ICON team members head across the Pacific

For a while it seemed as if travel was a thing of the past – workshops, conferences and meetings all pivoted online. Whilst this was great for our collective carbon footprint, it perhaps stymied creativity. Meeting virtually doesn’t fulfill the same functions as a face-to-face chat at a conference, where the informal gatherings are often as valuable (if not more so) than the formal talks. Hence, it was with excitement and trepidation that some of the ICON team headed for the North American summer in July and August for various research projects.

The first stop was a workshop with research partners on ICON’s Coffee Sustainability Project held in Vancouver at the beautiful University of British Columbia campus. Pia Lentini and Matthew Selinske attended in-person, while Canadian visa delays meant PhD candidate Dale Wright called in from nearby Anacortes, just across the border. This was the first time that the ICON, Smithsonian Bird Friendly Coffee and the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology team had met in person, and the workshop provided a great opportunity to discuss the various aspects of the project, to learn about colleague’s work in this space and discuss the state of play for the coffee sector’s work towards supply chain sustainability more generally. In addition to the formal and informal chats the group also started work on a paper investigating how coffee industry stakeholders have made commitments to improve the sustainability of the sector. Significant headway was made into the analysis for this new study, whilst lunchtime walks, and an evening glass of wine solidified the partnerships so integral to driving a successful collaboration.

Members of the coffee project enjoying Vancouver

The next stop on this North American tour took Dale and Matthew to Reno, Nevada for the North American Congress of Conservation Biology. The glitzy but tired looking casinos and concrete monoliths were perhaps an unlikely venue for a gathering of conservation scientists. Attendees heard much about “America the Beautiful” – an exciting and far-reaching conservation area expansion program being driven by the current USA administration. Dale presented the preliminary findings of his analysis of sustainability initiatives within the coffee supply chain, particularly noting the focus on top-down sustainability initiatives, rather than locally led programs. Matthew organised a symposium discussing business and biodiversity engagements. Matthew’s work with high profile businesses highlights the growing awareness of impacts, and dependencies, on nature.

After the coffee workshop and some down-time enjoying the incredible Canadian Rockies, Pia had made her way south to Austin, Texas for the 19th International Bat Research Conference. Home to the famous Congress Bridge colony, Austin is something of a Mecca for bat biologists, so Pia wholeheartedly embraced the opportunity to meet up with old colleagues and friends working in bat conservation and research. This included her presenting some of her work on modelling remotely-sensed plant phenology data to predict the abundance of flying-foxes in Australian urban areas, joining a trapping excursion to Texas’ Big Bend National Park, and finally a visit to Bracken Cave, the largest bat colony in the world.

The three ICON members enjoyed the warmth the northern hemisphere provided, a welcome respite from the wet winter of Melbourne. But after a few weeks away, they were just as pleased to return home. Inspired by new learning and having made new connections. Conservation can seem a lonely enterprise at times and meeting up with the other “foot soldiers” in the battle for our planet can provide the inspiration necessary to forge ahead with this important work.

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