Photograph by Thomas P. Peschak, National Geographic
Photograph by Thomas P. Peschak, National Geographic

How does this photographer handle giant tortoises?

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By Whitney Johnson, Director of Visual and Immersive Experiences

Who thinks that bumping up against a 500-pound tortoise is routine? Thomas Peschak does.

"The tortoises didn’t seem to distinguish between me—a National Geographic photographer—and a frigatebird or a coconut crab or a flightless rail," says Tom, who is also a marine biologist. "We were all part of the ecosystem, and they treated humans as they treated every other creature: They ignored us.“

These are the kind of encounters that we love to eavesdrop on in the hallways of National Geographic. Read on below for details about Tom's time spent with these amazing, primordial creatures (above, below) while on assignment on Aldabra Atoll, far off the east coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. (And yes, for you super fans, this is the same Tom Peschak who shared his encounters with zombie mice on Marion Island for our podcast, Overheard at Nat Geo. For that story, and more episodes worth binge-listening to this holiday season, listen here.)

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Tortoises rule on this isolated island

The first time a tortoise walked through my hut at Middle Camp on Aldabra Atoll, I was amazed. I grabbed my camera and carefully positioned myself to capture this wildlife encounter. The second time: same thing. The third time: I picked up my phone and took a snapshot. By the fourth or fifth time, I didn’t even look when I felt something bump into me. I knew what it was.

I was there to shoot a story about island restoration in the Seychelles, far off the east coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. Until roughly the middle of the past century, the small island nation showed signs of real environmental carnage—indigenous vegetation cleared to make way for coconut and cinnamon plantations, invasive rats and mice running rampant, native sea turtles and giant tortoises being exploited. Biodiversity seemed doomed.

But then there was a shift ... Read the full story here

Today in a minute

Recycling: Over the past decade, artist Thomas Sauvin has amassed 850,000 images of Chinese at work and play. He got the images, which cover seven decades, mainly from a recycling plant outside Beijing—and from a flea market, The Independent reports.

Busy year: The AP's Felipe Dana spent 2019 covering big news stories like the elections in Spain, conflict in Syria, and the crisis in Hong Kong, as well as Rwanda, Greenland, and Algeria. The Guardian just chose Dana as the news agency photographer of the year. "It was an intense year to be a news photographer," Dana said, "but that’s also when our job becomes most important.”

How Instagram changed photography: "Selfie culture constrains us, demanding we filter not just our images but our lives, so that they appear perfect–successful, pleasurable and beautiful," writes critic Lucy Kumara Moore. "But it’s also open enough to allow braver voices to express non-conformist, radical perspectives, acting as a space in which self-determination is more democratic." Catch her review of the decade in photography.

Last call: If you are or will be in New York, this is the last weekend for a photographic history of how labor movements changed America and its biggest metropolis. City of Workers: City of Struggle is at the Museum of the City of New York.

Your Instagram photo of the day

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On the edge: A young man fishes off the coastline of a fishing village in Oriental Mindoro, Philippines. Photographer Hannah Reyes Morales worked with Nat Geo explorer Nicola Sebastian (@nicolaseabass), who studies marine biodiversity. Sebastian writes that in the Philippines, life is deeply interdependent. “The survival of all is inextricably intertwined, not just with the sea but also with the deepening climate change crisis. Philippine fisherfolk live with the devastating paradox at the heart of the Anthropocene—the communities who are least responsible for causing the worsening climate crisis are also among the most vulnerable."

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On Monday, Debra Adams Simmons writes on the latest in history. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Victoria Jaggard on science, George Stone on travel, and Rachael Baleon animal and wildlife news.

One last glimpse

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Flashback: Children on lily pads, ghostly figures, and oversized produce are just three of the quirkier trends in Victorian photography, says Sara Manco, our senior photo archivist. This image was taken around 1892, and an identifier is the Victoria amazonica water lilies that grew in the garden of Dr. Henry Bahson in Salem, North Carolina. “Bahson’s lilies are some of the earliest known to grow outside of its native Brazil and outside of a greenhouse,“ Manco says.

See: Photo treasures found in our archives

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Eslah Attar selected the photographs. Have an idea or a link? We'd love to hear from you at Thanks for reading!