IUCN World Parks Congress

More than 3,000 leaders from over 160 countries have gathered in Sydney, Australia between November 12-19, 2014 for the IUCN World Parks Congress (WPC).

This conference is a prestigious global gathering of protected area leaders and professionals along with individuals representing a cross-section of society. Together,  they are focused on the role of protected areas in addressing many common challenges including climate change, poverty, sustainable development, disaster risk reduction, human health and well-being, and food and water security.

For Students on Ice (SOI), the WPC is a wonderful opportunity to showcase our partnership with Parks Canada and the role of our national parks in connecting youth to nature. Between 2014-2016 Parks Canada is supporting 13 youth across Canada’s north and south to participate in SOI’s educational, life-changing expeditions to the Arctic.

At this year’s World Parks Congress, Parks Canada will feature a film produced by Students on Ice and captured during SOI’s 2014 Arctic Expedition that beautifully illustrates the impact our national parks have on youth from around the world to educate, inspire and empower youth as global ambassadors.

Representing SOI at the World Parks Congress is Justin Fisch, a law student at McGill University and one of three Students on Ice alumni and Parks Canada Youth Ambassadors attending the conference. Justin is a wonderful example of youth impacted by the SOI experience and with a deeper understanding of the global importance of our natural world. Follow below as Justin provides insight and updates from Sydney…

Justin Fisch Parks Canada Ambassador
November 13, 2014

Just a month ago, I had the opportunity to attend the National Wilderness Conference, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This huge celebration of wilderness preservation in the US was an amazing event, in which I learned so much about wilderness, how we define it, what we want out of it, and why we’re preserving it. Yet, it left me yearning for more.

If wilderness in the United States can be preserved in the US by an Act of Congress, by a simple stroke of a pen, how can we get it done elsewhere? Do we include people in our definition of wilderness? Ought a wild landscape to be cared for and managed by local populations? And most of all, are the “wilderness” landscapes actually being preserved on the ground?

That’s what brings me to Sydney: the search to answer some of these questions. I’m curious to see conservation in action. I want to witness functional preservation. And I’m looking to expand my understanding of environmental protection, far beyond our North American concept. At the World Parks Congress, I intend on attending sessions on marine wilderness, Arctic lands, and youth engagement in policy formation. But those are just initial ideas. We’ll see where the tides take me!

November 16, 2014


Photo (c) Christopher Hugh Smith

The World Parks Congress has been an incredible experience thus far. Things got off to a bang with CPAWS (the Canadian Parks and Wildlife Society) and the WILD Foundation’s Wilderness Evening, in which we were serenaded with “wilderness rap”, emphasizing the importance of conservation in song. Last evening, the Canadian delegation enjoyed a cheerful evening in downtown Sydney, in which Students on Ice Ambassadors Claire, Mila, and Justin mingled with parks advocates from government, non-profit organizations, and companies. This morning finds us engaged in “Arctic Dialogues”, where SOI is quite well recognized!

November 17, 2014

Today, we felt the true worldwide impact of the SOI Experience. Claire and I woke up bright and early to attend the early morning “Arctic Dialogues”, moderated by the Pew Foundation and Oceans North. The session was intimate and detailed, sharing deep experiences of Northern interaction and conservation. To start the session, our moderator went around the room, asking each dialogue participant to introduce themselves. The five people ahead of us quietly mentioned their name and affiliation, moving in quick succession. Then, I had the opportunity to speak. “Hi all, my name is Justin, and I’m from Nova Scotia. I’m here on behalf of Students on Ice.” A clatter of exclamation and acknowledgement followed, with each person in the room nodding in succession. A good 90% of participants had heard of the organization, and knew of its purpose and objectives. A further 10% had worked with SOI, recognizing the important work it does in Arctic education. Following Claire and I’s introductions, the remaining participants in the session nearly all acknowledged their cooperation with Students on Ice. Whether they had consulted with the organization, sent a student on an expedition, or heard of its impact in a small community, all held SOI in high regard.

Seeing Students on Ice’s success in the Arctic niche of the parks and conservation was wonderful. But even more powerful was the reception it received this evening, from the grand hall of the “Inspiring a New Generation” stream. A film night at the conference saw inspirational videos of youth engagement being broadcast to hundreds of attendees at an informal gathering. Deep in conversation, I looked up and witnessed the yearning song and voices I so quickly recognized from this summer’s expedition. Sira’s (Sira Chayer, SOI videographer) Arctic Expedition recap began to play. Ten minutes of nostalgia enveloped me, wishing I could be back North, contemplating the deep thoughts and questions I so often posed myself over the course of the expedition. Before I knew it, a tap on my shoulder. There, Alan Latourelle, CEO of Parks Canada. “Do you want to speak about your experience?” he said. Of course, I thought. What had I come to Australia for anyway?!? But too quickly, I was getting emotional. Claire and I walked up on stage, leaning on each other for support. She spoke first. She laughed, she cried, and she brought out compassion and understanding in all that had witnessed the video. A tough act to follow. But I tried, and I think I did ok. I tried to vocalize a deep experience, to tell an emotional story. Maybe I succeeded, maybe I didn’t. But I know that as as result, I expressed the impact SOI has had on my life, and will continue to have on hundreds more students in the coming years. I can’t wait to keep telling this story.

What a day.


November 18, 2014

An Ocean of Parks

(c) Students on Ice _ Orca Tremblay Sound

Orca in Tremblay Sound – Photo (c) Students on Ice

This morning, as I sat in the closing plenaries of the IUCN World Parks Congress 2014, one thing became overly evident: the ocean needs more parks! This morning, six countries opened the final day of the Congress with commitments to action, ensuring the “Promise of Sydney” would be implemented in their homelands. The common thread? Marine protection.

The Honourable President of Madagascar committed to tripling marine protected areas in his jurisdiction. The Vice-President of the Comoros guaranteed protection for nearly all of its coastal waters. The Australian Minister of the Environment committed to ending dumping in the Great Barrier Reef and promised to end mining in Antarctica. The Russian Minister of the Environment and Resources guaranteed coastal protection and enforcement along its vast Arctic waterways. The South African Deputy Environmental Minister agreed to spearheaded a comprehensive pan-African network of marine protected areas. And finally, the French government committed to strengthening the laws protecting its overseas territorial waters and called for strict governance of the high seas.

Wow. That’s a lot of promises. Yet again, those constitute only six states of over 200 in the world. We have work to do in marine and ocean governance and the IUCN is taking notice. The ocean comprises over 71% of our planet, yet we are far from protecting it adequately. The World Parks Congress in 2004 saw little to no discussion of marine protection in Durban. Great leaps have been made in Sydney, yet more remains to be done in Russia come 2024.

Laws and legislation come slow. Commitments and promises waver. Economic incentives change.

Yet education does not fail. Marine education and ocean exploration are vital to future protection. Experiential adventures off of land will contribute to our limited knowledge of the world’s valuable seas. That is just part of the reason we must keep doing what we’re doing.

Stay tuned for more updates!

Live Stream Schedule
To follow the dialogue at WPC through live streaming click HERE


Students on Ice is proudly supported by bv02.

This website was made possible by a generous contribution from the Leacross Foundation.

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