Today was one of those really nice days I will remember for a long time. Our friend and winter host Jack Rudloe was honored by National Geographic’s Joel Sartore in his Photo Ark Exhibit for Jack’s life long conservation and education efforts at Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory. We were Jack’s guests for the event. We were even escorted in past crowds by a cheerful young woman who recognized us from Dick’s picture. Before the talks we wandered the halls and we found an image of the cover that Jack and his late wife Anne did on sea turtles, Race for Survival. We found out that their article on the grave state of sea turtles marked turning point for National Geographic. With that article National Geographic moved away from simply reporting on neat stuff around the world and started talking about the environment.
Joel Sartore’s exhibit is called Photo Ark. We were very privileged to be part of the reopening exhibit ceremony. Sartore’s goal is to create pictures of every species in captivity which is about 12,000 different kinds of animals. He does them all, birds, crabs, octopus, bud and elephants. The pictures he creates are stunningly lovely and intimate. The purpose to to raise awareness about the environment and to try to get people to stop doing the things that cause extinction. Among the causes are habitat loss, poaching, eating animals for bushmeat, and the nonspecific catchall of climate change. The solutions Sartore offered in his lecture was to reduce consumption, recycle, eat less meat, donate money to good organizations that work for preservation of animals like zoos and rescue organizations, and his own National Geographic, and be aware of what you buy and how it impacts on the natural world. He gave two specific examples of awareness, palm oil from farms created by the destruction of old growth forests in Indonesia and buying furniture made from the wood harvested from old growth forests world wide. He was also a truly engaging speaker. We laughed, we were sad, we were uplifted and inspired.
In some ways the talk about solution was simply pap. I don’t see how recycling cans in Washington DC can stop poaching and slash and burn practices in Indonesia. I also noted a strange irony in that the National Geographic headquarters proudly proclaims it is a carbon neutral building powered entirely by wind generated electricity. That is a trick because it is in downtown DC with no visible windmills. So I assume this means they produce/purchase the equivalent electricity elsewhere. And, of course, one of Sartore’s other heroes is trying to preserve prairie grouse that are being gravely impacted by several dangers including windmills. Given all the trouble Germany has had in its failed efforts to live entirely on wind electricity, and how the result is using more coal, not less, and all the other negative impacts of wind power generation which cannot survive without massive government subsidies using money we could arguably be better using elsewhere, National Geographic may well have simply traded one kind of environmental damage for another that might be even worse. Still, I really liked how Sartore’s talks emphasized what dedicated individuals can do and his uplifting success stories. He is very right that being positive makes people want to be participants in change whereas constant doom and gloom makes people give up trying.
I have spent many hours in the wilderness myself. I know that people who live in the city simply have no idea about what diversity in habitat is. In 2001 my husband and I found a 152 acre parcel of land for sale for $14,500. We had to borrow to buy it, but we did and we have never regretted it. This little bit of land is in prairie parkland, the transition zone between boreal forest and tall grass prairie and it has species from both zones. The land has never been broken and the abundance and diversity to be found there is nothing short of astounding. Because the land is used by breeding red headed woodpeckers (along with four other nonendangered species of woodpeckers) we were able to put it into a conservation agreement. Once the agreement was in place, the property was given a detailed species survey by scientists and among the species were three tiny bladderworts and two types of sundews considered “species at risk”. This makes a very important point. We were able to put the property in a conservation agreement only because the government regulations allow us to preserve habitat for red headed woodpeckers. We inadvertently ended up getting government to protect five other species of plants that were in far more trouble. All the other solutions, like recycling your drink cans and eating less meat are insignificant next to the benefits of setting aside tracts of land and preserving habitat. And this can be done by lobbying government and simply going out and buying a chuck of land yourself. I was slightly irritated that Jack’s well deserved honour for environmental education did not include any mention of Jack and his late wife Anne’s tireless efforts to preserve salt marshes and how they have been attributed personally for saving 35,000 acres of salt marsh in Florida’s Big Bend and Forgotten Coast region.
All that being said, I still 100% support Joel Sartore’s work. There is a simple reason for it. Joel Sartore’s stunning images make all kinds of animals come alive. They make people care about the environment. While I may disagree with some of his emphasis on his proffered solutions and I might be willing to point out some of the inconsistencies of the National Geographic’s efforts, getting people to care is the most important things one can do. If people care, solutions will come even if we make a few mistakes (like windmills) along the way.
And I was delighted to discover that habitat preservation is one of National Geographic’s strongest positive aspects. In addition to the Sartore exhibit, they had an exhibit on the oceans and their effort to increase protected pristine ocean areas from 2% to 10% of the total. National Geographic “gets” it when it comes to habitat preservation. And so overall it was a wonderfully positive day being treated like a VIP, seeing a dear friend get a well deserved honour, enjoying a chance to see how his work impacted a major organization and to be surrounded by people who care. And best of all was watching children, dozens of children, laughing and pointing and running around connecting with animals that came alive in their minds because of Sartore’s fabulous, intense, captivating images. You can see more, including many taken at or provided by Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory, here.