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The Power of Convening: How Explorer Jonatha Giddens Became a Deep-sea Research Ecologist

Ocean explorer Bob Ballard inspired Jonatha Giddens to pursue a career in ocean ecology. 20 years later, they connected at National Geographic Explorers Festival in Washington, D.C.

Growing up in inland Massachusetts, Jonatha Giddens always felt she was, in her own words, “living in a glass ball.” With her passions split between art and the ocean, she wasn’t sure how to turn these interests into a career after high school.

It wasn’t until the age of 18, while serving detention in her high school’s library, that Jonatha found the answer she had been searching for. She happened to overhear Bob Ballard, one of the world’s best deep-sea explorers and a National Geographic Explorer-at-Large, speaking to a small audience about deep ocean exploration and how scientists were using new technologies to discover a part of the earth most people didn’t know about. This, Jonatha quickly realized, was what she wanted to do.

Overwhelmed with the feeling that the “glass ball” she was living in had finally shattered and the world was at her fingertips, Jonatha returned to the school’s gymnasium later that night to not only hear Bob speak again, but to talk to him about his work.

Barely able to put words together, Jonatha asked Bob what she could do to become a deep-sea explorer. His response was to enroll in an oceanographic program or institute. He also handed her his business card and said, “Let me know where you end up.”

Over the next 20 years, Jonatha carried Bob’s business card as the “north star” of her career while she received the appropriate educational qualifications. She is now an ocean ecologist and National Geographic Fellow. In 2018, Jonatha was awarded a grant by the National Geographic Society, which is helping her map biodiversity in the deep sea and to understand the ecological processes and human impacts in order to inform management and conservation of these areas.

Regardless of her achievements, years of schooling, postdoctoral work, and expeditions, Jonatha felt like she was still striving to reach the peak of her career. It wasn’t until the 2018 National Geographic Explorers Festival that Jonatha truly felt like she made it, when a fellow Explorer reintroduced her to Bob — who was sitting across the room. Jonatha had the special opportunity to tell Bob the story of how he opened her world up to endless opportunities and a career she didn’t know existed.

Thousands of people consider Bob Ballard their inspiration for joining the field of deep-sea exploration, and not only was Jonatha given the opportunity to ask his advice on how to pursue this career, but she was able to share what she had accomplished and to thank him many years later.

While this story of Jonatha and Bob is unique and inspiring, they aren’t the only Explorers connecting at the annual National Geographic Explorers Festival. This event aims to convene Explorers from around the world, an opportunity to come together and share discoveries and ideas that will create solutions for a healthier and more sustainable future. However, the most unique offering at Festival is that Explorers get to connect with one another, whether it be a new peer in the field, a potential cross-discipline collaborator, or someone who inspired them to pursue the field of exploration in the first place.


To learn more about the 2019 National Geographic Explorers Festival, including how to tune in to the livestream, please visit

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About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 15,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit or follow us on Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.