Chair’s Address – 5th International Marine Conservation Congress

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By Edward Hind-Ozan

 

Welcome to the Waterfront Hotel. Welcome to Kuching. Welcome to the 5th International Marine Conservation Congress.

This is my 5th IMCC and I’m just as excited to be attending this one as my first. And it’s a true privilege to able to address you all today. IMCCs have played SUCH an important part in my career to date. Sharing my science at this meeting has garnered me feedback from the leading experts in my field. Attending talks and poster sessions, I’ve learned approaches that have allowed me to take part in marine conservation actions that would not have otherwise happened. People I had never met are now not just colleagues and collaborators, but friends. If you are returning to IMCC for the second, third, fourth, or even fifth time, I’m sure you have reasons like mine for loving this community and the work that it does. I hope you enjoy your return and have as productive an experience as you did at any of your previous IMCCs. If this is your first IMCC, thank you for putting your faith in us. It is a hard deciding where to dedicate your funds and time and we are very grateful that you have chosen the International Marine Conservation Congress on this occasion. I wish your experience this week to be that which you expected and more.

IMCCs have not been immune to recent declines in attendance for many scientific meetings, but I am pleased to announce that with your support we have maintained our number of registered delegates for the last three congresses. IMCC5 will be attended by close to 650 conservationists. But, we know we need to keep this series relevant if we are to continue being your meeting of choice. So, please let me outline some of the new innovations are incredible Organising Committee have put in place to give you the value and experience that you expect and deserve.

The Chairs of IMCC4 ensured that our previous meeting set new standards when it came to inclusion and equality. We have attempted to continue their work here. We have reprised our Code of Conduct, a code designed to make IMCCs a place as free from bullying and harassment as possible. IMCCs should be a home away from home for everybody. If you haven’t read the code in detail, don’t worry, our Safety Officer will take you through it shortly. Still, we know the code is only part of a much needed journey to ensuring full inclusion and equality at this meeting. The stage in history has not yet arrived where we can act as if we are equal. There are barriers to inclusion that still need taking down. Based on research led by our very own Program and Deputy Program Chairs we now know that having more female symposia leads results in more female presenters at a conference, period. Therefore, IMCC5 is the first IMCC to have a 20% registration discount for female symposia leads. I hope we can extend this registration in the future.

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International Marine Kids Congress attendees starting of IMCC5 learning about the importance of seagrass ecosystems!

We also know that it is harder for parents, especially women, to attend conferences. Participation in STEM fields should not be skewed towards a certain gender and that is why we are pleased to be offering multiple childcare options at IMMC5. Children from the age of 3 are able to attend a local daycare centre at a reduced rate and those aged 7-14 are taking part in the first ever IMKC, that’s the International Marine Kids Congress. IMKC participants have a full range of activities planned for the week and at times you will be sharing the Congress floor with them! I expect to see as many of you as possible at the IMKC poster session which takes place in this room immediately preceding the IMCC poster session on Wednesday evening. Thank you to the magnificent team who have put IMKC together. It promises to set a gold standard for integrating the marine conservationists of the future in our community.

Finally, we’re lucky enough to have what I think is a truly game-changing event as part of the congress. Situated on the conference floor, and fully integrated in our scientific program, Make for the Planet Borneo is going to disrupt IMCC like it has never been disrupted before. And that’s a good thing. Hosted by the incredible Conservation X-Labs, Make for the Planet is a team competition, or hackathon, to create hardware and software solutions to specific conservation challenges. In this case, those relating to the ocean. Teams from all across the region will be working for the duration of IMCC5 to solve global conservation challenges through creative and transformative solutions that harness emerging science and technology, entrepreneurship, and design. I urge you to take some time from the type of scientific program you are accustomed to engage with our makers as they hack marine conservation.

That’s what is new for IMCC, but before I finish I also wanted to emphasise how, for me at least, IMCC is more than just a week of activity. It’s also a chance to reboot what we do as marine conservationists, both individually and as a community. It’s all too easy to fall into a routine as we rush from meeting to meeting, commitment to commitment, deadline to deadline. This week is a chance to pause and assess how we got here and where we want to go next. We will all do this in our own way and I hope you will finish this week inspired, ready to take positive action for the oceans. But, if you don’t mind, I’d like to share how I got here today, as it relates to one future action I’d like to see for our community which I think we can all work on during and after this congress.

I’m standing here because I was given an opportunity. In 2007, I was desperate to get work experience to meet an enrollment requirement for a postgraduate degree in coastal management. I emailed about 200 people who I thought might take on volunteers knowing it was a bit of a long shot and that I may not be able to get the experience I needed. But, one replied… Professor Steve Oakley did not just enthusiastically offer me the incredibly generous chance to work, but he also offered to accommodate and feed me for four months, and pay all my travel expenses. This was a godsend, because at the age of 24 I did not have the financial capacity to volunteer on of those internship schemes where you pay for the privilege. When I arrived in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo to work for a small, coastal NGO, I found I wasn’t the only volunteer Steve was helping get experience. There were others from France, Australia, and indeed Malaysia. He was supporting all of our costs from his own pocket.

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IMCC5 delegates in the marine protected area (MPA) community forum talking. Attendees from all over the world shared valuable opinions to forward the discussion on MPA science.

As a result of the opportunity Steve had given me, I got on the postgraduate program. The postgraduate degree then allowed me another opportunity. I was awarded a place on a fully funded PhD program. And then, another opportunity. The doctoral program funded me to go to my first IMCC, and my second. Through the recognition I was getting at the congresses, and through the attainment of my PhD, I was then able to get my first faculty position. Eventually I was elected to the Board of the Society for Conservation Biology Marine Section, and so here I stand. All these opportunities, starting from that given to me by Professor Steve Oakley when he decided to give me a chance to fulfill my passion.

And a lot of people are lucky enough to fulfill a passion like mine… if they look like me. If they come from where I come from. If they were born into what I was born into.
Professor Oakley recognised your passion wherever you came from, and supported it, but the opportunities of fully funded PhDs with full conference travel and the career progression that brings are not available to all.

This IMCC we made more Travel Awards than ever before, but still we could only fund roughly 20 of over 70 applications. That’s 50 people from low and middle income countries who did not have the opportunity to attend this congress. Of roughly 75 last minute withdrawals of those with accepted abstracts, over two thirds were also from low and middle income countries. That’s at least another 50 people who won’t get the opportunity to take part in conference networking that eventually grabs them that crucial first job in marine conservation. And this isn’t a phenomena exclusive to IMCC5, a similar rate of travel award failures and last minute withdrawals are seen at each IMCC and many other international congresses I know. There were over 100 withdrawals at IMCC4, and I hope the slightly reduced rate this time is in part due to our holding the first IMCC in a part of the world where lack of access to funding for long distance travel is such an issue.

So, I think we can reboot on this issue this week. Business as usual is not working despite increased travel award funding. Too many people from low and middle and income countries are denied access to participation in STEM fields. Too many people, with the same passion as you and I for marine conservation, do not have equal opportunities. Conferences doing what they can do and trying to do a bit better year on year is no longer an effective strategy, it ever were.

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IMCC5 Conference Chair Edward Hind-Ozan giving this opening speech to welcome everyone to Kuching!

We have the minds, attitudes, and I believe capacity in this room and community to bring equality to the work that we love. If you represent a funding body, are there ways you could restructure your operations to provide future opportunities to everyone with a passion for ocean conservation? If you are a researcher, is there a way you could write your next funding bid so that you are sitting next to more of your low and middle income country colleagues at IMCC6 than you are at IMCC5? If you represent a large institution, is there are twinning program you could set up to allow those at smaller institutions greater opportunities? These are the type of questions we can ask and begin to answer this week. I would be so grateful if you could join me in this pursuit.
Professor Steve Oakley sadly passed away in December 2016. Steve knew only a global community could address the global issues facing the oceans. An IMCC that could be attended by anybody as passionate about the oceans as he, you, and I is what he would have wanted. Let us honor his legacy this week and beyond.
Thank you. Do great science. Network, network, and network again. Make lifelong friends. Become part of a community. Make marine science matter. Have a wonderful IMCC.


 

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All delegate travel to be offset with community mangrove project

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By Edd Hind-Ozan

 

You are packing your bags ready to travel to the 5th International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC5). Some of you are already in the air. Most of you are flying to Kuching via Singapore, Hong Kong, or Kuala Lumpur. Some of you are flying from other countries in Asia. Others much further. Many of you are flying from the Americas. That is more than a ton of carbon produced from your flight! As far as our oceans our concerned, that’s not great. Actually, that’s terrible. But conferences matter and stopping attending them may be even worse news for the oceans!

We are more than conscious of the need for low impact conferences at IMCC5 HQ, and that is why we have continued the policy we set out in stone for IMCC4. Rather than asking you to “opt in” to a carbon offset program, we have simply included a compulsory offset fee in your registration costs. For us, there is simply no other choice. Fortunately, we have great delegates, and not one of you complained about this policy at IMCC4. Not surprisingly, many of you totally embraced it and were very positive with your feedback. Thank you dearly for your support!

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Our certificate for the carbon credits we purchased for IMCC5!

So, we are really excited to share that we are continuing the official partnership we formed at IMCC4 with the Mikoko Pamoja mangrove offsetting project in Kenya. Mikoko Pamoja is a community-led mangrove conservation and restoration project in Gazi Bay, Kenya. It involves community-based policing of illegal mangrove harvesting, as well as the application of local expertise in mangrove planting. The project recently won the Equator Initiative Prize for community solutions to climate change in 2017. Mikoko Pamoja is accredited by Plan Vivo, an independent charity that specializes in community-based forestry projects. You can learn more about the project and how it is benefiting local communities in this great video:

https://vimeo.com/239338740

We’re also happy to share some great news. IMCC4 delegates’ support of Mikoko Pamoja project is part of the success that has allowed the project organizers to expand their great work. They are currently launching a second site called Vanga, south of Mikoko Pamoja, which is four times the size of the original site. Hopefully some of you will be supporting this new site as part of your IMCC6 registration fee!

Safe travels and see you very very shortly in Kuching!


 

OceansOnline Plenary Speaker Danielle Brigida: Social Media Maven

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By Keni Rienks

With such accolades as “one of 10 People to Follow Who are Saving the World” and “Social Media MVP”, Danielle Brigida is the perfect addition to OceansOnline. As one of the plenary speakers for the special IMCC 5 add-on day, Danielle’s experience with promoting conservation through social media has led her through a decade of successful outreach and communication.

I asked Danielle to paint us a larger picture of her career path and strategies before we have the pleasure of hearing her speak next month:

How do you use social media to communicate your research?

I’ve been using social media to engage people around conservation issues for the past 12 years, and I’m always learning and meeting fascinating people. While the platforms and techniques have changed, some of these tactics still help me day to day:

  • Listen. All. The. Time. We often strategize how much to post when we’re talking about social media. But the truth is, I think a lot of social media success can come from being a good listener. I have found listening or monitoring keywords, friends, thought leaders and topics to be one of the best ways to understand and engage with the communities I am a part of. I prioritize listening over talking, and follow and engage with conversations of current and desired audiences so that I can better identify ways to engage and help bridge their connection to wildlife.
  • Be present daily, even if just for a short time.  I try to check in daily and find this builds trust but also expectation (so be careful!). I use social media and aim to be a reliable member of the community.
  • Own what you don’t know. I work to show that I’m there to curb misinformation and be a resource. Of course I make tons of mistakes doing this! But the key is to apologize, correct the errors and work to prevent future issues.
  • Share what you know.  I use social media to connect with experts and leaders in different areas, whether business, government, nonprofit, etc. I want to be the first person they think of if they need help around an issue about wildlife so that I can direct them where they need to go.
  • Tap into creativity and everyday life. There’s so much to be in awe of and draw inspiration from—don’t limit yourself! Use tasteful humor, art, and others to inspire you and play online. When you’re enjoying yourself, that passion translates and makes others enjoy your company.

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Being creating when sharing messages on social media is one good way to help reach more people! (© Twitter)

 What advice do you have for someone who is interested in online communication but isn’t sure where to start?

Whether you’re communicating about your personal research or on behalf of an organization, what has worked for me is remembering to always add value and passionately participate. Follow people you want to learn from, interact with them where you see fit and determine how you’ll be a perspective that is meaningfully unique. If you’re just getting started, learn the technology and the communities that exist within each platform, but never forget your humanity and to have fun!

Where do you see science communication in 10 years from now?

In seeing how people document wildlife and nature, I’ll be interested to see how we continue to blend online and offline experiences. We bring our phones out into nature often now, we watch bald eagle webcams, we are constantly learning and perceiving new information based on technology enhancements that make our research stronger and deeper. I’m definitely interested in how our realities shift to incorporate AI, AR, and VR but also how those can become knowledge sharing platforms for researchers and scientists as well.

There is already a trend toward humans seeing animals as individuals, more than just broad species. I see this playing into research and how we track and follow wildlife in interesting ways. Maybe in how we discuss research or how we connect to the public.

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The common use of technology, like smart phones, in the field makes connecting with people easier these days. (© US Fish and Wildlife Service)

Have you had any run-ins with “trolls”? If so, how did you handle it?

Representing a government agency online, I very much want to encourage peaceful unrest on our channels. We make decisions, and often someone is unhappy or displeased. When we receive negativity around decisions online, I want to give people a place to express themselves, but in a respectful way.

We do receive a lot of negativity and some trolls, but most of the people I interact with are just very passionate. I try not to dismiss anyone, but see most conversations as an opportunity to clear up misinformation. That being said, when someone is just trying to get a rise out of you, keeping your cool, responding with factual information and dropping it is my best advice.

I think a lot of people don’t realize that a real person reads their comments, and I hope to convey that when I respond. Their yelling on Twitter or Facebook isn’t actually influencing decisions. You can be rude or mean to our social accounts all you want, but the way to enact change is through the more traditional channels still.

Where do you think the largest gaps are in science communication?

I think science communicators are doing a great job connecting with one another and forming a tighter bond online—I see this on Twitter and I’m heartened by it. However, I think there is still opportunity to reach out to people who don’t yet know they love science (everyone!). It’s a fine balance between fostering a curiosity in people and remaining accurate. Sometimes we forget how far encouragement goes. Often I see scientists pointing out flaws over encouraging people. The more we can jump into conversations by adding value, the better—but just remember that sometimes the message will be better received if done in a gentler way.

I think there is a lot of room to make research and our work relevant, but sometimes that means going outside of our current comfort zone and having the challenging conversations that not only relate to people but that inspire them in hopeful ways.

What role should scientists play in science communication, particularly online?

I think scientists can help shape a lot of the discourse online in a positive way. There’s currently a lot of misinformation out there, and by engaging in conversations and helping to provide logic, reason, and the wonder and passion that got you into your field, you can provide a huge value to the online space, and to science in general. Scientists can help represent their field, and remind people that supporting the brightest minds and supporting the scientific method will keep us focused and continuously learning as a society. I want us to continue to be supportive of one another, and I have great reason to hope we will.

What are you hoping delegates take away from your plenary talk at OceansOnline?

I hope they feel inspired to explore and empower people on social media. We need their voice. We need their curiosity. I want them to see that by being human beings online, we have a great potential to make incredibly important relationships and help represent scientists in a very positive way that inspires others to support or join the field.

What are you most excited for during IMCC and/or OceansOnline?

Meeting the attendees and learning from everyone! I love meeting people in this field. From what I know, it’s such an incredible group and I think the more we can work together the more successful we will be.

Follow Danielle on Twitter (@starfocus) and tune-in to her blog!


Keni Rienks (@kenirienks) is the Communications Chair for OceansOnline and one of the organizers for the 1st International Marine Kids Congress. She is a high school science teacher in Wilmington, NC, USA, and a graduate student at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

 

New IMCC5 Field Trip: Visit the turtle nesting ground of Talang-Talang Besar

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A final opportunity to see Borneo’s unique wildlife has been added to the official field trips for the 5th International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC5). Bespoke for conference delegates is an opportunity for a TWO DAY visit to Sarawak’s most important turtle conservation site.

figure1.pngThe field trip will take place on the tiny island of Talang-Talang Besar, 7 kilometers offshore of Borneo’s North Coast (Source: Google Maps).

This field trip allows participants an up close and personal experience with marine animals which are on the brink of extinction. Volunteers get the chance to actively participate hands on in turtle conservation work at the uninhabited Talang-Talang Besar Island in the Talang-Satang National Park, Sarawak’s first marine protected area. Participants will join a team of dedicated local professionals in their efforts to save the turtles. The conservation program aims to create awareness and to impart knowledge on the importance of sea turtle protection.

figure2.pngThe turtle nesting site on Talang-Talang Besar and the ranger station where you will be staying (Source: Sarawak Forestry).

Visitation to the turtle nesting site is highly restricted. Only a set of slots per year are provided by the Sarawak Forestry Corporation during nesting season, running from the months of May to September. This is a very special opportunity. Sign up quick on your IMCC5 registration form* before the field trip becomes fully booked!

(*If you have already registered you can still log back in and add this trip. If you need to cancel a different field trip to attend this one please email us).

figure3.jpgA green turtle nesting on Talang-Talang Besar (Source: Sarawak Forestry)

The field trip is inclusive of full board meals as indicated in detailed program (below), transfers, Boat Fees, Entrance Fees, Basic accommodation at Ranger Facilities, English Speaking Guide. The sum of RM300 per person included in the package will go directly to the conservation fund. The field trip is also listed on the IMCC website.

figure4.pngTurtle hatchlings on Talang-Talang Besar (Source: Sarawak Tourism)

Talang Talang Turtle Conservation Program – Field Trip (2 Days, 1 Night)

Day 1 – June 30

Pick up at 8 am from Kuching for a 1.5hrs transfer to the quaint town of Sematan.
Upon arrival at TT Island:

i.                    Welcoming/safety briefing & registration for the program  – mid-morning
ii.                   Lunch break
iii.                  Turtle conservation activities (afternoon till evening)

Day 2 – July 1
Before leaving the island:

i.                    Turtle adoption certificate presentation ceremony (early morning)
ii.                   Depart the island (mid-morning)

Transfer to Kuching to arrive close to midday.


 

 

Storytelling Workshop Opportunity at IMCC5

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Registration for the IMCC pre-workshop Tales from the Sea: Communicating Science and Conservation through Storytelling, held on 22-23 June 2018, is now open. This workshop is co-organized by scientists and science communication specialists at COMPASS, Oregon State University and Stanford’s Center for Ocean Solutions.

Storytelling is a powerful way to transfer information and knowledge, evoke emotion, and build trust with an audience. Join us as we discuss key elements of oral storytelling and help you build the skills you need to craft powerful stories to share your conservation science experience.

JoshParticipants from the Storytelling Workshop at IMCC4 shared their personal stories with local peoples from St. John’s, Newfoundland. (© Keni Rienks)

This workshop is geared towards scientists who are conducting research and want to share their findings with diverse audiences. IMCC participants with accepted abstracts are invited to apply for this lively, hands-on, 2-day pre-meeting storytelling workshop. As a participant, you will 1) identify and distill your conservation science message, 2) develop an engaging oral narrative for public audiences, and 3) contribute your video-taped story to an archive of marine conservation stories. Workshop participants will also have the opportunity to tell their stories in a special live event during IMCC.. Please note that participants will be contacted in mid-June with a pre-workshop assignment to complete in advance of the workshop.

To register for this workshop, please complete the following online application form here (https://goo.gl/forms/NHPcpso9BGKOlUF03). Space is limited, so please register as soon as possible.

 

For more information, please contact Heather Mannix (heather.mannix@compassscicomm.org). For more information about the IMCC Workshops (including fees), please see the conference webpage (https://conbio.org/mini-sites/imcc5/program/short-courses/).

 

The Organizing Team:

Stephanie Green, Stanford’s Center for Ocean Solution

Kirsten Grorud-Colvert, Oregon State University

Heather Mannix, COMPASS

Competition to make real solutions for marine conservation problems: Make for the Planet Borneo

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Ocean acidification. Coral bleaching. Overfishing. Marine Pollution and debris. Invasive Species. Dead zones. The challenges our oceans face can seem grim on the best of days.  But humankind has the ingenuity and optimism to solve them.

 

When we combine the knowledge of conservationists and biologists with engineers, programmers, makers, and designers, we can improve the efficacy, speed, cost, scale and sustainability of conservation efforts through novel technologies and approaches.  A diverse range of skills and professions must be brought to the table to collaboratively address these challenges.  This is the idea behind Make for the Planet.

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Marine scientists, our oceans, and the people who rely on the oceans are facing turbulent times. What can you do to get involved and change the field of marine conservation? (© Conservation X Labs)

 

Make for the Planet Borneo 2018

Join Make for the Planet Borneo!  Make for the Planet is an exciting, fast-paced, collaborative, and hands-on invention competition for multidisciplinary teams to build software and/or hardware solutions in response to specific marine conservation challenges.

 

Conservation X Labs will host up to 15 teams (60 people maximum) from around the world to compete in Make for the Planet Borneo.  This event will take place on June 24-29 at the 5th International Marine Conservation Congress in the Waterfront Hotel in Kuching, Malaysia.

 

Make for the Planet Borneo will engage students and practitioners from multiple fields – engineering, design, do-it-yourself making, computer programming, science and technology, etc. – to create solutions for five specific marine conservation challenges to be presented at IMCC5. Teams will have access to a pop-up makerspace with prototyping equipment, including 3D printers and electronics stations, and access to the IMCC5 presentations.  Mentors from the IMCC5 delegation and local organizations will be on-hand to help guide the multidisciplinary teams.

 

During the event, teams will build physical and/or digital representations of their solutions for review by judges. There are prizes & benefits for participating:

  • Lodging (June 24-29) and IMCC5 registration is covered for the participating teams.
  • At least two teams will win cash prizes, with a prize purse of up to $10,000 USD.
  • All participating teams will receive at least one consulting session from Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab (SZOIL) to continue to refine their prototypes and solutions after Make for the Planet.
  • One team will receive a 6-month hot bench membership to Maker Bay in Hong Kong.
  • Deadline for submissions is May 13th, the same day as early-bird registration closes!

 

Get Involved!

Conservation X Labs is recruiting teams, mentors, and supporters to participate in Make for the Planet Borneo and chart the future of marine conservation. We encourage anyone interested to get involved, especially IMCC5 delegates, and participate in this exciting and promising competition.

 

Form a team & apply

We are looking for diverse teams of up to 4 people each to participate in designing, developing and prototyping solutions to marine-related conservation challenges. Teams can be composed of students or non-students and can have a wide variety of backgrounds and areas of expertise. We will accept up to 15 teams of 4. As a participant on a team, you get to have fun and build an early-stage model of a real-world solution while interacting with your potential customers who are on-site as reviewers, mentors, and conference-goers.

 

The participant application is open until we reach capacity – visit the website HERE. Attending IMCC5 and want to participate on a team, or still looking for team mates? You can apply! Read more about the event including logistical information and a previous Make for the Planet in 2017.

 

Mentors and Reviewers

We are looking for individuals with subject matter expertise in marine related areas, as well as those who have experience in engineering, data science, open innovation and large scale problem solving. As a Mentor or Reviewer, you can apply your expertise to inspire, guide, and incentivize the innovative teams creating real-world solutions. The teams might just create the thing that you need to help solve your conservation problem! We welcome an unlimited number of Mentors, so please sign-up HERE if you are interested. Conservation X labs will recruit about 7  Reviewers who will hear the pitches from all participating teams and identify finalists.

 

IMCC5 delegates are invited to mentor teams at Make for the Planet Borneo – sign up HERE.

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Can your innovative idea help to preserve our oceans and the people reliant on them? Apply for Make for the Planet Borneo to put your idea out there! (© Conservation X Labs)

Spread the word, be a sponsor, or be a partner

Are you reading this blog? Help us get the word out about the event to a broad network of innovators and potential participants. Share this story on social media & #Make4thePlanet #IMCC5 and @conservationx @IMCC2018

 

Interested in sponsoring or partnering with Make for the Planet Borneo? Contact barbara@conservationxlabs.org

Getting to Know Dr. Phil Levin

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“I’m not a big fan of foreign movies, because I always fall asleep reading subtitles” says Phil Levin, “but these movies – I’m so into them!” Levin is talking about Kurosawa, the Japanese auteur, and is animatedly describing Rashomon, the 1950 classic film which is giving him inspiration for his plenary speech at IMCC5.

Rashomon’s subject matter initially seems a far reach from themes of marine conservation. The story is set in feudal Japan, and delves into a rape, murder, and the following criminal investigation. The film is told from the subjective experiences of four people involved in the event, who appear contradictory and self-serving, impossible to reconcile amongst themselves. But, as film critics have suggested, perhaps different perspectives don’t need to reconcile to be true. Levin contemplates this now as he describes what he wants to convey to other marine conservationists at IMCC. “Nobody’s lying. They all have a different truth.”

Levin frequently encounters this idea as he works through complex issues of ocean management with some very diverse stakeholders. A thousand people will have a thousand different responses to the question “what does a perfect ocean look like?” and it would be hard to argue the “truth” of any of them. But ask instead how a marine resource should be managed, and hard-fought notions about what’s right or wrong, true and false, will rear up, and things might start getting heated.

“There’s this concept called sacred values – this idea that there are certain things that we hold really deeply. And in a lot of cases where I’m interacting, it can get ugly, I mean there might be blockades, there might be people taking over government buildings and violence – it can go to that level.”  The thing is, he says, the resource itself is often a proxy for where the real tension lies. “A lot of cases where I’m interacting, the conflict is not about what we’re talking about. It’s about the history in the region and its people—their understanding of how they are treated by others.”

Understanding that it’s impossible to separate the resource – and the decisions made about the resource – from the perspectives of the people who are connected to it, changed how Levin works. “I’ve become a lot more interested in the social side of things because of that.” And he’s wary of writing off conflict over marine resources to a simple difference in personal values. “We don’t often recognize we might have the same values and be experiencing the world in completely different ways”.

The idea gives him hope. Perspectives, and perceptions, can be informed, enriched, and transformed. “The literature suggests that even the act of attempting to reach consensus around information can reduce conflict. So we don’t have to agree, but if we sit down in a room and share our perspectives, that could be enough to lower the tension and allow us to talk through things, and not just assume that the other person just wants to screw us. That’s hopeful to me, because it suggests that there’s something we can do about conflict, and allows us to make forward progress.”

If anyone knows how perceptions of our environment can be changed, it must be Levin. His first interaction with the ocean was disastrous. Dipping in the water on a Texas shore, he spotted a football-sized object floating in the water. With the curiosity of a scientist, he picked it up, only to learn the hard way what a close encounter with a Portugese Man-Of-War felt like.  “If you’d asked me then what the perfect ocean looked like, I would have said it looks a lot like a heavily chlorinated swimming pool!”

He tells the story with a generous laugh. Transforming that first, painful, experience into a lifelong career in marine science took resilience, he says, and persistence.  The same characteristics serve him well now in his professional life exploring interdisciplinary approaches into conservation management and policy. After years as a Senior Scientist at NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Levin began a joint role with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment and The Nature Conservancy in 2016. UW calls him a “professor of practice” and the term seems tailor-made for Levin. “I align myself with organizations where I think that knowledge can be put into action. I mean I really enjoy basic science, but I think I’m personally motivated by use-inspired research.” He pauses. “Isn’t… IMCC, isn’t there something about that…?”

There is. Making marine science matter is the theme and goal of IMCC, and remains unchanged since the first congress in 2010. Levin’s attended every one of them.

“I enjoy IMCC because it’s diverse, both in geography, in disciplinary expertise, and other stuff. Some of these other similarly sized meetings are broad too, but I find myself in one room for two days because it’s where the thing I’m interested in is. The problem with IMCC is I just don’t know where to go, because there’s too much that I want to see! That’s a nice problem to have. But IMCC, as well as being diverse, is also quite targeted. You take a single suite of problems and say, “across the world, and from different perspectives, how are people trying to solve the exact same thing that I’m trying to solve?” He pauses. “That’s one reason I go. The other reason is to catch up with old friends!”

Levin’s a generous person to chat with, and I can’t help but add a few throwaway questions into our interview:

“How did you get into marine science?”

“TV! Cousteau, of course. The octopus episode. The oil-painting underwater. I thought it was incredibly cool.”

“Do you love fish? Can you love a fish?”

“Of course you can! How can you not?”  They’re different though. “Salmon are terrible, just terrible”, Levin jokes.   They’re narcissistic. Whereas groupers? I like groupers. I mean, you can have a relationship with a grouper, right? If you can’t love a grouper, then you can’t love.” I nod my head. Spend enough time with marine biologists and this seems utterly rational.

Finally, I ask what he loves most about his work, and Levin stops – I have the sense he’s struggling to pick a single response out of many. I quickly rephrase: “what’s your biggest reward? I mean what are you in it for?”

His response, coming as it does from such an accomplished and effective marine scientist, is in many ways the very spirit of IMCC:

“I’m trying to save the world,” he says confidently. “I embrace the naiveté that I can make a difference. I know it sounds everything, cliché, naïve, stupid, arrogant. But I just hope that I can. That we can. I mean I really do.”

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Dr Phil Levin will give the Ransom A. Myers Memorial plenary on 28 June. You might also like to track him down at the bar, where he’ll buy you a beer if you’ve bought a copy of his book Conservation for the Anthropocene Ocean. If you’ve brought an actual copy, he’ll even skip the quiz, and sign it for you in beer.