Changing Planet

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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Camilo is a digital editor, a multimedia producer, and a staff writer at the National Geographic Society. He is often writing about our human journey, our changing planet, our wildlife, and the Explorers that are helping us reach a planet in balance. Some of the topics that he is interested in often appear in his pieces, such as: exploration, science, humanitarian aid, social justice, human rights, conservation, international affairs, international education, teaching, comparative literature, music, art, semiotics, philosophy, and religions.

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