For more than 20 years, I’ve been a contributing photographer for National Geographic. They’ve sent me to every continent, and I’ve worked on 33 photo essays so far. Every year I see more habitat lost, more species consumed.
The Photo Ark was born out of desperation to halt, or at least slow, the loss of global biodiversity. They say people will only save what they love. And they certainly can’t love something if they don’t know it exists. That’s where these photos come in. By isolating animals on black and white backgrounds, we can look them directly in the eye and quickly see that these creatures contain beauty, grace and intelligence. Perhaps some even hold the key to our very salvation.
The plain truth is, when we save species, we’re actually saving ourselves. In the grand scheme of things, healthy forests and oceans regulate our climate, and provide us with food to eat. On a smaller scale, individual plants can provide us with chemical agents we can use for medicines. And animals teach us new things all the time. Beyond all the self-serving reasons, each species is a work of art, created over thousands or even millions of years, and is worth saving just because it is unique and priceless.
Are things hopeless? Not at all. The era in which we live is full of possibilities, but we must act now. We need to support conservation organizations, captive breeding efforts and public awareness. We need to recognize that every time we break out our purse or wallet, we’re saying, “I approve of what this was made from, the distance it was shipped to me, and I want you to do it again and again.”
No one person can save the world, but each of us can have a real and meaningful impact. Many of the species featured in The Photo Ark can be saved, but it will take people with passion, money or both to step up and get involved. Every bit of effort helps, and awareness of the problem is the first step toward a solution.
The bottom line for me is this: At the end of my days, I’d like to be able to look in the mirror and smile thinking that I made a real difference.
How about you?
Joel Sartore is an author, speaker, conservationist, photojournalist and fellow of the National Geographic Society. Seven years into the Photo Ark project, he has captured compelling portraits of some 2,300 species. To see more of his work, visit joelsartore.com.