By Edward Hind
Submitting an abstract to speak at the 2nd International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC) led to one of the most eye-opening experiences of my career. Ten minutes after I had delivered my subsequent talk at the Victoria Convention Centre in British Columbia, Canada, I was approached by a locally based academic who said something like, “We need to talk!”
The following day in one of Victoria’s wonderful little cafes, that academic and I supped on that satisfying product they call coffee, surrounded by four like-minded individuals he had invited to join us. Each of them, like us, wanted to talk about how the local ecological knowledge of fishermen was a key (and mostly missing!) ingredient in successful marine conservation. Nine months later, most of that group was again sitting together, but this time as a panel in front of an attentive audience of fishermen, tourism workers, local politicians, artists, guesthouse owners, community leaders, and a few fellow scientists.
We were again in Canada, but this time we sat in a community centre in small-town Newfoundland, hosting a symposium at a coastal communities conference. The academic who had convened coffee in Victoria had suggested over that coffee that we put together the symposium we were now delivering. Being part of the symposium was a great experience and I hope at least some members of the audience returned home eager to find a way to share their own local ecological knowledge with scientists like us. However, for me personally, it was the wider experience of being invited to that conference that was so eye-opening.
I’d never seen marine conservation being done like it was in coastal Newfoundland. I’d worked across Europe and the Caribbean and marine conservation had always seemed to be the preserve of scientists, civil servants, and the occasional policy-maker. In Newfoundland I was seeing my fellow scientists freely interacting with members of the public, such as fishermen and artists, who were themselves taking an active role in marine conservation. It was, quite simply, inspiring.
Since that week in Newfoundland I’ve tried to change the way I work in Europe and the Caribbean. I refuse to work on projects where it’s just scientists and bureaucrats involved. I lobby colleagues to involve citizens in their research design. I present findings in town hall meetings before I bury them in dry academic journals. I advocate for the voice of the public to be part of marine policy-making. I’m a better scientists because of it.
Speaking at an IMCC granted me a career-changing affirmative opportunity that I would not otherwise have had. I can’t encourage you enough to give yourself the chance of a similar opportunity. Submit an abstract to present at IMCC4 by March 7 via the conference website.