10 August 1998
"Saving the world" really happens at the local level, when people come together to plant trees and count shellfish and check the quality of water in their streams. But from 31 August to 4 September (NZ time), we here in New Zealand concerned about our local coastal ecology will have the rare opportunity to make an impact internationally via the Internet. Two New Zealanders invited to an important international conference about local ecology are using the latest in high technology so that everyone can hear highlights of the action and take part in the discussions. This exchange means local experiences from around the world are made available to the very people who can use this knowledge in their own local places.
The conference is in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, the third in six years held by the Canadians who are among the leaders in local action. They recognize that there are many important local New Zealand efforts and innovations. One of these is the work of Neighbourhood Biology (NBio), a non profit group assisting locals throughout the country in building ecological knowledge and taking action. Invited to the conference is Mary Gardner, biologist from Neighbourhood Biology, who is chairing a session about local empowerment. Also attending is Morgan Varaine, computer specialist with NBio , who is setting up the live transmission and discussion lines on the internet for the conference.
Neighbourhood Biology is a nation wide collective of local people and specialists, dedicated to working on the local level. One of the key activities of the group is building local efforts in different catchments, creating local employment and developing community spirit through environmental research and action. Their first programme in Blueskin Bay, near Dunedin, was cited by Lotteries as one of the best projects funded in 1997. Recently, they put a bid in to the Ministry of the Environment to help finance similar programmes in five catchments across the country. Both locals and councils have a special interest in such community based approaches and the issues they raise about participation and co-management. The approach can build local communities as people come together to take action on difficult problems of pollution, environmental degradation and social breakdown.
"Although we are making the first steps here in New Zealand, we have a lot to learn from overseas, " says Mary Gardner. "We are only just beginning to develop the kind of relationships between locals, specialists and officials to share not just the workload but the decision making as well. Being involved in this international conference will show us here in New Zealand just what can be accomplished and how we might achieve that. An organisation like NBio is one that can help make it happen by bringing people together, by providing support, by creating opportunities. You can see that in how we make something like this conference a chance for many people to learn and to participate."
To take part in the conference, see the NBio website www.converge.org.nz/nbio
For more information, contact Mary Gardner
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