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Marine Conservation, Inspiration and a Great Big Geek

From 14-18th August 2014, the 3rd International Marine Conservation Congress was held in Glasgow, Scotland. The IMCC meetings are the largest international academic conferences on marine conservation. IMCC3 had over 700 presentations ranging from fisheries science to how marine scientists could better interact with the media, from Marine Protected Area effectiveness to the ethical treatment of marine species, from the impacts of oil spills and debris in the marine environment   to how to better use social media and storytelling to communicate marine conservation science to the general public. For a glimpse of some of the topics covered at the meeting and key information and quotes, look for #IMCC3 on Twitter.

I got several requests to post my closing speech – although the number of requests might partly because people wanted to count quite how many geek references I managed to sneak in. There are 13, can you find them all?

The IMCC3 Chair’s Closing Speech

So here we are on the raggedy edge, at the ending of IMCC3, the third one. I’ve received many positive comments about the content of this meeting and I’d like to give you a quote with exemplarizes what people have been saying:

“In my department, I was told not to step out of the ivory tower, that if I wanted to engage with marine conservation more than just doing the science, then I was being a bad scientist. I was made to feel that I was a freak for wanting to do so. But after this meeting I know that I’m not alone. I have a huge community that feels the same way and who are supportive. I feel like I can finally come out of the conservation closet as a scientist”

A famous professor from a nearby academic institution, Albus Dumbledore, once said: “dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when one must choose between what is easy and what is right”; the situation in the oceans is so dire we must now do what is right!

A major theme of this meeting has been… well, conservation, this word does not mean what you think it means. Conservation is very unlikely to happen if you just publish a paper and nothing further. Don’t get me wrong, papers are important – they give vital evidence on which to base good conservation decisions. But, you need to get that science into the right hands, at the right time, in the right format. Some of our community are excellent communicators … so we’ve got that going for us, and that’s nice. But some of us don’t feel so comfortable about putting ourselves out there quite so much.

The good news is though that there are many people who will gladly help you to get your science into the right hands, and minds. “There can be only one” is not the tagline for marine conservation. As Sesame Street would extol… cooperation, and collaboration, is the key.

This meeting has showed that marine conservation scientists are making a difference. It’s important that we remember that scientists can, and have, changed the world. Once upon a time, a Fellow of the Royal Society was frustrated with the inequality of the world and collaborated with a science nerd colleague, who was an eloquent writer, and came up with an idea… which we now call the United States of America.

(Incidentally had the internet existed in Benjamin Franklin’s time he would have had quite an impressive h-index, including highly cited publications on oceanography)

Another one of my favorite sayings coined at this meeting  by the SCB [Society for Conservation Society] Marine Board was “don’t just whine about it, do it!”

This has been most apparent this meeting with the case of the Vaquita,* the Gulf of California harbor porpoise. There are only 97 individuals left of this critically endangered species, with maybe just 25 reproductive females. The science is in for the vaquita, we know what it will take to fix this crisis, it will cost $60million. So yesterday the SCB marine section decided to do something. We didn’t want yet another dolphin to go extinct on our watch. We put in seed money to pay for a fund-raiser/lobbyist to raise that $60million and we challenge other NGOs to match us and contribute.** We can make a difference, this is a species we can save so easily. We can fix this, yes we can! So come on NGOs and governments !  As Yoda says “do or do not, there is no try!”

Time is fleeting and I can’t talk for very much longer, so I would like to finish off with a quote from an undergraduate student who told me last night (admittedly they were somewhat in their cups) “I learnt more about what I want to do with my life these past 4 days than in the last 4 years at my university”.

A key theme for this meeting has indeed, been inspiration and #oceanoptimism***. Scientists can indeed make a difference. So now everyone just go, and walk out that meeting door, take what you’ve learnt from this meeting, and “engage”. ****

*For a truly geeky site with information about the vaquita go to the Vaquitas are Browncoats Facebook site. Another great site is Viva Vaquita who also have a Facebook page.

** Anyone wishing to give a donation to the fund, please send a check to “Society for Conservation Biology” at Society for Conservation Biology, 1017 O St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001, USA. Please note that the money is for the Vaquita fund.

*** Another relevant quote from Albus Dumbledore would be that “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light” #oceanoptimism.

****So geeky references include: Firefly, Sharknado 2, Harry Potter, the Princess Bride, Caddyshack, Highlander, Sesame Street, Bob the Builder, the  Empire Strikes Back, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Star Trek: the Next Generation.


Dr. Chris Parsons has been involved in whale and dolphin research for over two decades and has been involved in projects on every continent. Dr. Parsons is an Associate Professor at George Mason University as well as the undergraduate coordinator for their environmental science program. He’s a member of the scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), has been involved in organizing four of the International Marine Conservation Congresses (IMCC) (the world’s largest academic marine conservation conference) and two of the International Congresses for Conservation Biology. He was a Governor of the Society for Conservation Biology for nearly a decade and is currently on the Board of Directors of the American Cetacean Society and the Society for Marine Mammalogy. In addition, Dr. Parsons has published over 120 scientific papers and book chapters and has written a textbook on marine mammal biology & conservation.


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