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Text  Đ2011 by J. Pint

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Photo Gallery

National Geographic photographer Ben Horton
Photographer Ben Horton speaks at Guadalajara's Intercontinental Hotel. Horton was the recipient of the National Geographic Society’s first Young Explorer award, for research on Cocos Island involving shark poaching. Photo by J. Pint

Award winning documentary Sharkwater

 Sharkwater, an amazing documentary that won over 36 international awards, tells Ben Horton's story in video form. Watch it here.

Shark fins for sale in Hong Kong
Sacks full of shark fins photographed in Hong Kong by Ben Horton, who estimates that 120 million sharks are killed by poachers every year to satisfy  the oriental yen for shark's fin soup, which he calls “utterly without flavor or nutritional value.” Photo courtesy of Ben Horton.

Our World, a Cengage NatGeo English course

Our World is a six-level English course for use in primary schools using countless photos and 27 hours of video from National Geographic.

Terra-Cotta statues in Our World English Course

A sample lesson in Our World discusses the army of 6,000 terra-cotta statues buried with Chinese ruler Qin Shi Huang Di. “Each statue is different!” says the text. Photo courtesy of Cengage and National Geographic.

"Loud" from Our World English Course

A typical page in the World English course uses a dramatic NatGeo photo to illustrate the meaning of “loud.” Perhaps a shot of a Mexican Mariachi would be even more appropriate. Photo courtesy of Cengage and National Geographic.

Sample page of Our World English course

The dramatic story of the discovery of King Tut's tomb immediately grabs the student's attention.


Caves beneath the dunes? Check out our Saudicaves page:







How “Wow!” photos can save sharks and teach English

By John Pint

Shark at Cocos Island - Photo courtesy of Ben Horton and National Geographic This was a talk I did not want to miss. National Geographic photographer Ben Horton was to speak about his work as an explorer during a conference promoting a new series of textbooks for teaching English with NatGeo photos and themes. Since I'm interested in both exploration and teaching, this looked exactly like my cup of tea, and so it was. I just regret that so few people turned out for what I'd say was one of the best adventure and conservation presentations I've ever experienced.

This event took place December 2, 2014 at the Intercontinental Hotel in Guadalajara, Mexico.
It was organized by a textbook-multimedia Publisher called National Geographic Learning, part of Cengage Learning. Jair Felix of Cengage started off by introducing us to Our World, a colorful six-level course for young learners of English. You open the books to any unit and the first thing you see is one of those “Wow!” pictures from National Geographic, the kind that makes both kids and adults ask: Is this for real? Does this place or creature actually exist?

House in River- Photo by Irene Becker, courtesy of National Geographic. For example, in a unit for beginners, a page innocently titled “My House” shows an amazing photograph of a cozy little house perched high upon a decidedly too small rock smack in the middle of a river in Serbia. The kids learn the usual vocabulary related to houses, like roof, window and yard, but through images that raise their eyebrows and rivet their attention. At a higher level, this sort of picture may accompany a reading on how King Tut died or a discussion of Anthropology by a NatGeo “explorer-in-residence” explaining what it was that attracted him to this profession. What an improvement over the boring textbooks that used to discourage kids from learning a foreign language!

My wife Susy, who teaches Spanish, commented on Our World: “I liked their concept of children learning English by visiting other countries through the photos and the themes. This might awaken in them a desire to travel, to know the world. What a great idea for children to discover the world while sitting in the classroom!”

The second speaker was Ben Horton, who, we were told by way of introduction, had once  been “National Geographic's youngest explorer” and recipient of a US $5000 grant to carry out a study of his own choosing in Costa Rica. Horton, born in Bermuda, was a very laid-back speaker who matter-of-factly related one mind-blowing story after another, accompanied by just the sort of spectacular photos you'd expect from a NatGeo photographer.

Deeply disturbed because the world's shark population had dropped 93% since 1950, Horton went off to Cocos Island, located 480 kilometers off Costa Rica, where, even though the waters are supposedly protected, “illegal poaching of sharks and other endangered species is a daily occurrence.”

Hammerhead sharks - Photo courtesy of Ben Horton and National Geographic10 Horton continued: “For every single poacher we caught in our patrols of the Island, at least 20 went unnoticed and unimpeded. Sometimes the boats were too big for us to run down in our little patrol boats, and other times the culprit happened to be the father in law of the captain of our patrol boat. When the boats saw us coming, they would ditch their long lines which were miles long, with hooks placed every 50 feet or so, and we would return to pull the lines out by hand, freeing whatever was hooked. Every day, we would pull between 16 and 20 miles of line out of the water, more than enough to completely wrap around the island.”

The number one endangered species the poachers were after was the shark. Horton discovered that fishermen were willing to travel to Cocos Island from all over the world simply because shark fins sell for US $800 a kilo, “and the more rare the shark, the higher the price.”

To understand the whole story, Horton took his camera to Hong Kong where thousands of shark fins are sold to Chinese people to make soup. “Believe it or not,” he told us, “shark fins have no flavor and no nutritional value whatsoever.” It seems the Chinese want to eat shark because sharks are strong, and they believe “What you eat is what you are.”

Ben Horton says 120 million sharks are being killed for their fins every year. The fins are cut off and the shark carcass is thrown back into the water. Horton's excellent photo documentation of the process from Coco Island to Hong Kong markets came to the attention of people like Jackie Chan and Richard Branson who are now strong advocates for ending the senseless slaughter of these creatures.

Horton's work has brought him some unforgettable encounters with wild creatures. “My favorite experiences,” he says, “are when I have spent long enough in a place that I start to really connect with my subject. One that stands out to me is this: After a month in the Arctic, I was sitting writing in my journal and seven wolves approached me. When I sat still, they came right up to me and started sniffing me up and down. It was easy to see they weren't being aggressive, but it was still a thrilling experience.”

Another story Horton told us was about his mother's visit to Cocos Island. Worried about crocodiles in the water, he encouraged her to look for birds along a certain trail. “My mother is an avid birdwatcher,” he told us, “with an amazing ability to walk extremely slowly and silently down a path.” He says his mother was so good at this that she may be the first person in history to have seen a puma before the puma saw her. When this occurred, Ben's mother gave a yelp, which scared the puma, and they both ran off in opposite directions.

Horton has also had some unnerving close encounters both with sharks and crocodiles, but you'll have to go to one of his presentations to get the stories straight from his lips. If you have the chance, donīt miss it. Meanwhile, you can peruse his fine photos at benhorton.biz and read his blog.

And now, let me leave you with a final thought from Ben Horton on why he does what he does: “Getting people to fall in love with our world is the first step to getting them to protect it. Photography is how I can help that happen.”

 NatGeo photographer Ben Horton - Photo courtesy of B. Horton

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