The Marine Education and Research Society hosted their annual three-day workshop this past weekend for people interested in getting the most current research on the marine mammals of our coast. Photo by Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror

Vancouver Island conference aimed at conservation/eco-tourism synergy

Marine Education and Research Society workshop weekend a chance to make a difference

Whale-watching tour operators, fishing guides and others who spend time on or around our waterways gathered at the Maritime Heritage Centre this past weekend for a series of workshops on the natural history and conservation of our coast.

The Marine Education and Research Society (MERS) hosted the three-day workshop, which featured presentations on general topics ranging from biodiversity and mammal classification to specific sessions on sea otters and specific types of whales.

Jackie Hildering, education director with MERS, called the weekend “a slog,” but says the intensive training was invaluable for those who attended.

“This is our fourth year,” Hildering says. “The intent of the workshop is to help those not just working within eco-tourism, but anyone with a high level of interest amplify their knowledge so that they can better have their conversations lead to conservation currency.”

Conservation currency, Hildering says, is the idea that by using the latest research and having strategies for discussions that involve solutions, rather than problems.

“If you’re living in a place like this, and taking people out somewhere and seeing humpbacks, killer whales, seals, harbour porpoises, and the list goes on, what’s the value of that?

“What are you aiming for? So that people can count the number of whales they’ve seen? No, it’s about translating that into people feeling more empowered and like they can see solutions to social and environmental problems.

“It’s about building the capacity for change,” she continues. “It’s about making the experiences of being on the water here – having guests from all over the world – making it count and make it have meaning in terms of improving the potential for happy, healthy human lives and for the ocean on which our lives depend.”

Barb Malone, came to town from her home in Gold River for the weekend to be a part of the workshop. Malone is a retired commercial fisherman who was involved in the initial identification process around orcas on our coast, working with noted cetacean researcher Dr. John Ford, and says she wanted to see how far the research has come since she was involved back in the early 1980s.

“It’s neat to see the changes and how much forward progress is being made,” Malone says. “The education and the awareness that they’re getting out there is such a huge thing.”

Part of spreading awareness, she says, comes down to the amount of information that is available these days, thanks to organizations like MERS.

“We were using almost prehistoric equipment back then, basically taking pictures on black and white film to try and gather information, and now they have all kinds of sophisticated equipment, and those changes have made a huge difference,” Malone says.

That’s the important part of weekends like this, Hildering says. It’s about making a difference.

“It’s about the big picture,” she says. “It’s about securing the future of these waters we all depend on.”

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