Half-Earth Day 2017

Monday, October 23, 2017

Studies show that if we conserve half of our land and seas, at least 85 percent of species will be protected from extinction. Half-Earth Day is a celebration and a call to action – bringing together leaders in conservation, from around the world and across disciplines, to share their ideas and inspire innovative and impactful conservation efforts with this audacious goal in mind.

The all-day, inaugural event, featuring special guests including renowned biologist, researcher, theorist, naturalist, and author Edward O. Wilson, biologist and author Sean B. Carroll; and legendary recording artist Paul Simon, will be held in Washington, D.C., on October 23, 2017. Half-Earth Day is sponsored by the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and hosted by National Geographic as part of our partnership to explore and protect the living Earth.

Half-Earth Day will highlight conservation efforts from the Gorongosa Restoration Project, Tompkins Conservation, African Parks, American Prairie Reserve, and National Geographic’s Pristine Seas project. This event is an opportunity for everyone to convene, share their unique contributions and thought leadership, and inspire fresh goal-driven energy and engagement in conserving our planet.

Half-Earth Day is open to both the public and the scientific community.



The Half-Earth Project has science at its core and our moral obligation to the rest of life at its heart. In collaboration with our partners, we are working to power one of the grandest conservation efforts of our time, and provide the urgently needed research, leadership and engagement necessary to conserve half the planet for the rest of life.

Learn more at half-earthproject.org.

Please Join Us at National Geographic Society Headquarters or via Livestream Here Starting at 2:00 and 7:00 p.m.

Program Highlights

Conservation in Action: Bringing Half-Earth to Life

2:00–4:00 pm
Grosvenor Auditorium

Highlighting model conservation efforts from the Gorongosa Restoration Project, Tompkins Conservation, African Parks, American Prairie Reserve, and Pristine Seas. Moderated by National Geographic Magazine Contributing Writer Jamie Shreeve.

Watch the Livestream

This session will highlight model large landscape and ocean conservation efforts. Welcoming remarks will be made by Jonathan Baillie. Speakers will give overviews of their conservation accomplishments and vision for the future, and then join others in a panel discussion moderated by Jamie Shreeve. 

Panelists include:
Tom Butler (Tompkins Conservation)
Alison Fox (American Prairie Reserve)

Dominique Gonçalves (Gorongosa Restoration Project)
Andrea Heydlauff (African Parks)
Enric Sala (Pristine Seas)

Presenter Bios

Celebrating Half-Earth: Steps to a Solution 

7:00–9:00 pm
Grosvenor Auditorium

The James M. and Cathleen D. Stone Foundation Distinguished Lectureship in Biodiversity with naturalist Edward O. Wilson, biologist and author Sean B. Carroll, and legendary recording artist Paul Simon.

Watch the Livestream

Opening remarks will be made by Gary E. Knell and Paula Ehrlich.

Edward O. Wilson and Sean B. Carroll will present the James M. and Cathleen D. Stone Foundation Distinguished Lectureship in Biodiversity, discuss what we must do to get to Half-Earth and inspire us with a sense of what Half-Earth could look like. Paul Simon will then share his hopes for Half-Earth.

Presenter Bios

Evening Session

Edward Osborne Wilson is generally recognized as one of the leading scientists in the world. He is also recognized as one of the foremost naturalists in both science and literature, as well as synthesizer in works stretching from pure biology across to the social sciences and humanities. Wilson is acknowledged as the creator of two scientific disciplines (island biogeography and sociobiology), three unifying concepts for science and the humanities jointly (biophilia, biodiversity studies, and consilience), and one major technological advance in the study of global biodiversity (the Encyclopedia of Life). Among more than one hundred awards he has received worldwide are the U.S. National Medal of Science, the Crafoord Prize (equivalent of the Nobel, for ecology) of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and the International Prize of Biology of Japan; and in letters, two Pulitzer Prizes in non-fiction, the Nonino and Serono Prizes of Italy and COSMOS Prize of Japan. For his work in conservation he has received the Gold Medal of the Worldwide Fund for Nature and the Audubon Medal of the Audubon Society. He is currently Honorary Curator in Entomology and University Research Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, Chairman of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation Board of Advisors, and Chairman of the Half-Earth Council.

Sean B. Carroll is an award-winning scientist, author, educator, and film producer. He is Vice President for Science Education of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the largest private supporter of science education activities in the US, and Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics at the University of Wisconsin.

Sean is the author of several books for general audiences including The Serengeti Rules, Brave Genius, The Making of the Fittest, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, and Remarkable Creatures, which was a finalist for the National Book Award for non-fiction. Sean received the 2016 Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science.

The architect of HHMI’s documentary film initiative and Executive Director of HHMI’s Tangled Bank Studios, Sean has served as executive producer and/or on-screen presenter of more than a dozen films including Mass Extinction, Amazon Adventure, and The Farthest, and earned two Emmy nominations. His newest book, The Serengeti Rules, which chronicles the stories of several pioneering ecologists, is the basis for an upcoming feature film in 2018.

Sean’s pioneering research has centered on the genes that play major roles in the evolution of animal diversity. He has received the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Sciences, been elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the European Molecular Biology Organization, the American Philosophical Society, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Sean is a member of the Half-Earth Council.

During his distinguished career, Paul Simon has been the recipient of many honors and awards, including 16 Grammy Awards, three of which—Bridge over Troubled Water, Still Crazy after All These Years, and Graceland—were Albums of the Year. In 2003, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for his work as half of the duo Simon & Garfunkel. Simon is a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame and has been inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame both as a member of Simon & Garfunkel and as a solo artist.

Simon was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2002 and was named one of Time magazine’s “100 People Who Shape Our World” in 2006. In 2007, Simon was awarded the inaugural Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, which recognizes the profound and positive effect of popular music on the world’s culture. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2011. And in 2012, he was named the recipient of the prestigious Polar Music Prize along with Yo-Yo Ma.

Simon’s philanthropic work includes the co-founding of the Children’s Health Fund (CHF), which donates and staffs 53 mobile medical units that bring health care to low-income children and their families in urban and rural locations around the United States. Since its inception in 1987, CHF has provided more than 3 million doctor/patient visits.

Over his career, Simon has also raised millions of dollars for worthy causes as varied as Autism Speaks, The Nature Conservancy, CURE, and Tibet House. In June 2017, net proceeds from Paul Simon’s month-long U.S. tour were donated to benefit the Half-Earth Project, an initiative of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, which is committed to stopping the species extinction crisis by conserving half the planet’s lands and oceans. Paul Simon is a member of the Half-Earth Council.

Gary E. Knell is the President and CEO of the National Geographic Society, where he oversees the Society’s vast nonprofit activities globally. He also serves on the board of National Geographic Partners, the Society’s for-profit arm that oversees all of National Geographic’s storytelling assets, including television, print and digital, and ancillary operations, which include travel expeditions. A member of the Society’s Board of Trustees since April 2013, Knell also has served on the Board of Governors of the National Geographic Education Foundation since November 2003. Additionally, Knell is a member of the boards of the National Museum of Natural History and the Economic Club of Washington, D.C. Prior to his role at the Society, Knell served as president and CEO of National Public Radio from 2011 to 2013.

His career in media spans more than three decades, including 22 years at Sesame Workshop, where he served as president and CEO for 12 years. Prior to Sesame Workshop, Knell was managing director of Manager Media International, a multimedia publishing company based in Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Singapore. He also served as senior vice president at WNET/Channel 13 in New York, was counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary and Governmental Affairs Committees in Washington, D.C., and worked in the California State Legislature and Governor’s Office. Knell is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and serves on the boards of Heidrick & Struggles, an executive search firm, and Common Sense Media. He is an adviser to the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California and to the Military Child Education Coalition.

Knell has a B.A. in political science from UCLA, where he was editorial director of the UCLA Daily Bruin and a stringer for the Associated Press. He has a J.D. from Loyola University of Los Angeles, where he was recently named a Top 50 Alumni. He has been awarded honorary doctorates from Kenyon College in Ohio, Mercy College in New York, and Franklin University in Switzerland. He has been a commencement speaker at the University of Redlands, UCLA, the University of Texas–Austin, and Johns Hopkins University.

Paula J. Ehrlich, DVM, PhD, is the President & CEO of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, where she oversees the Foundation’s broad activities to foster a knowing stewardship of our world through biodiversity research and education initiatives that promote and inform worldwide protection of biodiversity. Dr. Ehrlich leads the Half-Earth Project, which is driving the research needed to better understand and care for our world, providing leadership to guide conservation efforts, and engaging people to participate broadly in the goal to conserve half the Earth and protect 85% or more of species, including ourselves.

Dr. Ehrlich has more than 25 years of strategic scientific management and research expertise, and diverse academic, non-profit, and corporate leadership experience. She was formerly President & CEO of the Drug Discovery Center of Innovation in Research Triangle Park, NC, Senior Director of Scientific Affairs at Ansaris (formerly Locus Pharmaceuticals), and Preclinical Oncology Imaging Lead & Associate Franchise Director at Merck Research Laboratories in West Point, PA. At Merck she led initiatives to establish imaging biomarkers and proof-of-concept for over 12 lead compounds, which are currently in clinical trials. She has held research, clinical, and teaching positions at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, the Atlantic Veterinary College, and the Royal Veterinary College.

Dr. Ehrlich has a B.S. in Zoology from Duke University, a Masters degree in Environmental Planning from the University of Virginia, a DVM from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, and a PhD in Bone Physiology from the Royal Veterinary College, University of London. She has Six Sigma Green Belt training and is a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Afternoon Session

Jonathan Baillie is the Chief Scientist and Senior Vice President of Science and Exploration at the National Geographic Society. Baillie leads grant-making in the areas of science and exploration across a variety of disciplines and serves as vice chair of the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration. Baillie joined the Society after 14 years at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), where he served in various capacities, most recently as Conservation Programmes Director. As director, Baillie was responsible for conservation projects focusing on threatened species and their habitats in more than 50 countries.

Among his achievements at ZSL, Baillie founded the EDGE of Existence program, which focuses on Evolutionary Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) species. Additionally, he has served as co-chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) National Red List Working Group and co-chair of the IUCN Pangolin Specialist Group. Baillie helped initiate United for Wildlife, led by the Duke of Cambridge, a collaboration of seven of the most influential conservation organizations working to address illegal wildlife trade at scale. He has also been a visiting professor of zoology at the University of Oxford.

Baillie completed his undergraduate studies at Queen’s University in Canada and received a master’s degree in conservation biology at Yale University and a Ph.D. in biology at Silwood Park, Imperial College London. His extensive fieldwork includes research and monitoring of western lowland gorillas in Gabon; developing ecotourism sites in Central Africa; searching for extremely rare endemic birds in New Guinea; and conducting behavioral studies of desert baboons in Namibia.

Tom Butler is the vice president for conservation advocacy for the Tompkins Conservation family of foundations and past board president of Northeast Wilderness Trust, a regional land trust. A conservationist and writer, his books include Wildlands Philanthropy, Plundering Appalachia, Protecting the Wild, and Energy: Overdevelopment and the Delusion of Endless Growth. His recent book, Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot (“OVER” for short), is a photo-format volume depicting how human numbers and behavior are transforming the Earth. Butler curated the new exhibit, “Douglas R. Tompkins: On Beauty” at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, and coauthored the companion book On Beauty: Douglas R. Tompkins—Aesthetics and Activism, about the way that beauty was an animating force in the life and work of Doug Tompkins, founder of Tompkins Conservation.

Alison Fox is President of American Prairie Reserve (APR), an organization dedicated to creating the largest wildlife complex ever assembled in the continental United States. When complete, the reserve will comprise 3.5 million contiguous acres of native grassland in northeastern Montana, with a goal of restoring the wildlife abundance the landscape once contained.

Over the past decade, Ms. Fox has served in many leadership and management roles at American Prairie Reserve, including communications, marketing and branding, institutional partnerships, and fundraising. She was appointed President in April 2017. Ms. Fox holds an MBA from the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, where she focused on marketing and nonprofit management, and a BA in History from Dartmouth College. Prior to joining APR in 2007, she worked in marketing and communications roles at RightNow Technologies.

Ms. Fox is delighted to be part of a team creating a uniquely American park for wildlife and people, funded through private philanthropy and located in Montana, the state that first introduced her to our country’s incredible system of public lands and our nation’s rich conservation legacy.

I was born in Beira, a town near Gorongosa National Park in central Mozambique. My passion for biology made me move to Maputo in 2010 to study Ecology and Conservation of Terrestrial Biodiversity at Eduardo Mondlane University. After finishing undergrad I had the opportunity to work in a Sustainable Poverty Alleviation through Ecosystem Services (SPACES) in Northern Mozambique. This coastal community project helped to understand better the importance of the social aspect for conservation.

During my childhood, I always heard about Parque Nacional da Gorongosa and all its wonders. As a young conservation ecologist, I am fascinated by the ecology and the interconnectedness of wild landscapes and I am aware of the priceless and irreplaceable biodiversity this area own, especially the efforts that have been made for its recovery, maintaining healthy ecosystems, sustainable community development and integration of the conservation efforts; things that Gorongosa National Park has played successfully which makes it a remarkable conservation mark.

In 2015, I joined Gorongosa Project under their research fellowship program and joined Joyce Poole in the elephant project. Following my willing and enthusiasm to help on this noble cause, and with better understanding of social systems I completed this year my MSc in Conservation Biology at Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent-UK.

Andrea Heydlauff is the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for African Parks, a conservation NGO that manages protected areas on behalf of governments across the continent. Over the past two years she has helped position the organization on a global scale, focusing on creating and telling stories of impact including the historic ‘500 Elephants’ initiative and the ‘Return of Rhinos to Rwanda’. Andrea began her career managing the Tiger Program across nine countries in Asia for the Wildlife Conservation Society, and was a co-author on “Setting Priorities for the Conservation and Recovery of Wild Tigers: 2005 – 2015”. She then was the founding employee and Senior Vice President of Panthera for eight years, helping to establish them as a leading big cat conservation organisation. Born and raised in England, Andrea earned her B.A. in British Literature and M.Sc. in Wildlife Biology from the University of Arizona on human-wildlife conflict. Over 16 years, Andrea has written and co-authored numerous scientific and popular publications on conservation, has spoken widely at conferences, and is an award-winning filmmaker.

Dr. Enric Sala is a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence dedicated to restoring the health and productivity of the ocean. His more than 120 scientific publications are widely recognized and used for real-world conservation efforts such as the creation of marine reserves. Enric is currently working to help protect the last pristine marine ecosystems worldwide, and to develop new business models for marine conservation. He founded and leads National Geographic’s Pristine Seas, a project that combines exploration, research, and media to inspire country leaders to protect the last wild places in the ocean. To date, Pristine Seas has helped to create 13 marine reserves—some of which are the largest on the planet—covering an area of nearly 4.4 million square km.

Enric has received many awards, including 2008 Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, 2013 Research Award from the Spanish Geographical Society, 2013 Lowell Thomas Award from the Explorers Club, 2013 Hero Award from the Environmental Media Association. He is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. Enric’s experience and scientific expertise contributes to his service on advisory boards of international organizations and governments.

Enric obtained his Ph.D. in Ecology from the University of Aix-Marseille, France, in 1996.

James (Jamie) Shreeve is a Contributing Writer at National Geographic, and the former Deputy Chief Editor of the magazine. Before joining the Geographic staff in 2006, he was a freelance science writer and author specializing in human evolution and biology. His books include The Genome War (Knopf, 2004); The Neandertal Enigma: Solving the Mystery of Modern Human Origins (William Morrow, 1995); and Lucy’s Child: The Discovery of a Human Ancestor  (William Morrow, 1989, with Donald Johanson).

Mr. Shreeve received his B.A. in English from Brown University in 1973. A 1979 graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop, he contributed fiction to various literary magazines before turning to science writing. From 1983 to 1985, he was Public Information Director at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts and founding director of the MBL Science Writing Fellowship Program. He has been awarded fellowships from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Alicia Patterson Foundation, and the Knight Foundation. Mr. Shreeve lives in Bellport, New York, and Washington, DC.

Special Thanks

Craig Mills is CEO of vizzuality. Craig has spent over 20 years working as a data activist, first with the UK government to map and model the movement of depleting fish stocks and the fishing fleets chasing them. From there Craig went on to the UN Environment Programme where he led teams of engineers and designers working on communicating biodiversity and land planning mapping. Now at vizzuality, Craig works with the biggest non-profits and governments in the world – from the White House to the World Resources Institute, Conservation International to Care, The European Space Agency to NASA – to design applications that inform people’s learning and perspective and shape their decisions to improve our planet.

Walter Jetz is a Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale University where he directs the Center for Biodiversity and Global Change and is Lead of Map of Life. His work addresses patterns and mechanisms of the changing distribution of biodiversity and the resulting implications for conservation and environmental management. His research combines remote sensing, phylogenetic, functional, and spatiotemporal biodiversity data with the development of new modeling approaches and informatics tools. Walter also chairs the IPBES Task Group on Biodiversity Indicators and is Co-Lead of the GEO BON Working Group on Species Distributions.

Quentin Wheeler is president of the College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York. Before joining ESF in 2014, he was vice president and dean of the college of liberal arts and sciences at Arizona State University, keeper of entomology in London’s Natural History Museum, director of the division of environmental biology of the NSF, and a professor at Cornell University. His interests include the theory and practice of taxonomy and cybertaxonomy, the exploration and conservation of biodiversity, and the evolution and classification of insects.

Every day, species are going extinct. The Half-Earth Project is a global call to action. Together, we can save 85% of more of all species, including ourselves.

As global citizens, we can help stop the extinction crisis.

Act Now: Take the Half-Earth Pledge


The Half-Earth Project is an initiative of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. The E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation fosters a knowing stewardship of our world through biodiversity research and education initiatives that promote and inform worldwide preservation of our biological heritage. For more information, visit www.eowilsonfoundation.org.

The National Geographic Society is a leading nonprofit that invests in bold people and transformative ideas in the fields of exploration, scientific research, storytelling, and education. Through our grants and programs, we aspire to create a community of change, advancing key insights about our planet and probing some of the most pressing scientific questions of our time while ensuring that the next generation is armed with geographic knowledge and global understanding. Our goal is measurable impact: furthering exploration and educating people around the world to inspire solutions for the greater good. For more information, visit www.nationalgeographic.org.

If you have any questions about Half-Earth Day, please contact Chris Heltne at the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, (919) 219-2211 or cheltne@eowilsonfoundation.org.