This morning on the “Today” show, photographer and 2018 Rolex National Geographic Explorer of the Year Joel Sartore announced the 9,000th species to board the National Geographic Photo Ark — the Bandula barb.
Freshwater animals, like the Bandula barb, are among the most imperiled species on Earth. This is why Sartore chose this freshwater fish as the 9,000th National Geographic Photo Ark species. Founded by Sartore, the National Geographic Photo Ark aims to document every species currently living in the world’s zoos and wildlife sanctuaries, inspire action through education and help save wildlife by supporting on-the-ground conservation efforts.
The Bandula barb, which is endemic to the southwestern part of Sri Lanka, is critically endangered. When the fish was first discovered in 1991, its population in the wild was estimated at only 2,000 individuals. However, within one decade, the population had decreased to only 200-300. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the decline was due to the illegal collection of the species for the ornamental fish trade, pollution through agrochemicals used in paddy fields and land use change. Until recently, the Bandula barb only occured in the wild in one 1.5-km-long stream close to the village of Galapitamada in the district of Kegalle in Sri Lanka. In 2014, researchers established another small population in the same basin, in hopes of increasing the species’ chances for survival.
Water habitats are some of the world’s most fragile and threatened. A small species population living in only one river basin is extremely vulnerable, especially in a densely human-populated area like Sri Lanka. To add to the threat to the Bandula barb, the stream that is home to one of two small populations of this freshwater fish also flows through rice fields and rubber plantations, making the species vulnerable to pollution from chemicals used on these plantations.
Fortunately, the local community understands the importance of protecting this species and has taken action to do so. The results of these conservation efforts include establishing a second Bandula barb population within a protected area and developing sustainable farming practices, which have helped increase the population to 1,300 in Sri Lanka. Sartore photographed these Bandula barbs at Zoo Plzeň in the Czech Republic, as the species is also successfully bred in zoos and conservation centers in Europe, especially in the Czech Republic and Germany.
The 9,000th species milestone means that Sartore is about three-fourths of the way toward completing the National Geographic Photo Ark, which he estimates will include portraits of around 12,000 species. The Photo Ark includes several animal classes, including birds, fish, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates. Photo Ark fans are invited to join the conversation about protecting species and their habitats on social media with the hashtag #SaveTogether and learn about thousands of other species by exploring the Photo Ark at NatGeoPhotoArk.org.