IMPAC3: Kalli De Meyer

As is to be expected from large international meetings of this kind, IMPAC3 was busy!

There were Plenary sessions three times a day followed by as many as eleven parallel workshop streams, not including knowledge cafes, events in the main theater and screening room. And, of course, hundreds upon hundreds of participants swarming through the maze of Emperor Napoleon’s former Marseille residence. (The building was gorgeous but the views over the harbor and city of Marseille were simply stunning).

The workshops were typically packed with very short presentations as experts tried to impart years of work into half a dozen powerpoint slides. As a result it was hard to feel as though you had done more than just scratch the surface as far as the hardcore content of the conference was concerned. This was compounded by a disconcerting lack of spoken English throughout the Plenary sessions. I certainly learned my lesson: in France “vous devez parler français” !

The networking opportunities were unparalleled. There were new faces, old faces and I managed to catch up with innumerable colleagues I had not seen for years, and regret not having been able to reconnect with many more.

As part of the six person strong Dutch Caribbean contingent together with our colleagues from World Wildlife Fund Netherlands (WNF) there was plenty of opportunity for side bar discussions about everything from the new WNF workplan and funding for Bonaire, Saba and St Eustatius to Bonaire’s proposed World Heritage Site nomination and even an impromptu gathering of windward island managers.

For me there were really three stand out workshop topics:

The increasing attention being paid to economic valuations of protected areas, some of which was simply baffling but some of which is clearly going to pave the way for a different way of viewing protected areas. Gaining insight into the jargon of ecosystem services and costs was very useful. The admission by presenters that money based approaches are problematic and can result in a huge loss of data was reassuring. And hearing that cost-benefit analysis may not be the most important application of ecosystem valuations was like a breath of fresh air.

The overriding need for effective communication was a clear thread throughout the conference. I would have loved to see the Zoological Societies / Selfridges Project Ocean advertising, “you wouldn’t eat a panda” campaign which launched as they took threatened and endangered marine species out of their food hall. Or the wonderful billboard: “In 2012 only 7 people were killed by sharks, that makes them less deadly than champagne corks. Every year humans kill over a 100 million sharks”. And whilst there were some great presentations, its clear that despite our best efforts we are still doing a mediocre job of persuading the public of the need to protect our oceans. Messages: we need to learn to communicate about the importance of marine systems at multiple levels to different audiences with messages that resonate with them. This means rethinking conservation messaging in terms of wellbeing, health benefits, cultural and spiritual values. Things we still do not do particularly well.

Finally the workshops “tackling the MPA sustainable financing conundrum” were a clear attention grabber. To judge by the high attendance, funding would appear to be one of the critical issues facing most protected areas. Whilst there were examples of great fundraising, the focus was still on the tried and tested. The Brijni National Park in Croatia sounds like a “must visit” and whowed us all whilst the particular circumstances of this state run park mean that their example will not be easy to replicate.  Innovative work by donaccion.org who are dipping their toes in the world of crowd source funding to raise small project funds is definitely something to watch. And Tundi Agardi had interesting insights into innovative financing mechanisms in the Caribbean, where for example, diver tour operators are paying local fishermen to close sites. With a few exceptions however, we do not seem to have strayed far from the well worn funding track.

The impressive stuff: Sylvia Earle’s dedication to the cause of marine conservation and her unrelenting energy exemplified by the launch of her latest initiative: Mission Blue – Hope Spots.

The fun stuff: an evening session in the auditorium watching an IMAX film of divers, free diving to tag great white sharks. The question and answer session at the end with Oceans Ambassador and free diver William Winram knocked my socks off!

Great resources ? Check out:

Conservation finance website’s resources

Donaccion.org for inspired ideas about crowd source funding

“Gears” (tools for translating science into communication material) … still trying to track down

And we will definitely be working with our local economic valuation experts to see how we can use the results of their economic valuation (TEEB study) of Bonaire to better “sell” conservation.