by Fawn Liebengood,
Over the past few days I have had the absolute pleasure of representing 808 Cleanups at the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress. This “Conservation Olympics” was held for the first time in the United States and brought together people over 75 countries. The IUCN spaned 10 days and hosted more than 1,500 conservation presentations, workshops, and posters. I was looking forward to meeting and networking with conservationists and hearing about the various conservation projects going on around the world. I signed up to volunteer for the conference to avoid paying the $1,050 registration fee. If you volunteered fifteen or more hours, IUCN gave you free entry to the Congress!
By far, the highlight of the conference was hearing world-famous conservationists like Jane Goodall, Dr. Sylvia Earle, E.O. Wilson speak and share the same room as us. These people speak with such wisdom, passion, and vision that it gives you chicken skin and chills. Nainoa Thompson President of the Polynesian Voyaging Society ended my favorite session on “Actions for a Sustainable Ocean” with world-famous oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, NOAA Administrator and Astronaut Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, and others by speaking about what it means to be an ocean navigator. I left that session both inspired and heavy-hearted for the immense work that lay ahead of myself and my conservation colleagues.
While the Congress was overwhelmingly positive, it did have its downsides. Because the Congress is such an important event, it often felt overwhelming and intimidating. I wish IUCN created more opportunities for young and veteran conservationists to meet, network, and be inspired by each other. It seemed that all conservation work stopped outside the Congress for ten days. Perhaps if the schedule was more spread out, attendees could focus on their primary tasks as well as their IUCN projects. Sadly, although the entire first floor was open to the public during the day, there was very little advertising on local TV, in the paper, or on social media people could attend. There were very few conservation funders there despite the need for conservation funding. It was disappointing how little financial support there was for conservation work, especially litter removal. One of our colleagues gave a stellar presentation on using social media and technology to make people notice litter again and pick it up and was up for a $10,000 prize. Despite giving an inspired presentation, his organization was not selected for financial support.
Overall, this was a once in a lifetime event that I am so grateful to be a part of. I would love to take part in this Congress again and I highly recommend volunteering for IUCN. Not only do you get to enjoy the Congress for free, but you get to meet like-minded conservationists, environmental enthusiasts, and world renowned researchers from across the world. Where else can you experience virtual reality scuba diving with Dr. Sylvia Earle, see hydrogen-powered concept cars, and randomly see Jane Goodall strolling around? I am grateful for the new conservation connections I made here, innovative technology I learned about, and new inspiration I found to help restore our ecosystem from the harm we have caused it. If you would like to join 808 Cleanups in our environmental restoration work, please visit our Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/808cleanups/ or our website www.808Cleanups.org