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International Coral Reef Symposium 2012 – Eco Koh Tao



International Coral Reef Symposium - July 8th, 2012

Be a Force for Change


Leaving a chilly but sunny Melbourne behind I headed north for the world’s largest collection of scientists and conservationists for The 2012 International Coral Reef Symposium in Cairns.


It was cloudy and rain threatened on this first day in the FNQ, that’s Far North Queensland to the uninitiated. Landing at a quite Cairns airport I made my way to the Cairns Convention Centre for registration and the first of the official functions of the week, a welcome reception of canapés (that’s snacks) and drinks.


I met a few people mostly from the ARC (it seems this week will be a lot about tla’s (three letter acronyms) and titles. The ARC is the Australian Research Centre for Excellence. So why it isn’t the ARCfE I don’t know.

The symposium organisers have excelled themselves in preparation especially in an attempt to limit the carbon footprint of the event.

Held at the Cairns Convention Centre which is listed as “Australia’s first environmentally designed major public building” has apparently won many awards for its energy and resource conservation features is the first step. Other include providing proceedings on wooden USB sticks (sustainable forest wood perhaps?) to prevent the paper cost (both environmental and financial). My favourite is the use of water fountains and supplying each person with their own refillable water bottle to prevent the purchase and consumption of thousands of unnecessary plastic water bottles. Like!

Catering has requested food that is sustainably and locally grown but when I asked what sort of fish was being served at the welcome drinks I was told it was ‘reef fish’, whatever that means. I didn’t push for an explanation but I figured that for a Coral Reef convention sustainable fish stocks might be a high priority, despite the reality that with over 6 billion people on the planet there isn’t a great deal that can be eaten sustainably these days, especially when you are trying to feed over 2000 people for 5 days.

That’s right, 2000 delegates, over 1500 presentations. There’ll be enough talking over the week to out the Harvard debating team to shame with much hot air but whether or not any real solutions can be stumbled upon remains to be seen.

I am impressed that even left overs are to be donated (if still suitable) to a local charity helping people in need.

Then there’s the consideration of the carbon footprint of the 1000’s of flights and hotel stays and taxi trips and the like and  you wonder how sustainable can it be, but I admire that they are doing what they can, which is my motto for any conservation movement/effort/group/whatever. Do what you can, sometimes in the face of immense challenges and hardships and seeming impossibilities. Be a force for change, good and the betterment of life on earth. As scientists, conservationists, academics, students and people this should be the number one aim of our week here in Cairns, beyond anything else.


Nathan Cook

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