Authored by Dr. Chris Jenkins
I have heard many people say that meetings can be a waste of time, slow and tedious. In some cases, I might be inclined to agree, but I recently returned from one of the most inspiring—and dare I even say productive—meetings I have ever participated in. Over 10,000 conservation biologists recently descended on Honolulu, HI, for the World Congress of Conservation hosted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). For me it was a time to catch up with colleagues to chart plans for doing everything we can to save this planet and the species that depend on it.
The meeting opened in a stadium, and the crowd would make you think you were at a large sporting event. The native people of Hawaii performed an incredible ceremony with songs and dance, and they were followed throughout the conference by some of the most inspiring speakers I have ever heard. People such as Tommy Remengesau, Jr. (President of Palua and one of the most conservation-oriented world leaders), E.O. Wilson, Jane Goodall and United States Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell. I even had the opportunity to stand in the front row of a concert by Hawaiian native Jack Johnson, who played at one of the social events. The atmosphere, speakers and entertainers left us all with hope for the future and realization that by working hard, we can make a difference in this world.
I spent a great deal of time at the U.S. pavilion where I participated in many interesting events. As some examples: The Chief of the National Park Service spoke along with colleagues from Mexico and Canada about how the three nations are protecting land across borders to conserve a significant portion of North America’s biodiversity. I watched (on a screen shaped like the globe) as sea turtles and cetaceans moved around the planet while learning how the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is working to ensure that these migration corridors remain. Finally, I had the opportunity to have one-on-one conversations with people such as the Chief of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Chief of the National Park Service, Director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund, Director of the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative and many more. While these people are all avid conservationists, reptiles and amphibians are not the first thing that comes to mind when many of them think about conservation. Having the opportunity to spread the word about the importance of making amphibians and reptiles part of the conservation equation was one of the greatest things I did at the meetings.
I was also able to participate in many amphibian and reptile-focused events. It started with a meeting of most of the reptile and amphibian conservation biologists at the conference, where we discussed the concept of forming an amphibian and reptile subcommittee within IUCN over beers. This might not sound like much to some, but this is a big deal, as it will give those of us that care about reptiles and amphibians a much louder voice on the global conservation stage. We also discussed how to best prioritize land for conservation in the tropics. There is a large pot of resources available for conserving tropical land, and we need to figure out the most effective way to make sure those funds are used to make the greatest impact for reptiles and amphibians. I also participated in a workshop to help define creative strategies for amphibian conservation, given the backdrop of the global amphibian extinction crisis. Finally, I was able to work closely with Viper Specialist Group members to make plans for developing a regional conservation action plan across North Africa and the Middle East (an effort that will begin this spring at the upcoming viper meetings in Morocco).
So while I agree at times meetings can be tedious, the World Conservation Congress was anything but. It was an inspiring meeting that brought together an incredible group of people, all with the same mindset: saving the landscapes and species of this world. I caught up with old colleagues and made some new lifelong friends. The World Conservation Congress is held every four years, and you can bet I will be at the next one—you should be, too.