Article

Where Are They Now? Young Explorer & Scientist-in-Residence Joshua Powell

Joshua Powell is a conservation biologist, researcher, policy advisor, and explorer. He joined the 2016 class of Young Explorers on Adventure Canada’s Heart of the Arctic expedition and later returned as a Scientist-in-Residence on Scotland Slowly. Learn more about Joshua’s accomplishments in this Q&A.
Josh Powell on horseback

© Aleksandr Rikhterman

Joshua Powell in Kyrgyzstan, while leading a Rangers Without Borders expedition

Adventure Canada: Tell us about your research project and the expedition you joined as a Young Explorer.

Joshua Powell: I joined the Young Explorers Program after finishing my Master’s at the University of Pennsylvania, though I’m originally from the UK. My research project looked at the impacts of adventure tourism in the Arctic (for example, expedition cruising), particularly the impact on participants themselves.

What did I find? Well, perhaps surprisingly, my results found that there was no significant difference between participants’ opinions on the environment and environmental challenges (such as anthropogenic climate change) at the start and at the end of their expedition. The reason for this is likely that the vast majority of participants were already interested in, or aware of, these subjects. What this tells us is that we should change the way we think about impact here. Impact is most likely to come in the form of behaviour change, so I was able to make a few suggestions from the study about how tour providers could help facilitate this.

The area where participants were most likely to record a growth in interest was socio-cultural issues in the Arctic, particularly those relevant for Inuit communities. This finding was perhaps more expected, given that this is a major area of focus for Adventure Canada!

My research has just been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed hybrid journal/magazine, Exploration Revealed.

Josh Powell and Aleks Rikhterman 2016

© Aleyah Solomon

During their Young Explorers program, Joshua also featured in Aleksandr Rikhterman's film, Heart of the Arctic.

AC: So, what have you been up to since your expedition?

JP: Since participating in the Young Explorers Program, I’ve received a Churchill Fellowship to study island conservation policy in the South Pacific, and how lessons learnt there can be applied to help protect biodiversity on the British Overseas Territories, a collection of fourteen remote territories scattered around the world which host a remarkable diversity of wildlife. I recently released a short film, called Saving Britain’s Islands, about island conservation in New Zealand and the remarkable subantarctic island of South Georgia.

I then became a National Geographic Explorer in 2018 for Rangers Without Borders, which allowed me to reunite with Aleksandr Rikhterman (one of the other Young Explorers in 2016), who joined us as a cameraman for fieldwork in Kyrgyzstan. I subsequently became a policy advisor for the UK Government's Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.

I also had the pleasure of being back on board with Adventure Canada in 2019 for Scotland Slowly, in order to produce a digital series for WWF International, called The Wild North Atlantic. This is one of a number of series I have presented for WWF, which are each focused on conservation and environmental challenges in a different part of the world.

Josh Powell National Assembly Republic of Korea

© National Assembly of the Republic of Korea

Joshua speaks at the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea.

I'm now working on my PhD at the Zoological Society of London and University College London in the UK, while I am a visiting research student at Seoul National University in South Korea. My PhD focuses on the transboundary conservation of threatened large carnivores in north-eastern Asia, like the Amur tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) and Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis).

I am a visiting researcher at the Tiger and Leopard Conservation Fund in Korea and I recently had the honour of speaking at the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea (the parliament of South Korea) about the potential for conservation of the Amur leopard, a critically endangered big cat, on the Korean Peninsula.

Josh Powell Explorers Club hat 2016

© Scott Ferrara

AC: How did the Young Explorers program inspire you?

JP: As always, it's the people and the places. It's probably no surprise that, as a conservation biologist, it's wild places and species that have inspired my career and motivate me on a daily basis. The program had a substantial impact on my career—for a start, I would have never known about the National Geographic Explorer grants program without meeting another grantee on the Young Explorers Program.

The people I met during the Young Explorers Program—other members of the program, plus staff from The Explorers Club, members of the communities that Heart of the Arctic visited, and Adventure Canada expedition team members and guests—have had a huge impact on my life and many have become lifelong friends.