Networking for conservation in Colombia

ICCB 2017 through the eyes of newbies

Participants in the ‘Conservation challenges and opportunities in areas of armed conflict’ workshop. (Photo by Felipe Suarez)

Participants in the ‘Conservation challenges and opportunities in areas of armed conflict’ workshop. (Photo by Felipe Suarez)

In July, we travelled to the colourful city of Cartagena in Colombia to attend the Society for Conservation Biology’s bi-annual International Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB) conference. “Insights for sustaining life on Earth” was the theme for this year’s conference, with an emphasis on how to better manage social-ecological systems. This year, the conference was attended by over 1,400 people from 71 different countries which ranged from conservation practitioners, policy-makers, academics and researchers.

For PhD students who are still novices at international conferences, we found ICCB to be an amazing source of information and great experience. This conference opened our eyes to the conservation issues being faced around the world, and the wide variety of different approaches to conservation being applied. Though there was a huge variety of talks and issues, there were a couple of themes we noticed that kept resurfacing throughout the five days of the conference and really stuck with us.

As the conference was held in Colombia, it wasn’t surprising that a major theme at ICCB was conservation within this corner of the world. It was fascinating to hear about the conservation challenges and opportunities faced in Colombia and other Latin American countries (though as a Colombian native, many of these issues were well known to Felipe). Many talks focused on the increasing threats biodiversity faces within Latin America, such as deforestation, mining, and the illegal wildlife trade.

A major theme was conservation in areas of conflict, such as conservation in post-FARC Colombia. Felipe led a workshop at the conference that focused on identifying new opportunities for biodiversity conservation in Colombia’s post-peace agreement era. The workshop started as an initiative of Colombians doing their PhD in Australia, and was partially funded by CEED. The workshop provided participants, including experts from different NGOs, academic and government institutions, with the opportunity to identify potential projects and research questions around accounting for conflict risks in conservation decision-making, while promoting the design of conservation strategies with positive socio-economic impacts.

Conflict between and within countries can put stress on the environment through resource extraction, and can restrict the reach and effectiveness of conservation programs. However, when conflicts are resolved deforestation often increases, which threatens the biodiversity within these regions. However areas that were previously too dangerous to enter also open to up for potential conservation projects.

The workshop also discussed the importance of filling the gap between science and policy to promote conservation in post-conflict scenarios, as well as opportunities to do large scale land use planning in the country. The workshop was a great opportunity to grow Felipe’s professional network and learn about cutting-edge research being conducted within this research field.

This and other themes (including the growth of social science and technology in conservation science) presented throughout the ICCB conference suggest that conservation research is moving towards more global, collaborative and interdisciplinary approaches. This has huge potential for the success of conservation projects across the world.

Attending this conference gave us insights into not only the direction that conservation research is heading, but also into the reality faced by conservationists around the world. It was a week full of new ideas, great conversations, and amazing Colombian wildlife and food! If you ever have the opportunity to attend an ICCB conference in the future, we would definitely recommend it.

Note: Marie Dade and Felipe Suarez are PhD scholars in the Rhodes Conservation Research Group at the University of Queensland. This story is an edited excerpt from a blog Marie wrote about the ICCB experience. To read the full blog see https://rhodesconservation.com/2017/09/16/conferences-conservation-and-colombia-iccb-recap/


Biodiverse Colombia

Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world (Brazil is rated number one but it is 7 times bigger). Colombia has the highest density of species per area worldwide and the largest number of endemic species. Around 10% of the Earth’s terrestrial species live in Colombia, including over 1,900 species of bird (more than in Europe and North America combined). Colombia has 10% of the world’s mammal species, 14% of the amphibians and 18% of all the birds.

Colombia is an incredibly biodiverse country facing a number of conservation challenges and opportunities, making it an ideal backdrop for ICCB2017 conference. (Photo by Rachel Friedman)

Colombia is an incredibly biodiverse country facing a number of conservation challenges and opportunities, making it an ideal backdrop for ICCB2017 conference. (Photo by Rachel Friedman)

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