National Geographic contributing photographer David Doubilet stepped out of a cab in New York a few nights ago, looked up, and saw his picture of an endangered sea lion projected 30 stories tall on the towers of the United Nations world headquarters.
"I loved the way that sea lion looked over Manhattan for a minute," Doubilet said.
When Doubilet took its picture, the sea lion looked like it was standing up on the ocean floor, likely looking out for sharks. But on Saturday, Doubilet's underwater image was helping call attention to the dire need for people to do more to fight climate change. It is part of a collection of massive, arresting images projected on UN buildings in advance of the UN Climate Summit on Tuesday. (See "UN Climate Summit Aims to Shape Global Agreement on Warming.")
"Jaws dropped. Traffic stopped. People were in awe," Doubilet recalled. "Showing these pictures on the side of the UN was a way of communicating the single most important story on Earth, which is Earth itself." (Related: "Stunning Underwater Photos on World Oceans Day.")
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon convened the summit to urge much greater effort to fight climate change. (Related: "Ahead of UN Climate Summit, Global Treaty on Warming Looks Unlikely.")
"These exceptional projections being shown at the United Nations will help draw attention to the need to make climate action a reality in every community and every society," Ban said in a press release.
Many of the images—around 80 of them—are part of National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore's "Photo Ark" project. With his portraits of animals—mostly by ones and twos—on stark black or white backgrounds, Sartore seeks to document diversity before it's too late. (Related: "Stunning Pictures: Ten of the Rarest Animals on Earth.")
"Black and white are great equalizers," says Sartore. "A mouse is as important as a polar bear."
Many of the animals seem to be looking at the lens, like a person in a studio portrait.
Watching his photos projected in front of a crowd around the United Nations was an emotional experience for Sartore: "I got a little teary," he said. "Really, for a lot of these species, this is the only attention they'll ever get before they go extinct."
Among his images on display was a photo of what is believed to be the very last Rabb's fringe-limbed tree frog on the planet. In the frog's native habitat in Panama, none of the hand-size amphibians have been seen or heard for several years in the wild.
Sartore hope the portraits will encourage people to try to save these creatures before they're gone.
"It's really how we treat the least among us that will determine our own fate as well," he said.