The race to the conference: more Vancouver Island coverage

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Early Friday morning, a team of six tired but excited Natural Capital Project staff faced a dozen environmental policy makers and conservationists to deliver the first real workshop on Marine InVEST.

For those just tuning in to Science, Upstream, the Natural Capital Project is the Stanford-based research team that Julia and I — two graduate journalism students — have embedded ourselves with for the year. InVEST is the ocean management tool that NatCap’s marine team has been racing all spring to develop in time for this weekend’s event — the International Marine Conservation Congress in Victoria, British Columbia.

The Society for Conservation Biology organizes this event, which drew 1200 scientists, ecosystem managers policy makers and students to the inaugural Congress in 2009. The IMCC’s mission is to develop new tools to further the science and policy of marine conservation. So the Natural Capital Project saw the event as a tailor-made opportunity to release  such a tool. Marine InVEST is a GIS modeling program that allows communities to see the value of services their local ecosystem provides and weigh those values as they management decisions.

But in order to do so, NatCap’s economists, ecologists and computer programmers had to race for the last three weeks in order to ready the multi-faceted tool for its international debut.

That rush was compounded by the fact that they created Marine  InVEST in a real-life, rather than theoretical, context. For more than a year, NatCappers have been working with an organization that is managing conservation and development on Vancouver Island’s wild west coast.

The NatCap team is mostly research scientists by training, used to the relative simplicity of a lab. So they struggled to hone the theory of the tool while also applying it to a real-world context, complicated by missing data and a human timeline full of set-backs and false starts.

Friday was their first major deadline. They walked representatives from the Inter-American Development Bank, Canada’s fisheries and oceans service and The Nature Conservancy through fine-toothed details — like  how to turn excel sheets of fisheries data into colorful maps that illustrate tradeoffs between salmon fishing and building a pier.

At the workshop, Natcappers hoped the tool, developed in the context of Vancouver Island, made sense to attendees, who would apply it in places like  Columbia, Canada and Mexico. But they were also thinking ahead to their Saturday meeting with the Vancouver Island-based group, West Coast Aquatic. For that meeting, Marine InVEST wouldn’t be theoretical — it had to yield real results that West Coast Aquatic could apply to management decisions along the coastline. At the same time, they were thinking of Sunday’s symposium, where they would present the tool to an even broader pool of IMCC attendees.

For details on how Marine InVEST was received at the congress and the story of the conservation efforts on the west coast of Vancouver Island, stay tuned this week. We’ll be posting a more detailed story on the workshop, NatCap’s challenges, and the unusual story of Vancouver Island’s west coast, where communities are struggling to maintain their economies, character and natural environments.

Photo Credit:

Flickr/ Thomas Milne

Who is Science, Upstream?
JAMIE HANSEN has written for Sierra Magazine, the High Country News, and Birders’ World. She’s pursuing a master’s degree in journalism at Stanford, hoping to tie together two passions: a keen interest in the natural world and communicating with broad audiences. She has a bachelor’s degree in English from Oberlin College, but fell in love with biology during her last semester.

JULIA JAMES is a master’s candidate in Journalism at Stanford University. She often writes about issues relating to human and environmental health. When not chained to a computer, she likes to climb rocks and chase Frisbees. She holds a B.S. in geological and environmental sciences (also from Stanford) and lives in Palo Alto with six housemates and five chickens.

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