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Tennessee Aquarium Contributed Image / National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore visits town Feb. 4 to discuss his goal to photograph the 15,000 species of animals in zoos and aquariums world-wide.

Thanks to his award-winning images in the pages of National Geographic, most people probably know Joel Sartore as a photographer.

For the last 15 years, however, one of Sartore's career ambitions has more closely resembled the work of a lobbyist.

His clients? Basically all the animals on the planet.

"About 15 years ago ... I thought about concentrating my work going forward into a single project; an introduction to the world's biodiversity using studio portraits," Sartore said. "This gives all creatures an equal voice since there's no size comparison, and it allows us to see animals that we've never even heard of before."

He dubbed this undertaking "The Photo Ark." The aim of this collection of animal portraiture was to capture the beauty of the 15,000 species held in human care at zoos and aquariums around the world.

For the past 15 years, Sartore has doggedly chipped away at the collection. To date, he has captured more than 50,000 images and videos representing more than 9,800 species. Even though "The Photo Ark" now comprises about 80% of all species in human care, it won't be complete until it's comprehensive, he says.

Sartore will return to the Tennessee Aquarium on Tuesday, Feb. 4, to continue his work documenting turtle and fish species and to give a discussion on his work. His presentation will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the Tennessee Aquarium Imax 3D Theater, 201 Chestnut St.

"[The Tennessee Aquarium has] been instrumental in building up the number of aquatic species in 'The Photo Ark,'" Sartore says.

The Aquarium has declared 2020 to be The Year of the Turtle in an effort to highlight the amazing diversity and adaptations of turtles, as well as the threats to their survival.

"I've photographed most of the world's turtle and tortoise species now for 'The Photo Ark' and can attest that many are really struggling," Sartore says. "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 is open to the public. After the presentation, he will sign copies of "The Photo Ark."

Tickets are $15 for Aquarium members, $20 for nonmembers. Proceeds will help support the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute's freshwater research and restoration initiatives.

To purchase tickets: https://community.tnaqua.org/events/joel-sartore

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