ICON @ ICCB

Every two years members of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) hold their scientific conference. The International Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB) is one of the most important global gatherings for conservation scientists and practitioners. The meeting provides us all with an opportunity to share our work, hear about the latest developments in our field, and perhaps most importantly, to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. The meeting moves from continent to continent, aiming to provide an equal opportunity for different people to attend, with this year’s meeting taking place in Kigali, Rwanda.

It was thus with much excitement that five members of the ICON research group boarded our extra long-haul flights from Australia to Africa. Dr Holly Kirk and Dr Matthew Selinske arrived early to run a pre-conference workshop: “Introduction to R for Conservation Social Scientists”, which was well-attended by enthusiastic people beginning their data analysis journeys. The main conference kicked off with an opening ceremony accompanied by a traditional drumming group and an amazing first talk from the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund showcasing the incredible work being done in Rwanda to save the iconic, critically endangered Mountain Gorilla.

Four of the team were scheduled to speak in one of the opening symposiums of the conference entitled “Achieving nature positive – approaches, measures and critical perspectives”. Nature positive is intended to provide a single global goal for nature conservation, to focus our sector’s efforts. The idea is that not only do we slow down the rate of biodiversity loss but stop and eventually reverse this trend such that we achieve a net gain in biodiversity. This might seem a lofty ideal, but at a time such as this, we need ambitious goals to drive transformative change for society and our fellow inhabitants of this planet.

Prof. Sarah Bekessy discussed how we need biodiversity onsets, not offsets, for genuine nature positive development. Dale Wright illustrated his work on developing a biodiversity footprint for Yarra Valley Water as part of understanding how we shift a business towards nature positive. Holly mused that nature positive urban development is not indeed an oxymoron. Matthew ended the session with his talk highlighting how urban development in London, England might proceed towards a nature positive future. Our fifth team member, Dr Emily Gregg gave a talk reflecting on ethical considerations for conservation messaging, as part of a symposium showcasing the use of social science to promote justice driven, durable conservation. 

Beyond the interesting talks, the social events provided a great opportunity for networking, in particular the “birthday” celebration to mark the 20th year of the Social Science Working Group of the Society for Conservation Biology. Matthew Selinske was also honoured at this event, stepping down recently as President of this working group, which is now the largest working group of SCB, in no small part thanks to Matthew’s leadership. Holly, Dale, and Matthew also found time to do some early morning birdwatching, heading down to the Nyandungu urban wetland, a small conservation area within the heart of Kigali which provided a few “lifers” (birds never seen elsewhere) for the group. The closing ceremony of these conferences is always bitter-sweet; the exhaustion of a few days of non-stop talks and socialising leaves one ready for a break, but with the sadness that yet another great gathering of conservationists has come to an end. We were treated to a traditional Rwandan dance as the sun set over the rather psychedelic dome of the Kigali convention centre, and another successful ICCB.  

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