Planet at the crossroads: Intersecting in Hawaiʻi

SEP 26, 2016    by LAUREN R. KAISER

Hawaiʻi was fortunate enough to have the honor to host the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCNWorld Conservation Congress this September. This was the first time in its 70-year history that the Congress has ever been held in the United States. Around 10,000 participants came together in Honolulu and embraced the Aloha Spirit. The sheer size of the Congress was astounding alone but the diversity of people attending made it all the more impressive. Among the thousands of visitors were famous researchers and scientists, princes and presidents, along with indigenous leaders representing Amazonian tribes and aboriginal Australians. Exuding from this multicultural gathering was a variety of perspectives, languages, and experiences. Many came to share with others their projects, tools, and resources in this microcosm with the hopes of improving conservation efforts especially in the face of the pressing impacts of climate change.

 Photo Credit: Lauren Kaiser

Honolulu provides a prime location to host these participants from all over the world. Not only is it a focal point in the economically expanding Pacific Rim, Hawaiʻi also offers a small scale representation of a multitude of conservation issues that are relatable to many others across the globe. In terms of ongoing climatic changes specifically, Hawaiʻi and other island nations are the so-called “canaries in the coal mines” that provide insight on what the future may hold by showcasing the vulnerability of both biodiversity and human wellbeing. Islands have been called “the forgotten front lines of climate change” and serve as a reminder of the urgency in which we need to start addressing some of the proposed policies from the recent COP21 last December.

While the IUCN holds a certain level of worldwide prestige, many are unaware of the organization or what its responsibilities include. It unites different people, partners, and sponsors in a common effort to improve human progress and economic development while also harmoniously conserving nature. The IUCN focuses on a variety of themes, business and biodiversity, climate change, protected areas, social policy, and world heritage, just to name a few, and uses the Congress as a forum to share information and tools, ranging from advanced 3D visualizations in virtual reality to the Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) of indigenous peoples. Such a plethora of activities, meetings, and resources available during the Congress made it like a “choose your own adventure” experience where you had to really narrow it down and select from the thousands of sessions which you would actually attend.

Photo Credit: Lauren Kaiser

From my personal perspective, the experience was quite overwhelming! From the number of people to the multitude of events available, there was too much to see and not enough time. The diverse gathering of this many people from all over the world was impressive in itself but some of the other aspects of the Congress that left an impression on me included:

  • Notes were taken in picture form during sessions by an incredible artist
  • Posters were electronically displayed with interactive features for viewers
  • Persons from all levels and backgrounds were able to participate and contribute
  • Artwork by the elephant RAMA showcased as an ambassador of endangered species

This only scrapes the surface of the proceedings from the World Conservation Congress but I must say it was an experience of a lifetime. I’d highly recommend you to attend any future Congress you can if you are lucky enough to have the opportunity!


Lauren R. Kaiser is a lecturer in the University of Hawaiʻi System.

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