Changing Planet

Six Great Explorers Honored at the Society’s 125th Anniversary Gala

WASHINGTON (June 14, 2013)—Six exceptional individuals were honored last night at the National Geographic Society’s 125th Anniversary Gala celebration for their efforts to lead exploration, advance scientific understanding, conserve natural resources and expand knowledge of the world.

At the sold-out event held at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., National Geographic Society CEO and Chairman John Fahey presented the Hubbard Medal — the Society’s highest honor — to explorer and filmmaker James Cameron, oceanographer Sylvia Earle and scientist and author Edward O. Wilson. Cameron and Earle were recognized for their critical efforts in ocean exploration and conservation, and Wilson was honored for his lifelong commitment to the planet’s rich diversity through his research and writing. Fahey presented the Chairman’s Award to philanthropist and humanitarian Howard G. Buffett for his contribution to conservation, the Adventurer of the Year Award to BASE jumper Felix Baumgartner for his 2012 feat of accelerating through the speed of sound in freefall to advance aerospace research, and the Alexander Graham Bell Medal to National Geographic Bee moderator and “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek for his 25 years of service to the Bee and his commitment to geography education. Cameron also received the Explorer of the Year Award for his record-setting solo dive to the deepest point of the ocean in 2012.

“Exploration for our founders in 1888 was driven by a desire for knowledge and adventure,” said Fahey. “Today we have the same goals, but our explorers — and those who support them — are driven by a deeper purpose. In this new age of exploration, they want to help navigate the increasingly complex relationship between humanity’s needs and the natural world that sustains us.”

The gala was presented by Rolex, FOX Networks Group and RBC. Co-chairs for the evening were Lucy and Henry Billingsley, Rosemary and Roger Enrico, Julie and Lee Folger, Gayle and Ed Roski Jr., Tricia and Frank Saul and Donna and Garry Weber.

The evening’s theme, “A New Age of Exploration,” echoed the yearlong celebration of the Society’s 125th anniversary. The gala was attended by global leaders in science, exploration and conservation, including oceanographer Robert Ballard, award-winning wildlife filmmakers and conservationists Dereck and Beverly Joubert, paleontologist Louise Leakey, population geneticist Spencer Wells, marine ecologist Enric Sala and conservationist Mike Fay, all National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence. Also in attendance was former Hubbard Medal winner Capt. Don Walsh, who, with late Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard, was the first to reach the ocean’s deepest point, the Mariana Trench, in 1960.

The evening concluded with an announcement of philanthropic commitments from nine families and one organization in support of the work of the National Geographic Society. These contributions and additional proceeds from the gala are part of $35 million in new gift commitments since Jan. 1, 2013, to honor the Society’s 125th anniversary and support a wide range of individuals leading research, exploration and conservation efforts that are fueling new discoveries and innovations. These commitments include a $1 million pledge by Alex Trebek to create an endowment for the National Geographic Bee, a competition he hosted for the last 25 years.

The gala featured an original music arrangement of National Geographic’s theme song played by the Washington Symphonic Brass, Washington’s critically acclaimed, award-winning orchestral brass ensemble; extraordinary videos projected in high definition on 80-foot screens — set design components never before seen in the United States; and custom-made dining tables featuring topographical maps, compasses and live plants. The menu was designed by renowned chef and National Geographic Fellow Barton Seaver. All the food was created with ingredients sourced from sustainable farms. Wine was provided by Iron Horse Vineyards, which is donating proceeds from each publicly sold bottle of its 2008 Ocean Reserve Blanc de Blancs to National Geographic’s initiative to restore the ocean’s health and productivity.

Additional support for the gala was provided by Bank of America, Fox International Channels, GEICO, Cengage Learning, National Geographic Channels, PetSmart, Southwest Airlines and SVM Foundation.

The gala was the culmination of the two-day National Geographic 2013 Explorers Symposium, #LetsExplore, an annual gathering of National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence, Fellows, Emerging Explorers, grantees and others affiliated with the Society to share updates of their research and fieldwork. This year, the National Geographic Society celebrates its 125th anniversary and its evolution from a small scientific body founded in 1888 “to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge” to one of the world’s largest educational and scientific nonprofit organizations, committed to inspiring people to care about the planet.

[This text is from the official NG press release for the event.]


Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. In 2018 he became Communications Director at Adventure Scientists, founded by Nat Geo Explorer Gregg Treinish. Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010. He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history. You can follow him on Twitter @anderhowl and on Instagram @andrewjhowley.
  • Steve Cameron

    National Geographic and the Smithsonian are 2 of the biggest controllers of Science in the world. They have tried to block publication of opposing views since they were established. Their science is subjective, (popular science), not objective. They have had an agreement with the Leakey family for decades to promote their views and their views only. Aside from that, it is a horrible place to work according to a friend who was a former editor in chief

  • Kaki Flynn

    James Cameron Challenge
    James Cameron, in his speech, has challenged all scientists and explorers to join him in doing what is best for us and our planet by eating a plant-strong diet, leaving animals (from the land and the sea) off of our plates. Good for us, good for the planet. JOIN US

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