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National Geographic Society Honors Six for Outstanding Contributions

By Courtney Mattison

Six extraordinary individuals were honored for their leadership in exploration, science, environmental stewardship and education at the National Geographic Society’s 125th Anniversary Gala celebration last night in Washington, D.C. Held at the National Building Museum, this star-studded event celebrated the power of exploration to inspire curiosity, research, creativity and ultimately a deeper understanding of our role in the natural world. National Geographic Society CEO and Chairman John Fahey explained the evening’s theme, “A New Age of Exploration”:

Exploration for our founders in 1888 was driven by a desire for knowledge and adventure. 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.

Dr. E.O. Wilson smells a large insect to determine whether or not it's a grasshopper, which give off a distinct odor. © Dr. E.O. Wilson

Dr. E.O. Wilson smells a large insect to determine whether or not it’s a grasshopper, which give off a distinct odor.
© Dr. E.O. Wilson

The Society’s highest honor – the Hubbard Medal – went to explorer and filmmaker James Cameron, oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle and scientist and author Dr. Edward O. Wilson. Cameron and Earle were honored for their outstanding achievements in marine exploration and conservation, while Wilson was recognized for his commitment to biodiversity through a lifetime of research and writing. James Cameron also received the Explorer of the Year Award for his record-setting solo dive to the Challenger Deep, the deepest point of the ocean in March 2012.

© National Geographic

© National Geographic

Fahey awarded philanthropist and humanitarian Howard G. Buffett with the Chairman’s Award for his conservation work involving agriculture and worldwide food needs. Buffett has traveled to over 115 countries to document the challenges of preserving biodiversity while providing adequate resources to meet the needs of a growing global population.

Howard G. Buffett, who works in agriculture, business, conservation, philanthropy, photography and politics, has traveled to more than 115 countries documenting the challenges of preserving biodiversity. Buffett received the National Geographic Society’s Chairman's Award at the Society’s 125th Anniversary Gala in Washington June 13. © Howard Buffett

Howard G. Buffett, who works in agriculture, business, conservation, philanthropy, photography and politics, has traveled to more than 115 countries documenting the challenges of preserving biodiversity. Buffett received the National Geographic Society’s Chairman’s Award at the Society’s 125th Anniversary Gala in Washington June 13.
© Howard Buffett

The Adventurer of the Year Award was given to Austrian BASE jumper Felix Baumgartner for his October 2012 freefall during which he became the first human to accelerate through the speed of sound without a vehicle (over 843 mph!) and provided valuable aerospace research data. Before leaping from a platform on a capsule hovering 127,852 feet above earth, Baumgartner said, “I wish the whole world could see what I see. Sometimes you have to go up really high to understand how small you are.”

Pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria prepares to jump from the altitude of 29455 meters during the second manned test flight for Red Bull Stratos in Roswell, New Mexico, USA on July 25, 2012. © Jay Nemeth/Red Bull Content Pool

Pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria prepares to jump from the altitude of 29455 meters during the second manned test flight for Red Bull Stratos in Roswell, New Mexico, USA on July 25, 2012.
© Jay Nemeth/Red Bull Content Pool

The Alexander Graham Bell Medal was awarded to “Jeopardy!” host and National Geographic Bee moderator Alex Trebek for his 25-year commitment to geography education through the Bee. In 2012, Trebek received the Peabody Award, one of the most selective awards in the broadcast media industry. He has also done extensive charitable work, including adopting a village in Zambia where he and his family helped build a school, three homes for teachers and a medical facility.

National Geographic Bee moderator Alex Trebek, along with 2013 Bee champion Sathwik Karnik of Massachusetts (left) and  runner-up Conrad Oberhaus of Illinois. Trebek received the National Geographic Society's Alexander Graham Bell Medal at the National Geographic 125th Anniversary Gala Awards. © Rebecca Hale/National Geographic

National Geographic Bee moderator Alex Trebek, along with 2013 Bee champion Sathwik Karnik of Massachusetts (left) and  runner-up Conrad Oberhaus of Illinois. Trebek received the National Geographic Society’s Alexander Graham Bell Medal at the National Geographic 125th Anniversary Gala Awards.
© Rebecca Hale/National Geographic

The gala was the culmination of a two-day National Geographic Explorers Symposium – an annual gathering of Explorers-in-Residence, Fellows, Emerging Explorers, grantees and others affiliated with the organization to share updates of their work. As this year is the Society’s 125th anniversary, the event directed special attention to National Geographic’s evolution from a small scientific body founded in 1888 to spread geographic knowledge to its role today as one of earth’s largest educational and scientific nonprofit organizations working to inspire people to care for and about the planet.

Sylvia A. Earle, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and Rosemary and Roger Enrico Chair for Ocean Exploration. Photo by Bates Littlehales © 2008 National Geographic

Sylvia A. Earle, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and Rosemary and Roger Enrico Chair for Ocean Exploration.
Photo by Bates Littlehales © 2008 National Geographic

Global leaders in science, exploration and conservation attended the gala, including oceanographer Robert Ballard and marine ecologist Enric Sala among other prominent National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence. Captain Don Walsh, a former Hubbard Medal honoree who was the first to reach the ocean’s deepest point in the Mariana Trench along with late Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard, was also in attendance. The evening was presented by Rolex, FOX Networks Group and RBC and co-chaired by 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 award ceremony and gala concluded with an eye to the future for the National Geographic Society. With over $20 million from the generous contributions of eight families and proceeds from the gala, National Geographic will remain a world leader in advancing innovative research, exploration and conservation.

Featured image: World-renowned oceanographer Sylvia A. Earle poses inside a submersible off the coast of Vancouver. Earle received the National Geographic Society Hubbard Medal at the National Geographic 125th Anniversary Gala Awards. Photo © Natalie B. Fobes/National Geographic.

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One Response to National Geographic Society Honors Six for Outstanding Contributions

  1. Lissa Cabler Ware says:

    Each and every one of these explorers has made the world a more interesting place to be through their research and education they have shared with us. Congratulations!

    Dr Earle for your research on women in diving and James Cameron for bringing us more of the undersea world. I only wish Jacques Cousteau were here to celebrate your accomplishments!