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One man's quest: Shoot images of 12,000 different species over 25 years

National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore (above left) holds his camera Wednesday at the Marathon Wild Bird Center while center Director Kelly Grinter holds an American kestrel. It's one of six bird species he shot for the National Geographic Photo Ark.
National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore (above left) holds his camera Wednesday at the Marathon Wild Bird Center while center Director Kelly Grinter holds an American kestrel. It's one of six bird species he shot for the National Geographic Photo Ark.

Birds of the Middle Keys got celebrity treatment Wednesday by National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore.

The six different species of birds will be archived into National Geographic's Photo Ark project, a 25-year global photographic journey Sartore started 10 years ago.

The images will be featured on National Geographic's website, social media accounts and in its monthly magazine whenever editors see them as appropriate to use.

Marathon Wild Bird Center Director Kelly Grinter at Crane Point Museum and Nature Center initially sighed when Sartore called her Jan. 29 to ask if he could photograph the birds. Working with about 600 birds and at least 100 small mammals and reptiles last year, Grinter said she's constantly busy and fielding calls from photographers.

But Sartore, from Lincoln, Neb., won Grinter over with his down-to-Earth approach and passion for animals.

"He thinks birds are fascinating and gorgeous. He was friendly and funny," Grinter said. 

Sartore's visit will be a part of an unspecified Public Broadcasting Service documentary; crew members from station WGBH in Boston filmed him working in the Florida Keys and interacting with Grinter.

The photographer said the visit is important for the Photo Ark.

"It was a good opportunity to get six new species on board," said Sartore, who is traveling to Alaska next week to photograph more animals. "The birds will be archived as representatives for their species."

He photographed a Merlin falcon, American kestrel, ovenbird warbler, black-bellied plover, a sooty tern and a sandwich tern.

Sartore placed the birds in of a cloth tunnel, which he said makes the birds calm -- ideal for photography. The photos will be made available to Grinter for use in a few weeks, after Sartore sends his hard drive to National Geographic editors and the photos are archived.

Sartore has photographed for National Geographic for the past 25 years. He estimates he's photographed 5,700 species of animals for Photo Ark so far. He hopes to archive 12,000 species when he's finished.

The goal of the project is to inspire people to help prevent the extinction of animals. Sartore said some species of frogs and other animals have gone extinct since he photographed them a decade ago.

"Even the smallest creature is worth saving," he said. "I've looked so many animals in the eye that I'm convinced they're just as smart as us, if not smarter. If we keep going the way we've been going, we stand to lose half of the species we have on Earth by 2100."

Also Wednesday, Sartore photographed a Caribbean raccoon, Key West raccoon, Ramrod raccoon, Islamorada raccoon and Marathon raccoon at Ark Angels Wildlife Rescue in Tavernier, says Karen Dettmann, director of the center. 

"Our raccoons here in the Keys don't have undercoats and are thinner than the ones up north," Dettmann said.

Sartore said people can save animals and the environment as a whole by being more mindful of what they spend their money on, recycling and trying to use less energy.

"Figure out which products are harmful and do your research," Sartore advises. "Every time you break out your purse or wallet, you're giving approval."

For more, go to www.joelsartore.com or http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/photo-ark/.

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