- Q&A with Trip Leader Regina Yopak
- Q&A with Trip Leader Gaston Lacombe
- Q&A with Trip Leader Ross Weinberg
- Q&A with Trip Leader Nathalie Chardon
- Q&A with Trip Leader Chris Johns
- Q&A with Trip Leader Steve Byrne
- Q&A with Trip Leader Ricky Qi
- Q&A with Trip Leader Claire Bangser
- Q&A with Trip Leader Nicole Büttner
Q&A with Trip Leader Chris Johns
Chris began his career working in youth environmental education and biodiversity conservation in Hawaii, and has since worked in tropical ecosystems around the world–from the Philippines to Peru. Chris is currently earning his Ph.D. at the University of Florida, studying rare Hawaiian insects and the plants they feed on. As a National Geographic Young Explorer grantee, Chris has researched lesser-known and threatened organisms by combining creative multimedia and scientific discovery.
What do you do when you’re not leading trips for National Geographic Student Expeditions?
When I am not leading National Geographic Student Expeditions trips, I am (leisurely) working my way through a dissertation at the University of Florida, focused on the evolution of microscopic moths in the Hawaiian Islands. I also spend a significant amount of time shooting photo and video projects about science and conservation. Being a biologist is a pretty glamorous job (by my standards), and it’s nice to be able to show that side of science through beautiful photographs and films.
What has been your proudest achievement so far in your career?
I’ve been extremely fortunate to have helped discover several new micromoth species only found in the Hawaiian Islands. Some of these new species are already threatened with extinction, because the Hawaiian plants they depend on are exceedingly rare. It’s a privilege to contribute to our understanding of the Hawaiian biota, and hopefully these discoveries will help us better conserve these organisms.
You’ll be leading our Belize Expedition this summer. What is your connection to this part of the world?
I’ve travelled extensively in Central America, and as an evolutionary biologist, I’ve always been fascinated by this region of the world. It’s the link between the northern and southern hemispheres, and has a wondrous mix of biological diversity.
What part of the Belize trip are you most excited for students to experience this summer?
As the photography leader for this trip, I’m most excited for the students to explore the visual aesthetic of diversity, both biologically and culturally. It’ll be a great challenge to creatively capture such a complex country. I’m thrilled to see what students come up with!
Any pieces of advice for aspiring conservationists and biologists?
Find an organism or ecosystem near your home that you love, and study it relentlessly! Becoming a local expert on something small is surprisingly easy. The world certainly needs more experts studying the living things that they are physically and emotionally closest to.
What do you hope students take away with them after traveling with National Geographic?
I hope students come away personally owning the spirit of exploration and discovery that is deeply part of National Geographic. These trips often plant the seeds for a lifetime of creativity and curiosity for students.
What do you think is the best part of a National Geographic Student Expeditions trip?
I participated as a student on trips like these when I was in high school and college. The work on those trips undoubtedly shaped my personal and professional character. One of the best things about these trips that isn’t widely known, though, is that you come away with amazing new friends. Some of my best friends to this day are ones I learned and worked with on trips like these, over ten years ago.
Where is the first place you traveled that left a lasting impression on you?
The Philippines. I’m half Filipino, but grew up in the United States not knowing much about my heritage. When I first visited the Philippine Islands as a young kid, I was blown away. It was deeply illuminating, getting a better picture of where I came from. Making that connection as a kid was so important to me, and has set me up to keep going back to the Philippines throughout my life. I have a lot to learn about that part of myself!
What are your hobbies, aside from traveling and sharing your insights with National Geographic Student Expeditions travelers?
I enjoy dabbling in a continually rotating list of hobbies! I’m currently obsessed with playing pool (usually when I should be writing another dissertation paragraph), canoe racing in the narrow muddy river waters of Florida, and the fascinating and relentlessly humbling world of jiu jitsu.
What is the next destination on your travel wish list?
I’d really like to go to St. Louis. I hear there is a really weird city museum there. Having (very fortunately) travelled all over the world, I’m now becoming increasingly curious about the “weird and wild” in more unexpected places.
What item won’t you leave home without when traveling?
A long-sleeve shirt. Having worked as a biologist in the tropics for almost a decade now, I’ve endured thousands of bug bites. (As much as I love them) I’m done getting eaten by bugs.
One fun fact about yourself?
I used to be absolutely terrified of bugs as a kid. Go figure.