A Modern Noah’s Ark to Save Our Earth’s Creatures
2019 Climate Scouts Hwang, Jeeseon
I paid a visit to National Geographic’s Photo Ark exhibition at Kyunghyang Art Hill in Seoul. The exhibition displayed an array of dazzling photographs taken by Joel Satore, an American photographer whose goal is to document every species living in zoos and wildlife sanctuaries, inspire action through education, and help save wildlife by supporting on-the-ground conservation efforts. One step into the exhibition, and I was reminded why I had become interested in environmental issues at a young age. Fascination with creatures all of different sizes and colors as well as the need to speak up for those who do not have their own voices has been a driving factor in my life, and this exhibition reminded me of that.
Inside the Exhibition
I could tell that each creature had been photographed meticulously with an eye to detail, as each feather, scale, and tuft of fur stood out against the black or white backdrops, giving me the impression that the species in the pictures were emitting an almost ethereal glow. Most of them were looking straight into the camera, giving the viewer the impression that they would be able to read those expressions if they just looked a little closer. Satore seemed to want to give the public the unique experience of looking straight into the eyes of a creature and communicating with it internally. Although the photographs were beautiful, they resonated in a solemn way with me, as well. Labeled next to each photograph was a category selected by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is a powerful tool to inform and catalyze action for biodiversity conservation and policy change, critical to protecting the natural resources we need to survive. The categories at the exhibition included Least Concern. Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered, Critically Endangered, Extinct in the Wild, and Extinct. Not enough of the animals were labeled Least Concern. Each label seemed to declare that the species looking out at the viewer had only so long to live. Indeed, some of the photographs were of animals just before they were declared extinct, and some of the animals were labled Data Deficient due to a lack of resources to investigate further. The problem of funding is particularly a problem for amphibians, insects, and reptiles as opposed to mammals. The public tends to donate more funds to the animals which they find appealing, which usually means that mammals find it easier to make a comeback in the wild. Meanwhile, several species of frogs do not even have the funding to have their place in the IUCN Red List determined. Satore seemed to understand this issue and to use his photography to combat the issue of some species being preferred over others. In one of the displays, screens showing the luminescent forms of various species were arranged neatly, all of the screens the same size. The species within all seemed the same size from the viewer’s point of view, making a frog as fascinating as a panda, each backdrop pitch black and drawing the viewer’s eye to the species itself. The display was a powerful reminder that all species deserve our attention and care. Sartore has visited 40 countries in his quest to create this photo archive of global biodiversity. To date, he has completed intimate portraits of more than 9,000 species. There are still many species to go, but I believe that Satore has made amazing progress in creating stunning works of art that celebrate all species.
Biodiversity and Us
The planet is ours to share, yet the activities of humans are destroying the rights of species all over the world to thrive in peace. Illegal poaching and development are not the only factors that are causing species to become extinct. Climate change is also a huge factor that is destroying the natural habitats of many species of the earth, and so biodiversity is one of the factors that those interested in climate change must face. Humans are mainly responsible for climate change, yet the devastating consequences are shared by all of the creatures of the earth.
So, what exactly is biodiversity and how severely does it impact us humans? According to the WHO website, biodiversity refers to the variety found in biota from genetic makeup of plants and animals to cultural diversity. It is directly related to human livelihood in that changes in ecosystem services affect livelihoods, income, local migration and, on occasion, may even cause political conflict. There have already been several cases in which loss of biodiversity resulted in a lower quality of human life. For example, the extinction of even a small species in a particular habitat can cause the collapse of the ecosystem in which it used to dwell. A chain reaction occurs which affects the humans at the top of the chain. However, there have also been efforts to ensure that progress coexists with biodiversity. A visit this summer to MARDI, the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute, interested me in that biodiversity is also a factor that the scientists there deem important, creating natural fertilizers and avoiding the use of chemical pesticides. In addition, the problem of limited resources to save so many species is being solved with the research of umbrella species and flagship species. Umbrella species are species that are selected for conservation-related decisions because the conservation and protection of these species indirectly affects the conservation and protection of other species within their ecosystem. More focus on these types of species, not just on the larger, more charismatic flagship species that act as ambassadors for the conservation of their habitats, is necessary in order to achieve a balance in nature.
We too often forget that climate change affects all the species of the earth, not just humans. Although the Photo Ark exhibition acted as a warning signal, it also gave me a sense of real hope. The fact that there is a person who dedicated his life to a project aimed at getting humans to care about creatures other than themselves is heartwarming. It is my hope that those who shout for justice and responsible action do not forget the furred, winged, and scaled creatures that should have as much say in the issue as we humans.