Oral Presentation AFSS Conference 2020

A thread of connectivity - meandering through wetland research, conservation practice, community participation, international assessments, policy, and research editing to end up with the rights of wetlands (#19)

Max Finlayson 1
  1. Charles Sturt University, ALBURY, NSW, Australia

The opportunity to talk about a journey through a mix of wetland-scapes and seemingly disjunct disciplines may not excite everyone. And there is absolutely no reason it should. In my case I find it exciting and it builds from some influential statements which helped shape my meandering and connections. One was being instructed to do mission-orientated research. Another was hearing that we did not need to wait to manage wetlands while academics did yet more research. Being told by a bureaucrat that as a wetland scientist I should not be talking about climate change and wetlands. Also hearing (more than once) that they (the experts) did not listen to community members beyond taking local knowledge and publishing it. And another bureaucrat telling me that researchers should keep out of policy. As I collected and collated information that showed wetlands, their species, and their ecosystem services were in decline globally I reflected more and more on such statements.

As I meandered I noticed a few other things, including that many hard working practitioners seemed to be out of touch with current knowledge – some seemed stuck with whatever they recalled from their undergraduate days. Further, international processes and assessments simply came and went with a lack of influence on the ground. But also realising that international policy could drive national policy and local outcomes, not directly, but surreptitiously and with time. Yet with time the very things we valued were declining. Advocacy by scientists seemed to be frowned on. Science was key, but not all science is that great – check the rejection rates of journals, and ponder the vagaries of peer review. Our practitioners don’t have time to follow the endless stream of academic papers, nor have time to write papers, as they need to manage. Yet don’t they need better and more knowledge, and the rest of us would benefit by knowing what they have learnt? And our wetland-scapes are still in decline.

And at that stage we come to a hairpin bend, not just a gentle meander. Especially as all of the above is true. And we haven’t yet gotten into the need for social understanding. Unfortunately, reversing the trends for our wetland-scapes is not simple, as I am sure we all realise. Many factors intercede. The ones that I can report on across wetland research, conservation practice, community participation, international assessments, policy, and research editing are but some of what are needed. The purpose of these, in my opinion, is to ensure that wetland advocacy is alive and well and contributing to policy and to practice. We need advocacy – the data tells us that. We should ask ourselves if past practice and policy has succeeded, and will the current iterations? For myself, sharing knowledge is paramount to having better policy and practice, but it’s too slow – we also need advocacy, and it comes in many forms, including through our staid journal writings. And my current advocacy is for the rights of wetlands.