Friday, October 01, 2004

Okinawa: Learning from the gathering

Okinawa 10th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) was an eye opener to the multitude of issues facing coral reefs. Being part of the Locally Managed Marine Area Network I was able to participate through an oral presentation of the field stories of the LMMA Network under the session “Assessment of Coral Reef Management Effectiveness”. I presented in behalf of Michael Gilbeaux, Pamela Seeto, Bill Aalbersberg, Wayne Andrew and the LMMA Network on the topic Evaluating the Effectiveness of and Building Capacity for Locally Managed Marine Areas within the Learning Network. The presentation included the introduction of the Learning Network which is the LMMA Network and the stories from the field which focused mainly in capacity building at the project site level in the Philippines and across the Indo Pacific. A colleague of mine Alifereti Tawake made a complimentary presentation of the details of the evaluating effectiveness of a specific project site in Fiji which is a pioneer project site for the LMMA Network. Within that particularly short period of 12 minute presentation highlighting our current work it was a rare opportunity to have two people from our program to report on a topic within the same session and both of us are supported by the travel grant.

Insights abound as I go back and recall the many things I learned from the people I met at Okinawa 10th International Coral Reef Symposim. Pioneer in the field such as Charlie Veron is very inspiring not only because he got the Darwin Award but his down to earth presentation and his willingness to give time to those who are new in the field of coral reef conservation is very inspiring. It was like seeing yourself that you could really do significant, timely and relevant work in the field of environmental conservation when you meet these people who have dedicated their lives to science and the advancement of knowledge.

I was able to personally meet the authors of the book I read in school. These people are institutions in their own right. I was privileged to be able to listen to their presentation in the flesh. My references in the reports I made before now have a face and a personality I can relate to and there are golden opportunity to converse with them on the side and ask for their thoughts. Indeed it was a learning experience that cannot be provide in a school setting such gatherings of the most cunning of scientist, researchers, and conservationist.

One particular presentation that caught me is about Polunin’s presentation about giving value to the information gathered from the community and that this particular group of biological scientist is actually looking seriously into the social science of conservation. This is indeed encouraging to hear in a gathering of hard core scientist. Coming from the social sciences, working in the community I was professionally affirmed that our work is relevant and the shift in perspective has given a new light to the work we are currently doing. Professionally I know I have a long way to go and it is comforting that there is hope.

On a more personal level I was able to meet fellow environmentalist, researchers and students that became instant friends from Okinawa. In my recent trip last August to Brisbane I was able to reconnect with these new found friends. As a traveler, I treasure these people I met at ICRS and I am excited as we explore possible ways of working together in the future.

It was a recognition for me in Okinawa that we as conservationist, researchers, students is one big community of people striving to do our work better, understand our world a little more and all working to have better environment for us and our children.