ExplorersBio

J. Michael Fay

Conservationist

Explorer-in-Residence

Photo: The largest patch of old growth redwood forest remaining.

Photograph by Michael Nichols

Photo: Mike Fay at Saguaro National Park

Photograph by Andrew Howley/NGS

Mike Fay has spent his life as a naturalist—from the Sierra Nevadas and the Maine woods as a boy, to Alaska and Central America in college, to North Africa and the depths of the central African forest and savannas for the last 25 years.

Fay has worked for the Wildlife Conservation Society of the Bronx since 1991. He received a B.S. in 1978 from the University of Arizona and spent six years in the Peace Corps as a botanist in national parks in Tunisia and the savannas of the Central African Republic. He joined the staff of the Missouri Botanical Garden in 1984 to do a floristic study on a mountain range on Sudan's western border, but ended up doing his Ph.D. on the western lowland gorilla. It was at this time that Fay first entered the forests of central Africa, surveying large forest blocks and creating and managing the Dzanga-Sangha and Nouabale-Ndoki parks in the Central African Republic and Congo.

In 1996, Fay flew over the forests of Congo and Gabon and realized there was a vast, intact forest corridor spanning the two countries from the Oubangui to the Atlantic Ocean. In 1997, he walked the entire corridor, over 2,000 miles, surveying trees, wildlife, and human impacts on 12 uninhabited forest blocks. Called Megatransect, the project had the objective of bringing to the world's attention the last pristine forest in central Africa and the need for protection. This work led to a historic initiative by the Gabonese government to create a system of 13 national parks in Gabon, making up some 11,000 square miles (28,500 square kilometers).

Fay also hosted Colin Powell on a forest walk in Gabon after the former secretary of state's announcement to support the Congo Basin with tens of millions of dollars for national park creation, development, and forest management. Fay worked for a year setting up park management infrastructure in Loango National Park.

In 2004, Fay completed the Megaflyover, an eight-month aerial survey of the entire African continent. He logged 800 hours and took 116,000 vertical images of human impact and associated ecosystems, many of which are now visible on Google Earth.

In 2008 Fay completed the Redwood Transect, a new project to learn more about the redwood forest. He walked the entire range of the redwood tree, over 700 miles.

News

Kids

  • MuralItem_0003_JMF.jpg

    Nat Geo E-Team

    What are Michael Fay and the rest of the National Geographic Explorers up to? Meet the E-Team and learn about their projects in this interactive mural.

  • Photo: Mike Fay goes through his gear in the forest.

    Interview With Mike Fay

    Mike Fay discusses growing up and what he was like as a kid.

Inside National Geographic Magazine

In Their Words

Degradation is a continuum ... In virtually every ecosystem we visited, humans have colonized the landscape. Very few places are wild. The places to find wildlife are in protected areas. This is a good indicator of how deeply human species has penetrated the continent.

—Michael Fay

Videos

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    Mike Fay, Conservationist

    Explorer-in-Residence Mike Fay describes his feelings as he treks through the California redwood forest.

Spotlight

Audio

Listen to J. Michael Fay

Hear various interviews with Fay on National Geographic Weekend.

  • 00:09:00 Mike Fay

    If a remote wilderness is destroyed but nobody is there to see it, is it really happening? National Geographic Explorer in ResidenceMike Fay give a voice to Western Canada’s wilderness as gold mines and oil sands threaten to destroy it. He plans to walk 3,000 miles over the span of 2 years. He tells Boyd that he’ll hunt squirrel and fish to supplement his diet.

  • 00:11:00 Mike Fay

    If a remote wilderness is destroyed but nobody is there to see it, is it really happening? National Geographic Explorer in Residence, Mike Fay give a voice to Western Canada’s wilderness as gold mines and oil sands threaten to destroy it. He plans to walk 3,000 miles over the span of 2 years. He tells Boyd that he’ll hunt squirrel and fish to supplement his diet.

  • 00:09:00 Mike Fay

    National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Mike Fay trekked across the country of Gabon. Now he is working with the government to preserve many of the wild places he explored. Fay joins Boyd in the studio to talk about working with President Ali Bongo Ondimba to keep Gabon green.

  • 00:11:00 Mike Fay

    National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Mike Fay recently traded in his Africa outfits of shorts and T-shirts for jackets, boots, and gloves to withstand the freezing weather of Alaska. He spent the dead of winter there in preparation for a 2,600-mile walk across the region that he hopes will highlight the area before it is dramatically altered by mining and industrialization.

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