The World’s Greatest Environmental Superstars Are Speaking in Honolulu
The 2016 World Conservation Congress brings environmental power players from around the world to Honolulu this month.
Photo: Big Island Visitors Bureau (BIVB)/Kawika Singson
The Olympics of the conservation world arrives in Honolulu this month, bringing visitor traffic and dollars, along with 8,000 to 10,000 ecological delegates from 160 countries, including heads of state, scientists, politicians and climate experts, to discuss a “planet at a crossroads.” Celebrities scheduled to speak include Jane Goodall, the world’s foremost chimpanzee expert, Prince Albert II of Monaco and Sylvia Earle, world-renowned marine biologist, lecturer and National Geographic explorer.
It’s the first time the World Conservation Congress, the premier conference of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, is being held in the U.S. in the event’s 68-year history. How did Hawai‘i win the selection, beating out eight other international contenders?
First there’s our status as an island chain on the front line of climate change, coastal erosion, ocean acidification and invasive species. “Hawai‘i is recognized globally for the unique species that are found here and nowhere else on Earth. We’re also known as one of the extinction capitals,” says Chipper Wichman, co-chair of Hawai‘i’s 2016 steering committee and director and CEO of the National Tropical Botanical Garden on Kaua‘i.
On the other hand, Hawai‘i’s response to this dubious distinction has led to what Wichman calls “some of the most cutting-edge biocultural conservation programs on Earth.” These efforts will be showcased to the delegates as positive examples of what’s possible in challenging regions.
The Congress itself will be split into two main sections: a voting session called the Members’ Assembly (Sept. 6–10), in which IUCN members will set international policies for the next four years, and the Forum (Sept. 2–5), where the public can choose from more than 600 sessions addressing a wide range of environmental issues. Sample session titles: “Don’t Call Me a Conservationist,” “Young Leaders of the Pacific” and “Conserve Diversity—Grow Native Plant Varieties.” Kama‘āina day passes are available for $75 ($150 for two days); you’ll need to register for each session ahead of time at iucnworldconservationcongress.org.
For those looking for something a little less time-consuming, the Exhibition Hall—on the first floor of the Convention Center—will feature a variety of booths highlighting the latest and greatest in conservation work Sept. 2–9 (from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily).
The gathering is forecast to generate as much as $45 million in delegate spending and another $6 million to $8 million in tax revenue. Randall Tanaka, president of the WCC National Host Committee, says, “Having the Congress here will raise the positive awareness of Hawai‘i as a tourism destination that is concerned about sustainability and conservation, which will help us to draw future visitors who want to learn more about our diversity of nature, culture, conservation and sustainability as part of their vacation experience.”