Spreading the green word

The world’s largest conservation conference will soon take place on Oahu, but Chipper Wichman said a little planning and coordination will go a long way to ensure that Kauai gets a slice of the action.

“If you think about all the great things that are going on in Kauai and if we can figure out how to harness them and market them as a package that will make attendees want to come here to see and to do and to experience — that’s what we have to do,” said Wichman, director and CEO of the National Tropical Botanical Garden and a leading voice in the winning campaign to bring the International Union for the Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress to Hawaii.

From Sept. 1-10, 2016, an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 environmental and climate leaders, policymakers and scientists from more than 160 countries will travel to Oahu to discuss, debate, and strategize as the WCC sets the global agenda for environmental conservation for the next four years.

Considered “the Olympics of conservation,” the WCC is held every four years, most recently in 2012 on Jeju island, South Korea. In its 67-year history, the Congress has never been hosted by the United States.

“We’ve got to do more than just host the best party this world has ever seen because I have no doubt that’s what we’ll do,” said Wichman, speaking to 35 members of the public gathered at Kauai Community College Tuesday for his talk on the imporance of the conference. “We need to leave a legacy behind that transforms Hawaii.”

Heather George, a Poipu resident and development consultant for the New York-based nonprofit Waterkeeper Alliance, said she attended the talk to learn more about how she can help entice conference attendees to visit Kauai.

“I am so excited it’s going to be in our front yard, especially when we are in such a critical time period with climate change,” George said.

While the 10-day conference will be held at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu, there is opportunity for Kauai to draw attendees to the island for its own offering of conservation events and workshops after the WCC is officially adjourned. Many conference attendees will want to tour neighbor islands other than Oahu before returning to their homes around the globe, according to Wichman.

George said she hopes Kauai will host its own series of events that will address watershed protection and the importance of cautious development, particularly on a rainy little island where it’s easy to see that what we put on our land quickly gets washed out to sea.

“I’m a scuba diver and I’m in the water all the time,” George said. “Most people don’t do that. Most people are not seeing what’s out there underneath the surface. It’s a beautiful ocean for people to just sit on the beach and look at, but once you get in there and you see how amazing it really is, you realize that you have to protect it.”

In addition to calling on local conservation-minded folks to brainstorm Kauai-based events to be held on the heels of the conference, Wichman discussed the statewide benefits of such an enormous gathering of environmentalists.

The Aloha State will have the opportunity to showcase the cutting-edge conservation work being done on the islands, inspire other countries to tackle their own environmental woes in new and perhaps improved ways and attract new funding sources for conservation projects, Wichman said.

The conference also presents an opportunity to educate and engage islanders in conservation work, Wichman said.

“I would like the word ‘conservation’ and the concept of conservation to become known by every resident in the state of Hawaii,” Wichman said. “Right now, most people are too busy worried about their economic sustainability, things like can they buy groceries, can they pay rent. If you took a poll of the people out there, conservation is not on their radar. We are raising that conversation in the state of Hawaii to a whole new level.”

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