragility of life.

Even after his wife’s recovery, he continues to be haunted by the fact that we could lose half of all the world’s species by next century. Determined to find a way to get other people to care, he starts the Photo Ark.

Multiyear effort to raise awareness about the pressing issues affecting wildlife and their habitats, the National Geographic Photo Ark aims to “document every species in the world’s zoos and wildlife sanctuaries, inspire action through education, and help save wildlife by supporting on-the-ground conservation efforts.”

Creating portraits of hope, Joel’s quest has brought him to visit 40 countries to create an incredible photo archive of the world’s global biodiversity. The  National Geographic photographer and explorer intends to feature in the ark portraits of an estimated 12,000 species.

More than half way through the target already with a total of 6,531 species photographed, the project aims at being a testament of each species’ existence and a powerful statement to raise awareness around the world about the importance of saving each of them.

“It’s the eye contact that moves people. It engages their feelings of compassion and a desire to help.” – Joel Sartore

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Two Golden snub-nosed monkeys, Rhinopithecus roxellana, at Ocean Park Hong Kong. © Photo by Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark (www.natgeophotoark.org)

More than a warning signal, the Photo Ark is a powerful tool to reach people and make them engage with that alarming truth that species are indeed disappearing, and disappearing fast. Through free educational materials and activities, books, TV programmes and special exhibitions, the project really wants to trigger sparks of inspiration everywhere in the world. More importantly though, it wants to convince people that there is still time to take action!

“I want people to care, to fall in love, and to take action,” says Joel on the Photo Ark website. “All species are vitally important to our very survival; we need bees and even flies to pollinate the fruits and vegetables we eat. We need intact rain forest to regulate the amount of rainfall we get in areas where we grow crops. But beyond what’s in it for us, I believe that each species has a basic right to exist.”

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Recently, the project launched a new powerful campaign: #SaveTogether. As part of this campaign, giant billboards have been appearing in the US each featuring an endangered species and the number of individuals left in the wild.

Acting as an alarm, these billboards remind all of us that time is running out. Only 700 Sumatran tigers are left in the wild. Just 700 individuals left in the whole world. That’s pretty striking! Using beautiful portraits to move his audience, Joel Sartore is certainly shouting loud and clear about the Earth’s sixth mass extinction but he is surely doing it in a beautifully inspiring way.

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