Hope and GLORES at the 3rd International Marine Conservation Congress

This is a sort of love letter, not to any one person, but to a new generation of marine conservation biologists.

I’ve just returned from Glasgow, Scotland, where Marine Conservation Institute’s president Lance Morgan and I vetted the Global Ocean Refuge System (GLORES), first in a small workshop we held to discuss criteria with a dozen or so key thinkers in marine conservation, then in the concluding plenary speech at the 3rd International Marine Conservation Congress, IMCC’s Ransom A. Myers Memorial Lecture.  What we both saw there was remarkable.  It fills me with hope.

The first Global Ocean Refuge Criteria Workshop brought together scientists from University of York, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Stanford, Duke and places less-known where people think seriously about saving marine life.  Other scientists came from leading non-governmental organizations including Ocean Conservancy, Greenpeace and Wildlife Conservation Society.

We are now contemplating their feedback on GLORES and will assemble a second set of draft Global Ocean Refuge criteria.  But even more than their ideas and facts, the most important thing these history-shaping scientists left with us was their encouragement.

The field of marine conservation biology has changed profoundly since 1978.  When I began, nearly all of us were white males trained in a subfield of marine biology and came from only a few countries.

Now marine conservation biologists are younger, majority-female and much more interdisciplinary and people-savvy than my generation was.  They add to marine conservation; coming from fields such as anthropology, economics, genome analysis, biostatistics or network theory.  And they come from a growing number of countries.  More diverse people bringing more diverse perspectives on how to save life in the sea.  We like that.

More diverse and better-equipped, too.  From what I see, this new generation seems more capable of operating in this dauntingly complex, human-coated world.  The growth and evolution of marine conservation biology to something broader, bigger, smarter, more human-relevant and with far greater numbers is something Lance and I have longed to see.

It’s no secret that being a marine conservationist can be deeply disheartening.  Few of us haven’t harbored dark thoughts about the future of our oceans and humankind.  But in moments of hope, we can see a path to bring the marine conservation movement to a new place, one where marine conservation biologists’ skills, understanding, commitment and love for marine life align to change the Anthropocene’s history.  We increasingly see ways for wonderful marine animals (from Bird’s Head to Greenland, from mangrove mudflats to the open oceans) to avoid being wiped from the face of the Earth.  After all these years, it seems there is a path to GLORES.

And wouldn’t it be pleasing if some young person in the Lomond Auditorium on the evening of 18 August, 2014 becomes the leader who finds the way to persuade governments to save innumerable marine species?  Somebody who gets the world to achieve what my friend and colleague Ransom Myers devoted his life to?

I might get to see that, I might not.  But we do know that the waves of change will ripple through human history with troughs and peaks, as all waves do.  And I’m in this field because I believe that marine conservation biologists (in the broad sense) are crucial to help the world answer the existential question: “To be or not to be?”

Do we grampuses, parrotfish and people want to be here on this Earth?  If we do, then our species should probably start acting to save life in the sea, because dead oceans are not good for grampuses, parrotfishes or people.

Hope.  Seeing your knowledge and excitement at IMCC3 made me feel that my life has been worth all the carbon dioxide that I’ve cost the Earth.

Few things are better than hope… except succeeding.

Sleep-deprived and jetlagged, I returned from Glasgow seeing more clearly a path ahead.  A path to GLORES.

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