Preview: Explorers Festival
kaylee | Jun 14, 2017 | 12:00PM |

National Geographic’s Explorers Festival kicks off tomorrow with a weekend full of great parties, talks, film screenings and more, but the event that’s nearest and dearest to our heart is our very own Excellent Adventure After Hours party! Featuring hot DJ sets (Oddisee), cool drinks (beer!) and nerdy explorers talks (yay nerds!) it’s going to be a great night. To get you excited we hit up some of Nat Geo’s amazing explorers (some of which will be at the party!) to talk about the many facets of adventure and exploration. It’s gonna be sick.

Jennifer Adler, National Geographic Young Explorer – Cave diver and environmental educator

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How did you get into cave diving?
By accident! Or maybe it was a serendipitous series of events… but my background is actually in marine biology. I moved to Gainesville, Florida (which is completely landlocked) to work as a biologist and some of our field work included studying giant prehistoric fish called sturgeon in the Suwannee River. During long, sweltering days on the boat netting fish, I became acquainted with Florida’s incredible freshwater realm, including the springs. I was completely captivated when I first saw their crystal waters and began spending every free moment freediving and photographing beneath the surface. It was only a matter of time until I wanted to see a bit deeper into the winding limestone tunnels of the aquifer. Ironically, I met my cave diving instructor while snorkeling over an old steamboat ship wreck in about a foot of water. I’m surprised he didn’t write me off then – instead, he has gone on to be one of my greatest mentors in diving.

What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you while cave diving?
A few years ago, I was diving at Little River Spring in north Florida and on the way out of the cave, my buddy started swimming very quickly towards the exit. We were following the main line (a rope that leads you out of the cave) and weren’t in danger of getting lost or running out of air, so I knew something was wrong. He didn’t finish his safety stop and went up to the surface and out of sight. The next few moments felt like hours as scary scenarios ran through my head while I finished a couple of minutes of decompression. When I got to the surface, he had thrown up in his regulator but was thankfully conscious. He hung out and cooled down as we got his gear up several flights of steps. He ended up being okay but it was a scary reminder to listen to your body and feel comfortable calling the dive at any time even if it’s just on a fun, relaxing dive.

What is your favorite horror movie and why is it The Descent?
Oh wow, that sounds terrifying! I know many people think of cave diving as scary and dark, but it’s actually almost a meditative state for me. You’re hyper focused and completely tuned into your gear, body, and surrounding environment. Unlike the actual caves, horror movies would likely give me nightmares for years. If I’m going to watch a water-related movie, I much prefer Finding Nemo or Moana!

What does being an explorer mean to you?
To truly be an explorer, I think you need to be able to relate what you’re passionate about and what drives you to the rest of the world and explain why it matters and how it’s relevant. In this way, explorers can help develop innovative solutions to our most pressing issues by thinking critically and creatively and helping people see the world from a different perspective.

Being an explorer means being humble and willing to collaborate with others. You have to know your limits and learn from your mistakes and failures but at the same time be willing to push boundaries and put in the time to do what others won’t. Finally, at their core, an explorer must be a leader and a role model. For me personally, this means inspiring the next generation to conserve and connect with our most vital resource and showing younger girls that they too can aspire to be cave diver, photographer, educator, storyteller, scientist, or whatever they can imagine in their craziest dreams.

What’s next for you?
Finishing my PhD! I’m in the last year of my program writing a dissertation called Visual Ecology that investigates how we can most effectively use photography as a tool in environmental education. Thankfully, my research has kept me close to the water that inspires me and drives my work. When I graduate next year, I’m going to continue working as a conservation photographer with the goal of telling visual stories that inspire conservation of our threatened freshwater ecosystems worldwide. I also hope to continue running Walking on Water, the environmental education program I started in Florida that teaches the next generation about freshwater through field trips to practice underwater photography and exploring the caves via a 360 virtual tour.

David Lang, 2016 Emerging Explorer – Maker, writer, robot enthusiast

What do you think of our public perception of robotics? There are a lot of people who think they’re going to save the world / destroy it?
I think the hype about robotics — whether they’re going to destroy us or take all our jobs — can be distracting from what they’re actually capable of doing to help us right now. We hear this a lot from divers, they say they like diving and don’t want a robot to replace them. That really misses the point. These robots are helping. They can go down with them before or between dives, go deeper, use it to follow them on dangerous dives. It’s not either/or it’s both/and.

What is the hardest part of your job?
Turning down amazing adventures. We get invited all over the world on crazy expeditions, but we can’t go because we’re so focused on building the technology.

What’s the most important part of your job?
Making sure that people use these tools responsibly. Jacques Cousteau is a big hero of mine. He invented scuba diving, but then spent the rest of his life making sure people used the technology for good. As creators, we have a responsibility.

What’s next for you?
I’m spending a lot of my time helping explorers on OpenExplorer. It’s a growing community of citizens scientists and explorers. It’s been so fun to see what people are doing with the tool.

Danielle Lee, 2017 Emerging Explorer – Biologist and outreach scientist

What is your favorite thing about studying rodents?
I love discovering new things, especially revealing new details about things we encounter everyday. Rodents are everywhere, and how common rodents are – we still know few things about so many species, even the ones we are likely encounter. It’s science hiding in plain site – like four-leaf clovers, which are my favorite things to hunt and find.

What’s the biggest difference between studying urban rats and non-urban rats?
There’s more space to trap and capture non-urban rats. I can set up large tracks of trapping grids and leave traps out of long periods of time and not worry about those traps being found or messed with. In urban areas, that’s not as easy. The traps are out in the open and people are curious. They want to check it out, move them or touch them. It’s harder to set up an experiment when you’re likely to be interrupted by curious people. So, studying rodents in urban areas requires more time investment getting to know people and getting their feedback and support for my projects. I have to get permission to work in non-urban areas, but in urban areas I have to secure permission from many more people.

Did you ever think you would work in this field?
I did not. As a child and young college student, I thought I’d be a veterinarian — a wildlife veterinarian helping big cats and such. I never knew a career in biology or animal behavior was possible; and I never imagined so many amazing opportunities to ask interesting science questions would be possible studying wild rodents.

What got you interested in science?
I was always interested in science. I enjoyed watching animals and had lots of pets. Additional details here and here.

What’s next for you?
I have just completed my first year as a college professor. I will be teaching freshman level college biology for science and pre-med majors. I am also getting my own research lab established. I am doing the requisite paperwork and training to continue studying rodents – here in the States and in Tanzania — as well as training students – the next generation of scientists — to become ethical, justice-centered researchers and citizens.

While many of the Explorers Festival events are already sold out (or getting close) there are still plenty of opportunities to get nerdy with some of the smartest minds we have to offer, including Neil deGrasse Tyson, James Cameron and Colonel Chris Hadfield, and a whole slew of Nat Geo’s very own explorers.

And even if the event that’s near and dear to your heart is sold out, Nat Geo will be live streaming many of them right here.

Thursday, June 15 – Nat Geo Nights: Into the Okavango

Enjoy some drinks, food and music while you chat with the team that spent two years documenting the incredibly wild Okavango River basin.

Friday, June 16 – BYT & Nat Geo’s Excellent Adventure

From Your Best June: Our official National Geographic After Hours celebration is back for the seventh year running! This year we’ve thrown some time travel in the mix (a la Bill and Ted) so you know for a fact everything is going to be weirder (and more fun) than ever. Get ready for a sick Oddisee DJ set, cool summer-y cocktails, lots of delicious food truck bites, legitimately interesting explorers talks and more dancing than you could possibly handle. As always, we’ll keep the museum open all night so you can bask in the glory that is knowledge. It sells out every year, it’s gonna be fun.

Saturday, June 17 – Celebration of Exploration

Nat Geo is taking over the Lisner auditorium to throw a party with some of the biggest names in exploration. Expect food from some of D.C.’s most talented chefs, followed music from some of your favorite bands (like India Arie and Sam Harris from the X Ambassadors) and an awards ceremony. Get ready to party with Neil deGrasse Tyson, James Cameron, Mo Rocca, Amy Brandwein, and Mike Isabella. It’s going to be kind of insane.

Sunday, June 19 – FURTHER Film Festival

Get ready for a full day of sweet documentary film making. From movies about the Florida wilderness to a glimpse into the life of an elephant, it’s going to be more interesting than anything you can find on Netflix.