Back in July, I travelled to the colourful city of Cartagena in Colombia to attend the Society for Conservation Biology’s bi-annual International Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB) conference. “Insights for sustaining life on Earth” was the theme for this year’s conference, with an emphasis on how to better manage social ecological systems. This year, the conference was attended by over 1,400 people from 71 different countries which ranged from conservation practioners, policy-makers, academics and researchers. Presentations, speed talks and knowledge cafes provided platforms for collaboration and discuss about the challenges and advancements within the field of conservation biology.
For someone who is a bit of a conference novice, I found ICCB to be an amazing source of information and great experience. My research has always focused on conservation issues within Australia, so this conference opened my eyes to the conservation issues being faced around the world, and the wide variety of different approaches to conservation being applied. Though there was a huge variety of talks and issues, there were a couple of themes I noticed that kept resurfacing throughout the five days of the conference and really stuck with me.
Conflict and conservation
As the conference was held in Colombia, it isn’t surprising that a major theme at ICCB was conservation within this corner of the world. For someone from the other side of the world, it was fascinating to hear about the conservation challenges and opportunities faced in Colombia and other Latin American countries. Many talks focused on the increasing threats biodiversity faces within Latin America, such as deforestation, mining, and the illegal wildlife trade.
A major theme was conservation in areas of conflict, such as conservation in post-FARC Colombia. One of the lab’s PhD students, Felipe Suarez, led a workshop at the conference that focused on identifying new opportunities for biodiversity conservation in Colombia’s post-peace agreement era. The workshop started as an initiative of Colombians doing their PhD in Australia, and was partially funded by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED). The workshop provided participants, including experts from different NGOs, academic and government institutions, with the opportunity to identify potential projects and research questions around accounting for conflict risks in conservation decision-making, while promoting the design of
conservation strategies with positive socio-economic impacts. Conflict between and within countries can put stress on the environment through resource extraction, and can restrict the reach and effectiveness of conservation programs. However, when conflicts resolve deforestation often increases, which threatens the biodiversity within these regions. However areas that were previously too dangerous to enter also open to up for potential conservation projects. The workshop also discussed the importance of filling the gap between science and policy to promote conservation in post-conflict scenarios, as well as opportunities to do large scale land use planning in the country. The workshop was a great opportunity to grow Felipe’s professional network and learn about cutting-edge research being conducted within this research field.
Social science and conservation
There is an increasing consideration of researching the role humans contribute to threatening processes and solutions of conservation. Awareness of the important role individuals and societies play in the success of conservation projects, was a recurring theme throughout ICCB. In particular, socio-ecological research; research that integrates both social and ecological sciences to address conservation challenges, featured prominently in the conference. A number of talks discussed the impact of conservation projects on the wellbeing and cultural identity of local communities, as well as the social equity of conservation projects. Furthermore, many talks on human-wildlife conflicts highlighted the importance of understanding the social structure and culture of the human communities for successful implementation of conservation strategies. Overall, these talks all emphasised the importance of understanding social networks among people, and also the need for effective communication and negotiation.
As technology becomes an increasingly integral part of our lives, so has it for the conservation of nature. During the conference, I attended a number of talks discussing the ways in which people are using technology to improve conservation interventions and monitoring systems. Another member of our lab group, Carla Archibald, also attended a workshop on the applications of technology for conservation and the innovative ways it is being applied. For example, the potential for drones to provide a more time and financially efficient environmental monitoring approach. Social media was also frequently discussed as increasingly awareness for conservation. Some researchers also discussed how social media is increasingly providing means of determining how people value natural and protected areas by analysing the number of tweets and photos posted relating to these areas. Furthermore, new initiatives were introduced during the conference that focus on better linking technology to conservation success. One such example is WildLabs, which aims to connect people with technological experience with conservation researchers requiring this expertise via an online platform.
These themes presented throughout the ICCB conference suggest that conservation research is moving towards more global, collaborative and interdisciplinary approaches. This has huge potential for the success of conservation projects across the world. Attending this conference gave me an insight into not only the direction that conservation research is heading, but also into the reality faced by conservationists around the world. It was a week full of new ideas, great conversations, and amazing Colombian wildlife and food! If you ever have the opportunity to attend an ICCB conference in the future, I would definitely recommend it.