LIHUE — It’s a first for Hawaii, and a first for the country, too.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature Council on Wednesday selected Hawaii to host the world’s largest conservation event in 2016.
Hawaii beat out Turkey, the other finalist, to earn the global convention. It will be the first time the World Conservation Congress will be held in the United States, and coincides with the 100th anniversary of the U.S. National Park Service.
“This has been a long and challenging journey but through it all I never once doubted that Hawaii was the best location in the world for IUCN to host this in 2016,” said Chipper Wichman, director and CEO of the National Tropical Botanical Gardens, who served as chair of the IUCN 2016 Steering Committee. “We have never wavered from that dream in spite of what looked like insurmountable odds.”
Held every four years, the IUCN World Conservation Congress brings together leaders from government, public sector, non-governmental organizations, business, UN agencies and indigenous and grassroots organizations to decide solutions to the world’s most pressing environment and development challenges, according to an IUCN release.
In February, a four-person IUCN delegation came to Hawaii to meet with government, hospitality industry, conservation and Native Hawaiian leaders. Its trip included a visit to Kauai and a tour of NTBG.
“I have every confidence that Hawaii, with its outstanding facilities, rich biological diversity, vibrant indigenous culture, ‘Aloha spirit’ and strong commitment to conservation and sustainable development, will provide an outstanding setting for our 2016 Congress,” IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefèvre said in a release.
Spokeswoman Janet Leopold said NTBG was pleased by the Hawaii selection. As for whether Kauai can expect to see Congress events held here at home remains unclear.
“My guess would be it is too early in the process to say exactly what will happen on Kauai, but the fact that the selection committee made trips to Kauai and Hawaii Island comes into play,” Leopold said.
The Hawaii Convention Center, situated in central Honolulu’s Waikiki district, will serve as the Congress venue. As many as 8,000 delegates are expected to attend the meeting.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie said he was elated by Wednesday’s announcement.
“The conference will allow the Aloha State to highlight its conservation efforts to the rest of the world and demonstrate leadership in addressing global, environmental and development challenges,” he said in a statement.
The Hawaii proposal received broad support, including from President Barack Obama.
“The United States would be honored to host the World Conservation Congress for the first time in the over-60 year history of the IUCN,” he wrote in a letter to IUCN. “As someone who grew up in Hawaii, I know the warmth and hospitality of the Hawaiian people will make a lasting impression on the delegates to the Congress.”
Wichman described Obama’s letter of support as one of the many highlights of the odyssey.
“When I saw that letter I knew we were close and now we are there!” Wichman said. “It is amazing to me to see this announcement coming as the Hokulea prepares for her voyage around the world taking our message or malama honua (to care for our Earth) with her. This is truly Hawaii’s time to engage the world and help lead the way.”
The United States boasts 85 IUCN Member Organizations, eight of which are in Hawaii, and is home to more than 2,200 IUCN Commission members.
The Hawaiian Archipelago hosts eight national parks, two renowned World Heritage Sites (Papah‘naumoku‘kea, a Marine National Monument and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park) and an expansive Biosphere Reserve.
The IUCN Congress will be held from Sept. 1-10, 2016, and will “provide the host country with the opportunity to promote and demonstrate leadership on global environmental issues,” according to a release.
The last World Conservation Congress was held in 2012 in Jeju, Republic of Korea.
For more information on the conference visit www.iucn.org.
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.