8th IAC Café conversation: Collection sustainability

12 September 2012 | Marin Gorrie

Photos by Ingrid Sinclair Photos by Ingrid Sinclair
The last café conversation took place on the morning of day three of the 8th International Aquarium Congress (IAC), at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.

Café conversations focus on talking and exchanging ideas, problems and solutions, and this session was eloquently chaired by Melanie Kiley from Symphonia.

Kiley said answers to questions and problems often lie among community members: “You’ll be amazed what can happen through collaboration.”

She mentioned three components that create a thinking environment as identified by the founder of thinking environment methodology, Nancy Kline, namely:

  • Thinking – the quality of what we do comes from the quality of what we think
  • Appreciation – listen with appreciation to what people say
  • Equality – create a space for every voice to be heard

The first question delegates focused on was:

What challenges are you currently facing with regard to your collection?

The groups, of no more than four at a table, discussed the question and a few common themes emerged.

Members of the Chinese delegations said that in China there is a disconnect between realistic acquisition and realistic husbandry, as well as a lack of available species and information. Chinese aquariums therefore spend a lot of time experimenting on their own, which is extremely costly.

Other concerns that were raised dealt with ethical sourcing of reliable, sustainable and commercial animals, as well as the high costs involved in acquiring the collections and having enough staff to collect the animals.

Common threads that emerged during the discussion included ethics and permitting. Members face problems with obtaining permits, dealing with local governments and are concerned about their flexibility in adapting to changes in legislation governing obtaining permits. Others face political challenges with regard to municipal control that comes with the municipal organisation’s lack of understanding – all huge hurdles for some aquariums to overcome.

Aquariums also feel pressure to satisfy public expectations in terms of their collections, to balance what they would like to see with what aquariums are able to provide. Non-governmental organisations also put pressure on aquariums to display iconic species.

The high costs involved with sourcing animals for collections; ethical, responsible and sustainable sourcing; and making sure that suppliers agree with ethical ways of sourcing animals, were also key concerns to emerge.

Delegates were then given the opportunity to discuss solutions to the challenges they face.

“What have you done to overcome these challenges?”

Primary suggestions to emerge from the conversations included:

  • Increase communication globally about reliable, accredited suppliers
  • Improve communication between aquariums and regional authorities
  • Focus on training and education
  • Collection plans need to be detailed

Chinese delegates said that one of the solutions to their concerns would require the help of a global body to bridge the gap between aquariums, to provide information on breeding and accredited suppliers. The delegates also noted that they would benefit from a social media platform that allows for discussion and information exchange in terms of acquisition, breeding and reliable, sustainable and dependable suppliers who can also manage permit procedures and who are knowledgeable on Chinese government regulations.

With regard to permitting issues, delegates suggested an increase in global co-operation for breeding programmes. They called for a powerful organisation consisting of representatives of all institutions that deal with living organisms and have permit problems to share information and solutions;  further training for customs and permitting staff, so that the permitting process goes smoothly; taking ownership of permit applications – writing your own special conditions into permitting, which some authorities are open to – that creates credibility, builds a strategic relationship with authorities and makes it easier for them to understand your needs.

In terms of sourcing, delegates said aquariums should take the opportunity to educate suppliers directly about what can or cannot be done. In this way, they will be able to nurture their relationships with their suppliers.

“Focus on the importance of a collection plan – have a reason for why each animal is in your collection. If an animal has no reason to be there, then they shouldn’t be there; this is an ethical approach to a collection plan.”

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  • Author: Marin Gorrie
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