Igniting the Spark: Explorers Symposium (Day 2) and Party for the Planet

If yesterday was a day in which we focused on the connections and the connective tissue that we share by being part of this planet and thanks to our work at National Geographic, then today is the day that we identify some of the catalysts, some of the sparks, that will be ignited.

On the Explorers Symposium’s second day, National Geographic Explorers, educators, and staff members took to the stage at Grosvenor Auditorium for a series of panel sessions, updates from the field, as well as lightning-round talks to further our shared mission of reaching a planet in balance.

And to further that goal, the morning started with a surprise announcement. Women around the world will be benefitting from the bridge that the Lyda Hill Foundation is providing for their explorations to become a reality. They pledged a 1 million dollar grant in order to support women in exploration around the world.

Following is a synoptic view of the day:

At first we heard from Beverly and Dereck Joubert who are National Explorers-at-Large and co-founders of the Big Cats Initiative, in a short update from the field. Emma Carrasco, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer and Executive Vice President for Global Strategy for the National Geographic Society, led a conversation in which not only did the Jouberts tell us the importance of their work, but also updated us on the buffalo charge that they both survived last year. Even after a near-death experience their work hasn’t stopped, providing an example of resilience and courage amidst the difficulties they faced.

Beverly and Dereck Joubert in conversation with Emma Carrasco. Photograph by Taylor Mickal

Afterwards we heard from a panel moderated by Explorer Shivani Bhalla in which coexistence and balance were determined as essential for living with wildlife. Some of her guests included Pablo García Borboroglu, Asha de Vos, Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, and Laly Lichtenfeld. We then saw some work in progress from a few explorers and what they’re doing to protect trees, amphibians, and gorillas. These updates were from Tarin Toledo-Aceves, Brian Gratwicke, and Deogratias Tuyisingize.

We then had a session in which Joel Sartore showed us that we need to reach people where they are at and that by playing to the ego and to what gets people’s attention will result in them caring for something that they didn’t care for before like an animal from his Photo Ark. He also became a panelist in company of the inaugural Photo Ark EDGE Fellows, and those are: Jamal Galves, Marina Rivero Hernández, Vinicius Alberici Roberto, Daniel Arauz, and Yajaira García Feria. They all shared with moderator Gael Almeida why it is that every animal deserves a story. Among the great lessons was the fact that these fellows saw a need and they decided to fill it and solve it. Galves also told us the story of a baby manatee he saved and named Lucky and how although an animal can’t speak, it doesn’t mean it has nothing to say.

Photo Ark EDGE Fellows. Photograph by Taylor Mickal

We later heard from a panel moderated by Catherine Workman that told us about the secret lives of animals. Shane Gero then shared how important the vocal and matrilineal cultures, dialects and identities formed by sperm whales in Dominica are vital. He also shared his view on how we need to include the cultural diversity of species into our concept of biodiversity. Some other stories about animal’s secret lives came from Jacinta C. Beehner, Thomas Peschak, and Mimi Kessler.

Afterwards we had an update from the field by Brian Skerry where he showed us a photo he took of President Obama while snorkeling, and how Sylvia Earle told him she was blue with envy about the opportunity. After all, this photo would inspire and ignite change by seeing a sitting President of the United States enjoying the places he was about to protect. Skerry also wrote a poem about the cousin of Dr. Seuss’s Lorax, which he named the Azorax, who lives in the seas, and hopes that we can all protect them, please! He brought tears to more than one.

A panel exploring cutting-edge solutions followed. Technology has and continues to change the way we explore our planet, said explorer Albert Lin who also moderated the panel. He also said that technology is just a byproduct of human imagination. Just think of the beginning of our use of telephones and lightbulbs a century ago and how they created possibilities that didn’t exist before. On the panel we also had Martin Wikelski who spoke about his project on the “Internet of Animals” which uses the internet of things via satellite as a valuable tool for understanding different species. We also heard from Topher White and Peg Keiner, who appropriately expressed that everyone can connect emotionally with a journey, with a story.

A panel on Cutting-Edge Solutions. Photograph by Taylor Mickal

Kaitlin Yarnall, Vice President for Media Innovation for the National Geographic Society, then moderated a panel about data-driven storytelling. We heard about using data in creative ways which can create a story that is not only visually appealing, but it also inspires action. The panel had Dan HammerJeff KerbyXaquin V.G., and Jennifer W. Lopez. Later we saw some explorations in progress from Katy Croff BellCharlie Hamilton JamesDavid Gruber, and Anand Varma, and had a glimpse into their innovative and stunning work.

Making the case for nature was the topic of the next panel moderated by Andy Revkin, and in it we heard from Steve Ramirez, Julia Lee, Emma Marris, and David Doubilet. The main question we explored was: How do we communicate nature effectively and make people empathize in order to act? Neuroscience, photography, and journalism, all were highlighted.

Revkin then delighted us with a song titled “Liberated Carbon” for the closing performance of the symposium.

Andy Revkin performing “Liberated Carbon.” Photograph by Taylor Mickal

Later that night after the symposium wrapped up, we went out to the courtyard in order to enjoy each other’s company in what was deemed the Party for the Planet. And indeed, it was. It included cocktails, sustainable food, as well as different stations where you could take the plastic pledge to significantly reduce the amount of plastic we put out into the world. Which reminds me of another feature of the night: there was no single-use plastic! This means that we continue leading by example. We also had a performance by The Suffers that included jazz, cumbias, and some ska to get us all dancing even more.

Not only would you see fellow Explorers and National Geographic staff members interacting with one another, and maybe imagining the next project that would start from these conversations, but the ignition happened as well with sharing one of the common denominators of our social and human experiment: dancing. And as Uruguayan Jorge Drexler reminds us: humans have been dancing since cavemen. And we haven’t stopped since. As I said before, this movement, this dance, is essentially human. “Dancing as a belief/as heritage/as a game.”

And if this humanity we share helps us realize an emotional connection with nature through a character such as an animal, that might have a secret life but still deserves a story, then with technology and innovation these shared characteristics can become a spark. Let’s continue drinking from the inspirational firehose, and ignite change.

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Originally posted 2018-06-16 22:14:34.

Connective Tissue: Explorers Symposium (Day 1) and National Geographic Awards

We are always part of interrelated processes of momentary events. That is what one of my mentors in college used to explain to us, his students, during the Buddhist Philosophy course. He was teaching us about the interconnectivity of it all, according to a buddhist system of thought called abhidharma. Nothing is independent. Everything is interdependent.

And this interconnectedness, as well as human ingenuity – as expressed by Chief Scientist and Senior Vice President, Science and Exploration, Jonathan Baillie – was evident on the first day of the Explorers Symposium, where 30 National Geographic Explorers, educators, and staff members took to the stage at Grosvenor Auditorium for a series of panel sessions, updates from the field, as well as lightning-round talks to further our shared mission of reaching a planet in balance. Some ideas that were shared and that inspired us yesterday included:

National Geographic Explorer-at-Large, Bob Ballard explained how the Age of Exploration is in our future, and that we’ll explore more of Earth than all previous generations combined. This, while embracing creative thinking and asking ourselves what are new ways to look at old problems in company of Kavita Gupta, Kakani Katija, Steven Brumby, Corey Jaskolski, and with moderator Jonathan Baillie.

Jonathan Baillie, BoB BALLARD, KAKANI KATIJA, Corey Jaskolski, Steven Brumby, and AVITA GUPTA. Photograph by Taylor Mickal

Misconceptions and a healthy skepticism permeated at a panel session where Lee Berger shared that we should be humble by understanding that, “the more we find, the more we don’t know,” and where Kim Young also argued that in our interconnected world of telecommunications there might also be an intergenerational shift happening from “Who am I?” to “Who are we?” The panel also included contributions on identity from Gyaneshwer Chaubey, Evgenia Arbugaeva, and which was moderated by Jamie Shreeve.

We got updates from the field from three different explorers. We furthered our understanding, and our shared humanity was highlighted, with an update from the field from Paul Salopek and his Out of Eden Walk. Emmanuel Merode shared with us what is going on from the front lines of conservation over at Virunga National Park in Congo, and the courageous resilience that is necessary to work there every day. And we also heard from Steve Boyes about his #Cuando18 expedition to protect the Okavango River Basin and Delta with the Okavango Wilderness Project team.

We saw work in progress from a few explorers like Stephen Humphreys with the rehabilitation of veterans through archaeology and exploration, as well as Tatjana Rosen and her critical work in saving one of the most introverted felines, snow leopards.

In order to see more of what our human connection is to one another, and how we can find empathy and encourage sustainability, we heard from Losang Rabgey and her educational experiments with cultural empathy and social innovation as catalyzers, in a panel with Aziz Abu Sarah, Erika Larsen, Sayed Gul Kalash, and which was moderated by Debra Adams Simmons.

We heard about the challenges and the different strategies being taken with private and public partnerships in order to protect the critical habitats of Earth’s Last Wild Places from Dominique Gonçalves, Sean Gerrity, Enric Sala, Naftali Honig, and with moderator David Quammen.

We changed our perceptions, and saw science and storytelling as some of the tools we need to use in order to address the problem of plastic waste in order to connect with people around the world from a panel introduced by Sylvia Earle, moderated by Valerie Craig, and featuring Heather Koldewey, Lillygot Sedeghat, Imogen Napper, and Jenna Jambeck.

Janni Benavides from my home country of Colombia delighted us with a song for the closing performance of the symposium. It is an ode to the creeks, rivers, and other parts of the ecosystems around the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta.

Later that night, after the symposium wrapped up, we were delighted and carried away with Ravi Patel‘s humor and wit while he hosted the National Geographic Awards last night, reminding us of the power found in how we can overcome the obstacles of the present to solve the problems of the future, and connect ourselves to a shared cause that unites us all: our planet. Last night’s awardees included Ma Jun, Léonidas NzigiyimpaPablo García Borboroglu, Carolyn Porco, Joel Sartore, former president of Chile Michelle Bachelet, and Peter Raven. The award ceremony also featured special performances by Melissa Etheridge, Ben Harper, and Amber Riley.

Pablo García Borboroglu and LÉONIDAS NZIGIYIMPA. Photograph by Taylor Mickal

But I not only found meaning and inspiration in the great events of Explorers Symposium and the National Geographic Awards. In the past couple of days I found synchronicity and serendipity as well in the little things, in the details of what appeared to be mundane. While going back to work I ran into Explorer-in-Residence, Enric Sala in an elevator ride where we spoke enthusiastically about soccer and the World Cup that started yesterday; I saw Ronan Donovan and Stephen Wilkes getting coffee near the headquarters, and recognized the meeting of two of the world’s best photographers; while walking to the National Geographic cafeteria I saw explorers Asha de Vos, Sylvia Earle, and – as of last night, Buffett Award winner – Pablo García Borboroglu, smiling at a camera in the courtyard while someone snapped a photograph of the smiles of three of the most dedicated defenders of the world’s marine wildlife.

This all reminds me of the connections we have with one another. It reminds me of how simple and yet how hard it is sometimes to reach out and join one another for a higher purpose.

I ask, as a matter of conclusion: What if changing the world started with chance encounters of the world’s leading change-makers by highlighting our connective tissue?

I’m glad to be able to witness these connections from yesterday’s symposium, and I can’t wait to watch what other connections are made later today in this world renowned forum of the minds. (Don’t forget you can stream today’s symposium live, here).

Originally posted 2018-06-15 19:32:44.

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