National Geographic Society Newsroom Press Releases

Spoon-billed sandpiper joins National Geographic Photo Ark as 13,000th Species

National Geographic Explorer and Photo Ark founder Joel Sartore photographed the “spoonie” at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust Slimbridge in Gloucestershire, UK.

July 21, 2022 – National Geographic Explorer Joel Sartore photographed the 13,000th species for the National Geographic Photo Ark, the spoon-billed sandpiper (Calidris pygmaea) known affectionately as the “spoonie,” at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) Slimbridge Wetland Centre in Gloucestershire, UK. 

The spoon-billed sandpiper is a wading bird about the size of a small mouse and, as the name suggests, has a distinct spoon-shaped bill. It is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List as their population has plummeted due to hunting, and reduced and degraded habitat. 

The WWT took a leading role in efforts to buy time and reverse this trend, including a trial conservation breeding project at WWT headquarters. Although the future of the spoon-billed sandpiper remains uncertain, their efforts have led to significant advances in knowledge of incubation and rearing methods, and satellite tracking projects to identify stopover sites along the birds’ migration route. 

“The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust Slimbridge is the only place in the world where the spoon-billed sandpiper exists in human care. Thanks to the overall conservation efforts of the team there, I had the unique opportunity to photograph the spoonie,” Sartore said. “I hope people see into the eyes of this bird and become inspired to take action to help save our planet’s unique species before it’s too late.” 

Joel Sartore, National Geographic Explorer and founder of the National Geographic Photo Ark, photographed the spoon-billed sandpiper (Calidris pygmaea) at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) Slimbridge in Gloucestershire, UK. Photo by Jodie Clements/Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust.

In addition to being home to the spoon-billed sandpiper and tens of millions of individuals of other species, wetlands also prevent flooding, store carbon and are vital for human health and wellbeing. WWT is dedicated to restoring and protecting these essential habitats. Learn more about WWT and support their conservation efforts here

Visit NatGeo.org/Photo-Ark to learn more about the National Geographic Photo Ark, conservation, and protecting species. 

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