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The National Geographic Society Announces 2022 Award Honorees

The global nonprofit celebrates this year’s Rolex National Geographic Explorer of the Year and the National Geographic/Buffett Awards for Leadership in Conservation in Africa and Latin America

The National Geographic Society is pleased to honor three of its Explorers with awards for their groundbreaking contributions in the fields of exploration, storytelling and conservation.

This year’s award recipients share the Society’s dedication to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. These global leaders are each demonstrating the spirit of exploration and innovation in their work.

“We are deeply committed to investing in our community of National Geographic Explorers—passionate changemakers and boundary-pushers who are illuminating and protecting the wonder of our world,” said Jill Tiefenthaler, CEO of the National Geographic Society. “These three women demonstrate the very best in exploration. In Tara, we honor a gifted storyteller who embarked on the journey of a lifetime to shine a light on the Transatlantic Slave Trade and, in doing so, preserved cultural heritage and history for millions of people around the world. In Rachel and Giuliana, we honor dedicated conservationists who are building sustainable solutions to support their local communities.”

The awards were presented to these individuals this week at the Society’s annual Explorers Festival, which is hosted in partnership with Rolex in the framework of its Perpetual Planet initiative.

The National Geographic Society is proud to introduce you to the three honorees who are building a sustainable planet for generations to come, and continuing to help us better understand the world we live in and the species we share with it.

Rolex National Geographic Explorer Of The Year

The Rolex National Geographic Explorer of the Year award is given to an individual whose actions, achievements, and spirit push the boundaries of leadership in exploration, and who shows a commitment to share this knowledge with the world. It recognizes a member of the National Geographic Explorer community who shines a critical light on important issues, discoveries, and challenges facing our planet, and inspires the world to act on behalf of a more sustainable future. The 2022 Rolex National Geographic Explorer of The Year is Tara Roberts.

National Geographic Explorer and storyteller Tara Roberts embarked on a life-changing journey alongside Diving With A Purpose—a team of Black scuba divers—in search of shipwrecks that carried enslaved Africans. Roberts documented her travels and the stories of the divers, historians, archaeologists, and communities she met along the way for the National Geographic Society funded six-part podcast series Into the Depths. The highly acclaimed podcast series was downloaded more than 430,000 times, was named Spotify’s “Best Podcast of the Week;” and was featured in more than 100 media articles and outlets (including GMA, PBS, NPR, and CNN). Roberts also became the first Black American female Explorer to grace the cover of the National Geographic magazine, where her story reached over 26 million people. Through her storytelling, Roberts hopes to empower and bring nuance to the plight filled stories within the Black community.

The National Geographic/Buffett Awards For Leadership In Conservation

The National Geographic/Buffett Awards for Leadership in Conservation were established in partnership with the Howard G. Buffett Foundation to recognize and celebrate unsung conservation heroes. Two awards are presented each year: one for achievement in Africa and the other for achievement in Latin America. These outstanding individuals have demonstrated leadership in managing and protecting the natural resources in their regions and countries, and are inspirational conservation advocates who serve as role models and mentors. The recipients of the 2022 National Geographic/Buffett Awards for Leadership In Conservation are Rachel Ikemeh (Africa) and Giuliana Furci (Latin America).

A Nigerian conservationist and National Geographic Explorer, Rachel Ikemeh has been working to protect the last population of the Niger Delta red Colobus monkey—a critically endangered species listed as one of the top 25 most endangered primate species in the world—with less than 500 individuals surviving in the wild. Working in the country’s conservation sector, Rachel encouraged key leaders to sign a Memorandum of Understanding in September 2020, stating the need for protection for the monkey. By June 2021, the State and Federal governments recognized the Apoi Community Conservation Association to protect and conserve the Conservancy and the population of Niger Delta red Colobus. Rachel is also a champion for the Endangered Nigeria-Cameroon Chimpanzee, and encouraged government authorities to designate specific areas to protect these chimpanzees, particularly from poaching. 

A Chilean conservationist, Giuliana Furci focuses on understanding and protecting the fungal diversity of her country. With no information about the diversity of this kingdom in Chile, she learned independently and started studying fungus in 2000. She built the first field guide of Chilean mushrooms, and became the first mycologist expert in the country. She also funded the Fungi Foundation in 2012—the first NGO in the world dedicated solely to the research and protection of Fungi. Setting an example for Latin American countries, she worked to incorporate fungi at the highest legislative level for conservation and has positioned Chile as a pioneer in public policies in protecting fungi. More recently, she has been working with the communities that depend on mushrooms, learning about their traditional use, and building conservation initiatives to preserve that traditional knowledge and the biodiversity of this critical kingdom.

In addition to the honorees mentioned above, the National Geographic Society also named the recipients of the Hubbard Medal and Wayfinder Awards earlier this year.

About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 15,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit www.nationalgeographic.org or follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.