Janine Lavarello, the world’s most remote Marine Protection Zone Officer from Tristan da Cunha takes us across the Atlantic Ocean to Vancouver, Canada to share her experience at IMPAC5.
The International Marine Protected Areas congress (IMPAC5) took place in February 2023 brought together ocean conservation professionals and high-level officials to inform, inspire and act on Marine Protected Areas.
An exceptionally long journey!
My journey to IMPAC5 was probably the longest of any attendee! It took me 17 days to reach Vancouver. My voyage started with a seven day trip by sea to South Africa! Then two days in South Africa to get over my sea legs, a 12-hour flight to the UK where I met Siobhan Vye, RSPB Project Manager for Atlantic Guardians to prepare for the conference, before a 10-hour flight to Vancouver, Canada.
Representing the Tristan da Cunha community
I was slightly overwhelmed when we arrived at the conference because there were over 3,000 attendees - that’s 12 times the population of Tristan! Our days were packed with keynote speakers, events, speed talks and symposiums.
My first talk was at an event hosted by the Blue Nature Alliance who, alongside the Tristan Government and the RSPB, are supporting the Atlantic Guardians project to help our community build a strong and sustainable future for our Marine Protection Zone (MPZ). I was a little bit nervous as this was my first ever conference and my first ever public speaking. I was here to represent my community and showcase the MPZ which has been decades in the making. I was only 12 years old when the work on this started and now here I was, telling our story! Being the only Tristan islander there, doing that was hard and super emotional for me.
Meeting inspirational ocean conservationists
I had the privilege to meet inspirational people including Aulani Wilhelm, who co-led the Blue Nature Alliance, a global partnership to catalyse the conservation of 18 million km2 of ocean and is now working in ocean conservation at the White House. I spoke alongside others who had successfully gained global respect for protecting the ocean, including Aoife O’Mahony, Campaign Manager for the Fair Seas campaign, which is working to increase the number of Marine Protected Areas in Ireland.
Later in the conference, Atlantic Guardians co-hosted an event with the UK Government Blue Belt Programme, which supports the UK Overseas Territories with the protection and sustainable management of their marine environments. Siobhan and I shared how working in partnership was essential to help my small island achieve our conservation ambitions.
There were so many interesting talks happening it was hard to choose which one to go to. I heard about how to manage Marine Protected Areas on a global scale, remote monitoring, tackling plastic pollution, sustainable financing, blue carbon, climate change and so much more.
My best moment at the conference was hearing the inspiring stories from some of the keynote speakers, and how they had a vision and achieved it because they trusted their instincts. The speakers were from diverse backgrounds, and they showcased how they used their indigenous knowledge and involved communities to make innovative contributions to marine conservation.
A speech from Michael Vegh, from Heiltsuk Nation, a remote indigenous community on the central coast of what is now called British Columbia, Canada advocated for more indigenous led conservation and made me realise we can accomplish anything if we work hard enough and put the effort in.
Exploring the city and its wildlife
In my free time I explored the city and was impressed by all the massive buildings – we don’t have those on Tristan! I had the chance to cycle around Stanley Park, Vancouver’s first and largest urban park and enjoy the scenic views of the water, mountains, majestic trees along the seawall, as well as seeing the local wildlife, cultural and historical landmarks. After the conference I spent a day with an RSPB colleague bird watching which was truly enlightening seeing the wonderful birds of Vancouver, from the smallest Anna’s Hummingbird, Varied Thrush, Harlequin Duck, Bald Eagle, Canada Goose to the largest Trumpeter Swan.
An eye-opening experience
The congress was a real eye-opening experience. One lesson that stands out for me is to tell your story. Many people that I met hadn’t heard about Tristan before, and I’m glad that I have been able to raise awareness of our remote island and our huge Marine Protection Zone, the largest no-take zone in the Atlantic Ocean, almost three times the size of the UK.
My message to the rest of the world is: When people think how we can conserve our ocean, everyone thinks about doing something bigger and better, but you don’t have to always think big - by making small changes we can together make a huge impact.