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Front Page - Friday, January 31, 2020

National Geographic photographer discusses ‘Ark’ project

Male Four-Eyed Turtle - Photographs provided by Joel Sartore

Most people know Joel Sartore as a National Geographic photographer. For the last 15 years, however, one of Sartore’s primary career ambitions has resembled the work of a lobbyist.

And his client? All the animals on the planet.

“About 15 years ago, I thought about concentrating on a single project: an introduction to the world’s biodiversity using studio portraits,” Sartore writes. “This gives all creatures an equal voice since there’s no size comparison, and it allows us to see animals we’ve never even heard of before.”

Sartore dubbed this massive undertaking “The Photo Ark.” The aim of this collection of animal portraiture is to capture the beauty of the 15,000 species held in human care at zoos and aquariums around the world.

Sartore has visited the Tennessee Aquarium on his quest to fill the Photo Ark. During these visits, he documented a variety of species in the Aquarium’s care, including the Ornate horned frog, Mexican caecilian and Northern Appalachian brook trout.

As the home of the largest collection of freshwater turtles in North America, the Aquarium is also a prime spot to collect images of chelonians. The trips to Chattanooga helped add many of the world’s 356 species of turtles and tortoises to the Ark, including Beal’s four-eyed turtle, Indian tent turtle and Texas Cooter.

Sartore will return Tuesday, Feb. 4, to continue his work documenting more turtle and fish species and to give a public presentation discussing his work.

As the most-imperiled group of vertebrates on the planet, the time is ripe to shine a light on turtles, he says.

“Many are struggling. Whether it’s sea turtles consuming ocean plastics or freshwater turtles being caught for their meat, it’s a tough time for them out there.”

Sartore’s presentation will take place 6:30-8:30 p.m. in the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater. After the presentation, he will sign copies of the Photo Ark book. The proceeds will help support the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute’s freshwater research and restoration initiatives.

Sartore has chipped away at the Ark for the past 15 years. To date, he has captured more than 50,000 images and videos representing more than 9,800 species. These range from primates and amphibians to lesser-known species such as the Socorro dove and the pink orchid mantis.

Even though the Photo Ark now comprises about 80% of all species in human care, it won’t be complete until it’s comprehensive, Sartore says.

“I’ve been to more than 500 zoos, aquariums and conservation centers so far, and am greatly encouraged by what I see on each trip,” Sartore says. “These organizations are not only breeding critically endangered species, but they’re protecting or rebuilding habitat in the wild as well.”

Purchase tickets to Sartore’s presentation at community.tnaqua.org/events/joel-sartore.

Source: Tennessee Aquarium