July 8, 2012 - Cold Cairns
BULA si'a from Cairns!
It has been an eventful past few days since I arrived here on Friday night.
From just gazing out of my hotel room on the eighth floor in awe of the magnificent view of this city to walkabouts in the various shopping centres, in between attending pre-events to the 12th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) that officially began at the Cairns Convention Centre yesterday.
This week is going to be an exciting one right here in this northern Queensland city of Australia.
This, by the way, is despite the ongoing hype by patriotic Queenslanders here following the Maroons win over the Blues last week.
Some crazy fans have even changed their car registration plates to mark that seventh win in a row - some plates reading 007 NIL, 7INRO, 07QRL, 08NIL and so on.
The same excitement is anticipated from this 12th international coral reef meet that welcomed 2000 people from 80 countries around the world on Sunday, including some of the world's leading natural scientists, resource managers, conservationists, economists, educators, graduate students and journalists to progress coral reef science, its management and conservation.
Participants will get to hear scientists communicate their science and also hear the latest advances in coral reef science from international experts. Their research and findings are fundamental in informing international and national policies and protocols in the conservation and sustainable use of coral reefs.
Every four years, the International Society for Reef Studies (ISRS) sanctions a major international scientific conference that provides the latest knowledge and leading edge technologies about coral reefs the world over.
And this meeting is very important because it provides the international science community with a platform to increase global knowledge, interest, and sustainable use and conservation strategies in coral reefs.
It will also showcase successful science, conservation and management efforts; develop collaborations and partnerships to increase international capacity to address coral reef issues; and also key is increased global awareness of reef degradation and possible solutions by extensive promotion.
It might just be appropriate that this year's meeting is held right here in Cairns, home to the renowned Great Barrier Reef and its protected biodiversity.
I would like to believe that there is enough awareness right here in Cairns - most of the retail outlets, souvenir shops and handicraft stalls sell clothing, posters, stickers, wall hangings, bags, and other art and craft products that promote ocean conservation.
Not to mention outlets that specifically sell products that is anything and everything ocean.
I am among a group of 12 journalists attending this symposium as fellows of SeaWeb - a US-based marine conservation organisation that deals with creating much-needed awareness on this vital issue and linking journalists with scientists and marine experts to help disseminate technical information in the simplest 'English' language possible on the need to protect our ocean and its biodiversity.
On Saturday, over lunch at the Sebel Hotel - a few minutes walk from Rydges Plaza where we are staying - our fellows from Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, Malaysia, Philippines and Solomon Islands shared common issues that we faced back in our home countries.
Where in the past, environmental issues, let alone marine issues, were not very "sexy" stuff to hit publication immediately.
We also face same issues of overfishing, coral reef degradation, and mangrove destruction to make way for developments, laxity in policies and or the monitoring mechanism and so on.
It is encouraging to learn however, of the efforts and commitment taken by some countries to address these issues right now.
At the weekend, we also attended the launch of the State of the Coral Reef Triangle Report - reports from the six countries in the triangle (PNG, Solomon Is, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia and Timor-Leste) - highlighting issues they faced, available data on risks, threats, stock and how those issues were being addressed in those participating countries.
And when this edition went to press, the 12th ICRS will also have witnessed the endorsement of a Consensus Statement by hundreds of scientists from around the world urging governments to take action for the preservation of coral reefs for the benefit of present and future generations.
This Consensus Statement was drafted by a working group of eminent scientists to address the topic of climate change impacts on coral reefs. I will delve more on this statement in my next postcard.
The ICRS meeting maybe a gathering of scientists to exchange and discuss their findings and solutions - but the core of the matter is there is a need to protect our ocean for a stable food security in the future, national stability, and a steady and continuously reliable source of income.
I must also mention that community-based initiatives for coral and ocean conservation is also getting a global spotlight here, which is testimony to the paramount importance of the matter at hand.
Well, tomorrow is another day - besides the conference and the tight program, the fellows always try their best to do a little of sightseeing in this wonderful city.
Temperature has been ranging between a minimum of 19 degrees Celsius and a maximum of 22 degrees.
That has not dampened the spirit at all.
We all are too excited about meeting each other and our purpose in this meet to be worried about the cold.
And just before I call it a night, allow me to share with you a message I took away from the Sebel Hotel on Saturday night - a statement made by the director general of UNESCO Madam Irina Barkova who said: "The future of earth depends on the ocean - as the source of life, as the prime regulator of climate, as a key provider of economic and social services."
Until tomorrow, take care and big loloma from cool Cairns. Moce mada!