Catch the excitement when National Geographic explorers gather at headquarters to share their adventures with host Boyd Matson.
Dan Buettner is an internationally recognized researcher, explorer, and New York Times
best-selling author. He founded Blue ZonesÂ®, a company that puts the
world's best practices in longevity and well-being to work in people's
lives. Buettner's November 2005 National Geographic article on
longevity, "The Secrets of Living Longer," was the cover story of one of
the magazine's top-selling issues in history and made him a finalist
for a National Magazine Award. His books The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest and Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way, appeared on many best-seller lists and were featured on Oprah.
In 2009 Buettner and his partner, AARP, applied principles of "The Blue
Zones" in Albert Lea, Minnesota, and successfully raised life
expectancy and lowered health care costs by some 40 percent. Buettner is
currently working with Healthways to implement the program in the beach
cities of Los Angeles. Their strategy focuses on optimizing the health
environment instead of individual behavior change. Buettner also holds
three world records in distance cycling and has won an Emmy Award for
Quick! Which species pulls at your heartstrings--a tiger
cub or an algae-covered sloth? A panda or a toad? A lion or a dung
beetle? When it comes to emotional attachment, research funding, global
popularity, and conservation support, the fluffier your fur and the
bigger your eyes, the better your chances--unless zoologist Lucy Cooke
has a vote. She's on a one-woman crusade to show the world why some of
the most unlovable animals are actually the most interesting and
deserving of our attention, study, and protection.
blogs, online videos, films, and TV programs bring her trademark humor
and quirky storytelling style to a serious message: If we only care for
the best known and best loved species, other enormously crucial parts of
the web of life could vanish forever. With her unconventional attitude,
she leverages the Internet to reach a new audience that more
traditional wildlife programming has yet to tap.
"My goal is to
preach to the unconverted," says Cooke. "A lot of conservation messages
are difficult to hear; they make people feel guilty. I think humor is
the sugar coating that helps people swallow the pill. If you manage to
make someone laugh while you tell them something important, they'll
stick around and listen to more."
Cooke worries about what she
calls "the tyranny of the cute." "There are so many television shows
about koala bears and kittens," she observes. "All the attention seems
focused on a handful of charismatic 'celebrity' animals. Even scientists
get less funding for animals that aren't cute and cuddly. In fact,
large mammal species appear in 500 times as many published papers as
She adds: "I've always loved an underdog.
Weird, freaky creatures fascinate me because they tell an amazing
evolutionary story. I'm interested in all of nature, not just the shiny,
Amphibians, particularly frogs, top Cooke's
underdog list. "Over a third of amphibians are going extinct; it's the
worst extinction crisis since the dinosaurs were wiped off the planet.
Yet I couldn't convince anyone to commission a film about it. That
motivated me to start my Amphibian Avenger blog." The widely read blog
showcases creatures that rarely attract the spotlight. "Frogs are a
miracle of evolution that come in myriad forms and every color of the
rainbow. You literally can't get bored with them."
occupy a crucial spot in the middle of the food chain. "If you remove
them, everything else goes haywire," she notes. "The ripples are already
reverberating through the whole web of life--when amphibians go extinct,
birds and snakes that eat them also disappear. Since amphibians breathe
through their delicate skin; they are very vulnerable to pollution,
climate change, and disease. That makes them fantastic barometers of the
health of ecosystems. If amphibians aren't doing well, chances are
their overall environment is sick."
Even the story of why
amphibians are so endangered is fascinating. "The deadly fungus,
chytrid, is creeping across the planet, wiping out whole swaths of
amphibians like something from a sci-fi movie," Cooke says. A leading
theory says the fungus came from the African clawed frog, which was bred
and exported by the thousands to produce frog-based pregnancy tests. A
woman's urine would be injected into the frog, and if eggs were laid,
the woman was pregnant. When new forms of testing emerged, the frogs (by
then in labs all across the world) were released into the wild.
Scientists, totally unaware the frogs carried the lethal fungus, had
unwittingly helped start a worldwide epidemic.
"It's exciting to
tell stories that haven't been told," Cooke says. "Take Wallace's flying
frog. It lives in the tallest trees on the planet, atop Borneo's rain
forest canopy. To avoid going all the way up and down, this frog evolved
with flaps of skin that allow it to glide from tree to tree. Or
consider the golden poison dart frog, the most poisonous vertebrate on
the planet. Only one centimeter long, yet loaded with enough poison to
kill ten men. Or Darwin's frog, the only species excepting the seahorse
in which the male gets pregnant."
Cooke's blog and videos
transport you to one of the world's highest lakes, where the endangered
Lake Titicaca frog survives huge variations in temperature and intense
UV rays by permanently living on the lake's floor. Since it never
surfaces, it breathes only through its skin and consequently evolved
with copious folds and flaps to increase its surface area. "Tragically,
I've only seen this frog in a blender," Cooke reports. "People have
decided he's a medicinal cure for impotence." Her videos expose frog
juice bars that have brought the ancient species to the brink of
Cooke reached her widest audience yet when her online
video about sloths went viral. Millions have viewed the film about a
sanctuary for baby sloths that were orphaned due to power lines and
roads that now wind through Costa Rica's jungles. Cooke is pleased to
help elevate the status of sloths; animals that she insists are unfairly
derided and misunderstood. "They've always had a reputation for being
lazy, stupid, and dirty. The first European to describe a sloth said, "If there was one more thing wrong with it, it wouldn't survive.' It's
even named after one of the seven deadly sins."
"slothfulness" is the key to the animal's success. A slow metabolism
allows the sloth's liver to process toxins found in the leaves it eats.
Moving slowly also keeps it hidden from predators. "My video showed the
world how cute and interesting these babies are," Cooke says. "I'll use
any tactic to make people like things."
The wobbly-nosed proboscis
monkey, dung beetles, bats, and more get their moment in the sun thanks
to Cooke. "It's about championing animals that don't have a voice and
telling their stories in a way that engages a wider audience. I want
people to share my sense of wonder, amazement, and love for these
creatures. Once you understand why they're ugly or odd, I hope you'll
appreciate and want to save them as much as I do."
Barrington Irving is very good at rising above obstacles.
Literally. Raised in Miami's inner city, surrounded by crime, poverty,
and failing schools, he beat the odds to become the youngest person and
only African American ever to fly solo around the world. He built a
plane himself, made his historic flight, graduated magna cum laude from
an aeronautical science program, and founded a dynamic educational
nonprofit. Then he turned 28.
His message for kids: "The only
thing that separates you from CEOs in corner offices or scientists in
labs is determination, hard work, and a passion for what you want to
achieve. The only person who can stop you from doing something great is
you. Even if no one believes in your dream, you have to pursue it." The
secret, he believes, is having a dream in the first place, and that
starts with powerful learning experiences that inspire kids to pursue
careers--particularly in science, technology, engineering, and math.
moment of inspiration for Irving came at age 15 while he was working in
his parents' bookstore. One of their customers, a Jamaican-born
professional pilot, asked Irving if he'd ever thought about becoming a
pilot. "I told him I didn't think I was smart enough; but the next day
he gave me the chance to sit in the cockpit of the commercial airplane
he flew, and just like that I was hooked. There are probably millions of
kids out there like me who find science and exploration amazing, but
lack the confidence or opportunity to take the next step."
follow his dream, Irving turned down a full football scholarship to the
University of Florida. He washed airplanes to earn money for flight
school and increased his flying skills by practicing at home on a $40
flight simulator video game.
Then another dream took hold: flying
solo around the world. He faced more than 50 rejections for sponsorship
before convincing several manufacturers to donate individual aircraft
components. He took off with no weather radar, no de-icing system, and
just $30 in his pocket. "I like to do things people say I can't do."
97 days, 26 stops, and dozens of thunderstorms, monsoons, snowstorms,
and sandstorms, he touched down to a roaring crowd in Miami. "Stepping
from the plane, it wasn't all the fanfare that changed my life. It was
seeing so many young people watching and listening. I had no money, but I
was determined to give back with my time, knowledge, and experience."
He's been doing it ever since.
Irving's nonprofit organization,
Experience Aviation, aims to boost the numbers of youth in aviation and
other science- and math-related careers. Middle and high school students
attend summer and after-school programs tackling hands-on robotics
projects, flight simulator challenges, and field trips to major
industries and corporations. In his Build and Soar program, 60 students
from failing schools built an airplane from scratch in just ten weeks
and then watched Irving pilot it into the clouds.
"We want to
create a one-of-a-kind opportunity for students to take ownership and
accomplish something amazing," he notes. "Meaningful, real-world
learning experiences fire up the neurons in kids' minds. If you don't do
that, you've lost them. Purposeful, inspiring activities increase the
chance they'll stay on that learning and career path. We've had one
young lady receive a full scholarship to Duke University as a math
major, and several young men are now pilots, engineers, and aircraft
"It's great to reach a few hundred kids every year,"
he says, "but I also wanted to find a way to inspire on a larger scale."
How about millions of kids? Irving's next endeavor will transform a jet
into a flying classroom that will circle the globe sharing science,
technology, engineering, math, geography, culture, and history. "This
isn't just an aircraft; it's an exploration vehicle for learning that
will teach millions of kids in ways they've never been taught
beforeâ€”making them part of the expedition and research."
web-based experience will make it easy for kids to participate at home
and school, voting on everything from where Irving should make a fuel
stop to what local food he should sample. He plans to call classrooms
from the cockpit; broadcast live video from 45,000 feet; blog with
students; collect atmospheric data; communicate with the International
Space Station; and wear a NASA body suit that transmits his heart rate,
blood pressure, and other vital signs.
Along the way, kids will
have a virtual window on about 75 ground expeditions, including Machu
Picchu, the GalÃ¡pagos Islands, the Pyramids, the Serengeti Plains, the
Roman Coliseum, the Taj Mahal, and the Great Wall of China. Cameras will
provide 360-degree panoramic views of destinations from ancient
archaeological sites to Hong Kong skyscrapers. Apps will track
adventures such as shark tagging, giving students ongoing location and
water temperature data.
A steady stream of challenges will let
kids compete to solve problems ranging from evacuating populations after
tsunamis to collecting trash in space. "We also want to create a forum
where kids, parents, and teachers can speak to astronauts, scientists,
and other specialists."
This "Journey for Knowledge" flight is
scheduled to depart in 2013 and will make Irving the youngest person
ever to fly to all seven continents.
Perhaps Irving's most
compelling educational tool is the example his own life provides. After
landing his record-breaking flight at age 23, he smiled out at the
airfield crowd and said, "Everyone told me what I couldn't do. They said
I was too young, that I didn't have enough money, experience, strength,
or knowledge. They told me it would take forever and I'd never come
home. Well ... guess what?"
Dr. Enric Sala is a marine ecologist who fell in love
with the sea growing up on the Mediterranean coast of Spain. Witnessing
the harm people do to the oceans led him to dedicate his career to
understand and find ways to mitigate human impacts on marine life. After
obtaining a Ph.D. in ecology from the University of Aix-Marseille,
France, Sala moved to the United States for ten years, where he was a
professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. In 2006, he moved back
to Spain to hold the first position on marine conservation ecology at
the Spanish National Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), and in 2008
he became a National Geographic fellow. Combining work at both
institutions, Sala is actively engaged in research, exploration,
communication, and application of scientific knowledge related to the
conservation of marine ecosystems.
Sala is a 2005 Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow, a
2006 Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation, a 2007 National Geographic
Emerging Explorer, and a 2008 Young Global Leader at the World Economic
Forum in Davos. He also received the 2006 Prince of Asturias Award for
Communication and Humanities with National Geographic. Sala's experience
and scientific expertise contributes to his service on scientific
advisory boards of international environmental organizations.