The global aquarium community: Sharing experiences and collectively inspiring change
The summary of the 8th International Aquarium Congress (IAC) as presented by congress chairperson Dr Patrick Garratt on 13 September 2012 at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.
We hope that you have enjoyed the somewhat different design of this congress, with its Café Conversations and panel discussions, during which we trust that you had fertile opportunities to “share experiences” so that “collectively we can inspire change.”
I have been overjoyed by the excellent attendance and level of participation at this congress. Well done to Michael [Farquhar, curator at the Two Oceans Aquarium] and his team for their role in designing a programme that has contributed strongly to this.
And thanks to all the presenters for the high quality of your presentations that have kept us riveted.
- Two Oceans Aquarium staff and volunteers: I have had many compliments this week on our beautiful aquarium, but I have been complimented even more on the amazing aquarium staff and volunteers. Well done!
- Muhammad and Nadia Khan, and the staff of Tribal Meetings, our professional conference organisers.
- All the presenters and session chairs.
- The exhibitors who put together a wonderful trade show, with particular thanks to AquaMedic, Living Colour Enterprises, Green Country, Ecosystem Aquarium and New Era for donating display materials from their stands to the Two Oceans Aquarium.
- The translators who did a magnificent job of simultaneous translation into Chinese and Japanese.
- And all of you who purchased the café-style tables, which we will be donating to needy schools in an around Cape Town – wow, thank you! And thanks to Russell Stevens for so passionately encouraging you to make this donation!
A number of themes emerged during this congress, and I would like to draw attention to some of them here. Firstly, from the keynotes:
Camille Parmesan informed us that there is now solid consensus that anthropogenic climate change is affecting oceanic and terrestrial systems: it is having significant impacts on species distribution, phenology, viability and sex ratios. In some cases the changes in the marine environment have been greater than on land.
George Branch confirmed this in his talk on the Agulhas and Benguela current systems that are showing huge changes in ecology, distributions and having large impacts on local economies.
Camille confirmed that conventional conservation actions are still important, but she challenged us to start considering the need for habitat creation rather than just habitat restoration. Climate change is creating novel habitats that species are not genetically prepared for. She warned that we will have to become more pragmatic about very carefully moving species into areas where they will have the possibility to survive in future.
Elin Kelsey introduced the theme of hope. And this vision of hope was reflected in Philippe Valette’s vision of a Blue Society.
Emotions around environmental change are very strong – and research has shown that negative emotions de-motivate people. Ellen encouraged us to move “beyond the obituaries” and to encourage and motivate one another by collecting and sharing stories of hope and resilience. I believe that this word resilience will become increasingly used and seen in communications in years to come.
The keynote speakers emphasised that public aquariums can play an important role in raising hope in the face of current challenges:
New formats for the IAC
We introduced a new type of session at this congress: Café Conversations.
We discussed two key aspects of our work in public aquariums: business sustainability and collections sustainability. Results of these deliberations will be posted soon on the 8th IAC website.
A number of themes emerged from the presentations:
- Despite current economic challenges, Elena Kazlas from ConsultEcon informed us that the aquarium sector is growing. However, we must ensure that we grow sustainably, particularly in terms of our collections practices, environmental footprints and our business practices.
- Market research is an essential part of ensuring that aquarium developments and redevelopments are both economically and environmentally sustainable, as pointed out by Elena Kazlas, Jim Hekkers from Monterey Bay and João Falcato from the Lisbon Aquarium.
- Diversification and collaboration are also vital in these times. Many aquariums have responded to economic pressures by initiating new revenue generation activities, collaborating with partners, and increasing the efficiency of their operations.
- It was mentioned a number of times that aquariums have positive reputations and are trusted as sources of marine-related information and guidance in terms of sustainability.
- In order not to lose the trust of the public, and to avoid negative reactions that some aquariums have experienced, we need continually to walk our talk. Even if some sustainability practices have cost implications, our staff and visitors expect us to set the example. Sustainable practices are often more expensive in the short term, but in the long term they are generally more economical.
- The need to ensure that our practices are ethical was a recurring theme. Clear and inspiring principles and mission statements help to guide ethical practice, eg the SeaLife group’s mission to “Breed, rescue and protect; and the National Museum of Marine Biology in Taiwan’s: “Lead the public close to the ocean – appreciate her, protect her, love her.”
- Ursula Currie, from the architectural team involved in the renovation of the Toledo Aquarium, referred to the principle of “sacred reciprocity”, which I found particularly inspiring - if you are to take something away, you have to give something back.
Ironically, we as aquariums are becoming victims of our own success in promoting sustainability! As we advocate for more stringent environmental protection, we in turn find it more difficult to source specimens from the wild due to stricter permit regulations.
Stop, collaborate and listen
It is essential under these circumstances to be proactive, to collaborate with government authorities, and to show our commitment to sustainable collections. We heard from Peijun Zhang how aquariums in China are assisting the government in setting standards for the industry; and from Lyle Squires from Australia how the collections industry is proactively developing sustainability standards and procedures.
This is an area that will require more attention from all of us in the years to come.
Many of the presentations illustrated how aquariums are collaborating to develop systems and standards to ensure that their operations are more sustainable. Collaboration takes place both between independent aquariums, as well as within companies that manage a number of aquariums.
The sharing of expertise and resources, and improved economies of scale, have contributed to the development of efficient and effective business management systems, husbandry approaches, and education and training opportunities.
We heard about many collaborative projects, including: ethical collections initiatives and captive breeding projects (Paula Carlson’s Sea Dragon group, Allan Marshall’s Rising Tide Conservation Initiative). In the youth development field, we heard from Manuel Cira about youth parliaments, and from Russell Stevens and two of the Two Oceans Aquarium’s Young Biologists about Voices of the Future of the Oceans.
And I am delighted to announce that at this IAC gathering, a new education interest group has been established that aims to elevate the profile of education in the IAC.
It was particularly touching to hear Yoshitake Abe from Aquamarine Fukushima report on the supportiveness of theiInternational aquarium community. The generous support provided to his aquarium after the tsunami disaster in March last year bears testimony to the compassion of the IAC community and its determination to support its members.
We have been inspired by numerous advances in the field of animal husbandry, for example the great strides made by Takaomi Ito’s team from Osaka Aquarium in training fish, and by Yosuke Matsumoto from Okinawa in using anaesthetics. Both techniques have markedly reduced the stress experienced by animals needing to be handled for health treatments.
We have heard exciting stories of extreme collections and new discoveries. Advances like deep diving, submersibles, pressurised containers (the AbyssBox) and temperature regulation have enabled aquariums to collect and display species from extreme environments ranging from deep ocean trenches to Antarctica.
Our curatorial activities have generated opportunities to undertake research for conservation, including satellite tagging of sharks, the culturing and release of species, and habitat restoration.
There is a strong trend to increase the use of technology to improve overall efficiencies as well as the visitor experience.
Many presenters stressed the need to reduce energy and water usage in order to reduce the environmental impact of the operation. At the same time, aquariums need to improve water quality for the sake of animal health; Andrew Aiken and Douglas Drennan discussed new techniques for removing nitrates.
Significant research is currently being undertaken to improve life support systems to achieve these goals.
During this congress, I have been amazed by some of the new ways of engaging the public – through social networking, and mobile phone apps (eg Randy Hamilton’s SharkNet, Heather Koldewey’s real-time wildlife observations, and John Nightingale’s smart phone-based games); the use of YouTube videos (eg Mike Schaadt’s Youth on Board project); and Hongwei Ding’s story about the use of multimedia technologies like 3D animation, projections and interactive displays at the Beijing Aquarium.
The role of aquariums in community empowerment has also inspired me, from collaborative efforts in Taiwan to educate people involved in the tourism industry about the uniqueness of their local environment; to investment in youth development to develop future marine scientists and conservationists at Monterey Bay Two Oceans Aquarium and the Two Oceans Aquarium, and to develop citizenship (eg through the World Ocean Network’s Youth Parliaments).
Actions for the future
A number of suggestions were made during the discussion sessions and I’ll run through a few of them:
- Captive breeding: to broaden collaboration across the IAC community to identify key species, and to share information, research findings and animals. To this end, a form has already been created on the 8th IAC on the Two Oceans Aquarium website, and you are invited to complete a form and join the captive-breeding group here.
- Sustainable collections policies: to develop and share best practice criteria across the IAC community.
- Coordinated collection plans: to expand collaborative collections and breeding projects, based on the regional example of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
- Accrediting ethical suppliers: to develop an international list of suppliers and encourage the IAC community to use these suppliers.
- Promoting ethical practices: To influence and enable our non-aquarium partners to comply with ethical practices.
- Focusing on education: To increase the participation of educators in future IACs – this initiative will be led by the education interest group.
In summary, let us recall that the youth, in the Voices of the Future of the Oceans declaration, which they presented on the first day of this Congress, asked the global aquarium community to …
- emphasise education, conservation and human attachment;
- Motivate and inspire our visitors;
- Use technology intentionally and sparingly;
- Continue a dialogue with the public after their aquarium visits;
- Enable the youth to undertake simple, achievable and gratifying actions; and
- Identify and nurture future leaders and innovators.
The youth have provided us with a mandate – let us not fail them.
I thank you.