Meet the Man who Networks the BioBlitz

Verizon Wireless partnered with the National Park Service and the National Geographic Society to produce the 2012 BioBlitz in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park this weekend. For the largest wireless network provider in the U.S. it is an opportunity to connect thousands of people with nature in real time. For John Johnson, Verizon Wireless’ executive director in the Western United States for corporate communications, there is also a deep personal affinity with the wilderness and photography.

“I love photography, I love being outdoors, and I love nature. The technology of today that is built into the smart phones that most people carry with them let you combine all these things in a really powerful and compelling way,” Johnson told me on the beach of a small lake across the street from Estes Park fairgrounds, headquarters of the BioBlitz. “The camera phone knows where you are. It has GPS and you can use it to capture high-definition images, videos, send them in real time up the network to share with other people. I find that when I do that … it’s really engaging, people say ‘he’s there right now, I want to go there too’. So I love that connection of the gadgetry, the technology, with nature and the ability to tell stories through powerful images that you can capture by being out and getting around.”

To facilitate the BioBlitz, Verizon added a new 4G LTE cell site on the peak of Prospect Mountain overlooking Estes Park and the Eastern Gateway to the National Park, Johnson said.  “The super fast wireless service lets student scientists upload smartphone images of their species observations in real time to National Geo’s Fieldscope for analysis. It’s a great way to engage kids with nature and help them share their excitement using the gizmos and technology they love.” Check out some of the results of this work on Fieldscope.

Our interview over, Johnson pulled out a bag of gadgets to extend the capabilities of the smart phone, from tiny wide-angle lenses to a tripod and external microphones. “I am passionate about my photography,” he said as we returned to the BioBlitz, “but smart phones make it so easy to always be able to photograph or video any opportunity that comes up. So I no longer have a lot of use for a big bag full of expensive cameras and lenses. I like to be always connected and engaged with the world around me.”

Here are some of John Johnson’s photos taken and shared with his smart phone over the past couple of days:

The dawn calm on Lake Estes awaits thousands of students, teachers and scientists converging on this Eastern Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park for a rapid-fire inventory of every plant and animal they can find in 24 hours. Photo courtesy of John Johnson.


The Estes Park Aerial Tramway built in 1955 offers incredible views on the ride up Prospect Mountain where a new Verizon Wireless cell site provides 4G LTE wireless broadband service to the area. Photo courtesy of John Johnson.


The BioBlitz base camp at the Estes Park Fairgrounds housed a Biodiversity Festival, work areas for scientists and photographers, and the departure point for the dozens of inventory teams making excursions deep into the Rockies. Photo courtesy of John Johnson.


A young elk checks out the guy with the gizmo just moments before blocking traffic as he moves toward Estes Lake. The BioBlitz base camp is the collection of white buildings and tents in the distance on the right of the photo. Photo courtesy of John Johnson.

12418031_10153900711084116_8462971761216697621_nDavid Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.

He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.

Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship

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Changing Planet


Meet the Author
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn