Huge thanks to Maïté Delmas of the Le Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle in Paris for collaborating with ICOM NATHIST in our partnership with the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums and Botanic Gardens Conservation International in presenting our work to the Council of the Parties (COP XI) of the Convention on Biodiversity. By all accounts it was a huge success.
The presentation (text below) was given at a side event as part of the “Communication, Education and Public Awareness” (CEPA) Fair, which provides a unique opportunity for Parties and organizations to highlight their work and their contribution to the implementation of the three objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity. More information on the event can be found here.
Following is the text that was prepared for the event. It includes only those aspects that were prepared by ICOM. Maïté also presented work that the Muséum national is doing. Please contact us if you would like more information on that.
Welcome to this talk on behalf of the International Council of Museums Committee for Museums and Collections of Natural History. Dr Eric Dorfman was to have made this presentation. Unfortunately, he regrets he was unable to attend today.
ICOM NATHIST is the natural history arm of International Council of Museums, which is run by a Paris-based secretariat.
- An organisation created in 1946 by and for museum professionals.
- A unique network of almost 30,000 members and museum professionals who represent the global museum community.
- A diplomatic forum made up of experts from 137 countries and territories to respond to the challenges museums face worldwide.
- A consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
- 117 National Committees and 31 International Committees dedicated to various museum specialties.
- A leading force in ethical matters.
- One of the founding members of the International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS).
- A Public Interest Organisation.
- 3 official languages: English, French and Spanish.
ICOM sets standards for museums in design, management and collections organisation. The ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums is a reference in the global museum community. It establishes minimum standards for professional practices and achievements for museums and their employees. By joining ICOM, each member is committed to respecting this code.
Leading a Diplomatic Forum
ICOM is officially associated with multilateral international conventions on heritage. As a diplomatic forum made up of 137 countries and territories, it gathers international professionals, renowned for their contribution to culture.
Developing the professional network
With almost 30,000 members, ICOM is a unique professional network of institutions and museum professionals. ICOM brings together museum experts to discuss various museum-related themes.
Leading a Global Think Tank
ICOM’s 31 International Committees conduct advanced research in their respective fields for the benefit of the museum community. They discuss and reflect on museum-and heritage-related issues.
ICOM carries out its international missions thanks to international mandates in association with partners such as UNESCO, INTERPOL and the World Customs Organisation (WCO). ICOM’s missions include:
- Fighting the illicit traffic of cultural goods
- Risk management
- Culture and knowledge promotion
- Protection of tangible and intangible heritage
ICOM NATHIST represents members of ICOM that are focused on collecting and interpreting natural history.
NATHIST is concerned with the conservation of biological diversity in museums collections as well as in the natural environment, the scientific study of the world’s natural heritage and the education of the wider public through museum displays, conferences, field trips, etc. It also provides a point of contact and a forum for professional interaction for all those who work in museums with natural history collections as well as those in institutions having similar aims such as Zoological and Wildlife Parks, Botanical Gardens, Aquaria, National Centres, Paleontological and Geological Sites etc. Every year we come together to work on issues of strategic significance.
Natural history museums are famous for displaying extinct species and, in times past, infamous for contributing to their demise. But modern museums do a considerable amount for the environment in terms of research, conservation and in raising public awareness. Increasingly, museums are also leading the way in primary research in conservation.Hundreds of thousands of migratory shorebirds undertake annual migrations of up to 30,000 km between South America and the Canadian Arctic, stopping to rest and refuel at points along the way. These critical “staging grounds” are under threat from global climate change, over-harvesting of food supplies, and disturbance or destruction of habitat. Most migratory shorebirds are in serious decline. Scientists from the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto collaborate with researchers in Argentina to band birds in Delaware Bay, USA, paving the way for a vitally needed conservation management plan.
The island of Timor is one of the biologically most diverse and complex regions in the world. The Australian Museum is conducting the first comprehensive and combined survey of the land and marine fauna of Timor Leste. The work will form the basis for conservation planning and the design of a Protected Area Network. The aim is to analyse distribution patterns for various animal groups. The combined analysis of biodiversity and environmental data assists with conservation planning and helps to highlight areas for protection and management as well as allowing us to estimate biodiversity losses from past and predicted impacts across different environments.
The Iberian Lynx is one of the world’s most endangered mammals, with only 84 left in Spain, the SouthWest in, Donana National Park and to the north North, in the Sierra Morena. Researchers from the Natural History Museum in London used DNA to confirm presence of lost lynx population in the Sistema Central. This work was directly responsible for halting progress on a major highway through their habitat.
Arguably the most extensive conservation programme by any museum is that of the Smithsonian Institution’s Tropical Research Institution, with facilities on Barro Colorado Island in Panama. STRI scientists, fellows, staff, and students are involved in a large number of conservation-related initiatives. The STRI Conservation Forum, a periodic meeting at the Tupper Headquarters in Panama City, brings together many of those interested in conservation policy, research, and education. Long-term protection of the forests and wildlife at Barro Colorado Island National Monument. Major public-education initiatives at Culebra Island, Galeta, Barro Colorado Island, Bocas del Toro and other STRI facilities that host tens of thousands of visitors each year. Programs to train environmental decision-makers in Latin America and the Asian tropics, in cooperation with Yale University, known as the Environmental Leadership Training Initiative (ELTI). STRI’s long tradition of natural history research reveals the rich lives of organisms other than ourselves and helps us care about them.
Research and conservation action are key roles played by natural history museums, aligning them well with other academic institutions. But they also serve another function, that of interfacing with the public, that makes them unique. Museums can go about this in many different ways, addressing the big questions of biodiversity on a grand scale. They also can provide the opportunity for intimate moments of reflection. Research has shown that the public look to museums to explain complicated issues in an unbiased way, which puts them in a place of credibility and trust. In fact, museums are better trusted than governments or even universities when it comes interpreting the natural world.
How do we maximise the benefits of this role to aid nature conservation?
Museums expend some of their interpretation effort in encouraging the public to act responsibly and proactively. Ideally, we want to create thinking, informed citizens that care enough about the environment to become personally involved. Often, our focus is on children and families, from an understanding of the value intergenerational equity. Different museums approach this in different ways. Through inspiring visitors on the diversity of life…
…through telling stories…
… and through active engagement.
By taking action ourselves, and providing opportunities for others to act, we authenticate the experience of conservation.
Several times each summer, employees at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian release ladybugs into its landscape as a natural control for aphids. Each of the diminutive beetles will eat thousands of the plant-sucking pests in its lifetime. The ladybug releases are made joyous by local children who join museum staff in releasing the bugs on the sunny southern side of the Washington museum, where corn, beans and squash are just some of the indigenous American crops grown and enjoyed by thousands of visitors each year.
Conservation is made more relevant and, we argue, only possible, with the active participation of local and indigenous peoples. Earlier this year, ICOM NATHIST released a new book Intangible Natural Heritage, exploring humanity’s cultural relationships to nature, in the context of conservation and societal development. The book includes examples like Chinese people’s connections to singing crickets, which stretches back thousands of years, and links to current-day problems of conserving urban biodiversity. A key conclusion from the book is that the human element is fundamentally important to the concept of intangible natural heritage, and its preservation. Without a perception of “value”, it is difficult to argue a case for conservation.
In 2010, COP X acknowledged the role that museums and other collecting institutions play in communication, education and public awareness in informing stakeholders on the importance of implementing the third objective of the Convention on Biological Diversity. It also recognised museums’ placing in facilitating the recovery of traditional knowledge of biological diversity.
Collecting institutions are also well placed to make considerable implementing targets from the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 from the conference in Aichi in March this year. Particularly relevant are Target 1, raising awareness and 12, halting the decline of species. At the same time, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) was formed to respond to requests for scientific information related to biodiversity and ecosystem services from Governments, relevant multilateral environmental agreements and United Nations bodies, as well as other relevant stakeholders. “IPBES will be an interface between the scientific community and policy makers that aims to build capacity for and strengthen the use of science in policy making. IPBES will be the mechanism that addresses the gaps in the science policy interface on biodiversity and ecosystem services.” ICOM NATHIST believes this presents a challenge and an opportunity for the museum community. On one hand, we are providers of essential science that will contribute to information that IPBES will use to make informed recommendations. Additionally, we provide a connection to public awareness and traditional knowledge, both of which are essential ingredients for effective conservation.
ICOM NATHIST has just launched a global initiative that has many of these elements and, we believe, great potential to form a nexus between scientific knowledge and public awareness. This is the website for “Platform 2022”, a global initiative promoting the wise use of nature. It was the initiative of a think-tank of natural history museums and is now being developed in partnership with the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums and Botanic Gardens Conservation International. At the heart of the initiative is the call to governments to support collecting institutions’ mission to raise awareness for conservation and sustainable development, as well as to use the best science available when forming policy. The programme is delivered through a website. In recognition that the argument will be much stronger embedded in a public awareness campaign, there are two ways to engage a general audience.
In the first, museums, zoos, aquariums and botanic gardens can download a free exhibition of stunning large-format photographs contributed by a range of Platform 2022’s institutional partners. The exhibition can be displayed alongside existing object cases, animal enclosures or as part of a solitary experience.
In the second, the public can contribute directly, through posting their photographs and statements. The Platform encourages to think of their favourite places that are vulnerable to unsustainable development, climate change or invasive species.
The social media component can also be used as part of the exhibition.
Following are a few photographs available for the exhibition. The first is part of a campaign contributed by the WAZA, advertising the urgency of reducing the Earth’s carbon to below 350 parts per million.
- Other photographs come from the Canadian Arctic
- Brazilian rainforests
- New Zealand mountains
- They also represent a range of endangered species
- The site also includes a downloadable production manual giving technical information for exhibitors.
Please feel free to contact Dr Dorfman for further information on this project
Thank you for listening