By: Lillian Mitchell
Hi, my name is Lillian, a second-year Master’s student working with Noella. I recently attended my first conference outside of the Geography community of Guelph and I wanted to share a bit about what I learned. I was presenting my preliminary thesis results for the first time and I have to say it feels really good to be moving into that second year dynamic. This particular conference I attended was called ‘Sustainable Oceans: The Body Connecting Us All’, and opened with a video montage of people speaking about our human connection and dependence on our vast ocean resources. This theme is one that connects quite strongly with the larger project that Noella, Evan, and I are a part of, called ‘the Human Dimensions of Large Marine Protected Areas’ where we discuss that even though ocean spaces can be far removed from our daily lives, we can still feel a strong connection to these spaces. In partnership with researchers at Duke University and Colorado State University, this larger project is looking at five large marine protected areas (LMPAs) in Palau, Rapa Nui (Easter Island, Chile), the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (USA), Bermuda and Kiribati, with Guelph focusing on the Phoenix Islands protected area (PIPA) site in Kiribati. So, when Kiribati was mentioned in the keynote address by Brian Skerry that opened this conference, I was delighted to see Brian mention a theme from Kiribati that I have found particularly interesting.
Brian’s presentation was called ‘Luminous Seas’ because as he describes, as a photojournalist not only has he been illuminating his subjects, but the seas have also illuminated to him the problems that exist in our oceans. He explained how over the years of photographing life in the ocean he couldn’t ignore the problems that the oceans are facing, such as overfishing and pollution. However, in mentioning the Phoenix Islands he recalls how amazed he was at seeing such healthy reef systems and recalls that diving in the Phoenix islands was “truly like going back in time”. While he was describing the photographs he took in the Phoenix as very vivid and colourful, I recalled a comment from an interviewee in Kiribati who explained that it was really the photos that were brought back to the government that inspired the protection of that area through the establishment of PIPA. This interviewee said that, more so than scientific data about the value of the Phoenix Islands, it was the photography that really allowed people to connect to that space. This interface between the importance of strict science vs. evocative images was an interesting question in the case of Kiribati’s LMPA and one that was happy to hear Bryan speak on. In the case of Kiribati all the science in the world indicating the importance of the Phoenix islands as a biodiversity hotspot was not as motivating or compelling as a few photos.
I’ve learned a lot from my fieldwork in Kiribati but one of those takeaways has been that for a conservation initiative to be successful, people need to be inspired to care. So, not only did this conference give me some great first-time experience presenting my research, but it also had some great connections to my project. I was once told that graduate students should take as many opportunities as they can to practice presenting their research, so I’m trying to take that to heart. The Sustainable Oceans conference was a great way to begin doing just that.
Here group members (and sometimes colleagues and friends from our wider network!) write blog entries about interests, questions, and projects.