That Time I Attended the World Conservation Congress


by Rachel Herring, SCA Natural Resource Specialist Intern

ABOVE: Rachel holding an endangered Hawaiian Stilt that she assisted with capturing, banding, and fitting with a tracking device.

The IUCN World Conservation Congress is upon us here in Honolulu, Hawai’i with an estimated 8,000 – 10,000 delegates representing 160 nations converging onto the island of O’ahu for the event. The congress takes place every four years and serves as a meeting of conservation expertise and influence. This year, the congress is being held in the United States for the first time in the 68 year history of the event.

One of the more notable participants in the congress is President Obama, who arrived the afternoon of Wednesday, August 31 to officially announce his generous expansion of Papahānaumokuākea National Monument. Other not so welcome guests include Madeline and Lester; hurricanes anticipated to narrowly miss the islands as they swirl past across the Pacific this weekend. The weather is presently sunny and beautiful on O’ahu with Hurricane Madeline safely to the south. We’ll just have to wait and see what Hurricane Lester has in store for us over the weekend.

An endangered Hawaiian Stilt chick wades in Ordy Pond on Oahu. An endangered Hawaiian Stilt chick wades in Ordy Pond on Oahu. 

I currently serve on O’ahu as a Natural Resource Specialist SCA Intern for Naval Facilities Hawai’i (NAVFAC HI) at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. My work duties consist mostly of the planning and management of natural resources present on Navy owned lands in Hawai’i, including many endangered species.

In a typical week I might monitor waterbirds around the Pearl Harbor area, develop educational materials for Pacific Missile Range Facility, help plan for future research projects on Navy land, and participate in a volunteer event removing invasive plants from areas utilized by migratory and endangered waterbirds. With the immensity of environmental challenges Hawai’i is currently facing, it lends me hope to see that the NAVFAC HI natural resources department is steadily growing. I am honored to have had a hand in shaping the future of the program.

A beach in Kauai.View from Kaena Point, the northernmost tip of O’ahu, a popular whale watching spot, and nesting grounds for the Laysan Albatross.

Hawai’i in particular seems a fitting location for the World Conservation Congress. The Hawaiian islands are a rare natural  treasure where you’ll find towering emerald pinnacles of rock meandering down to wetlands, then to volcanic tidal pools fed by deep turquoise waters. The land and water of these islands is home to thousands of species completely unique and evolutionarily tailored to the Hawaiian ecosystem, many of which are at risk of extinction. Upon closer inspection, you will find a natural beauty faced with complex environmental threats. A short list of such challenges include: climate change causing extreme changes in weather patterns, sea level rise, invasive species and the disappearance of invaluable native Hawaiian species which support a stable ecosystem for the islands and their people. In a more abstract sense, the Hawaiian islands can be likened to the island we call home; planet Earth. Earth is an island in the cosmos, the only livable home we know.

A view of Kauai.

There is reason for increasing hope for a bright future for conservation all over the world, and I can see this hope growing every day here in Hawai’i. The reason is passionate people coming together across agencies and all walks of life to help protect our āina (meaning “land” or “that which feeds us” in Hawaiian). The World Conservation Congress especially encourages my vision of progressive world change. I am excited to be participating as a speaker at the event on a panel of other representatives from different conservation organizations on Friday, September 2. The panel will be moderated by U.S Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, and an invasive species removal and native Hawaiian planting event will follow. I look forward to meeting Secretary Jewell who has played an integral part in enhancing programs that help young people acquire conservation work experience. It will also be fun to meet other people doing work related to my field and listen to the multitude of distinguished speakers scheduled to speak over the course of the congress.

Student Conservation Association