By Judy Mann
Ably hosted by the Two Oceans Aquarium and attended by over 300 aquarium professionals from around the world, the Congress was a resounding success.
Related: Two Oceans Aquarium hosts the 2012 International Aquarium Congress / Durban's uShaka Sea World Launches the Ecohouse / Two Oceans Aquarium's Dr. Pat Garratt on the International Aquarium Congress (IAC) 2012
The opening celebrations, with the theme “Deep down we are one’, set the tone for the rest of the conference. What was most striking was the fellowship amongst the delegates. As this was the first IAC hosted in Africa it was interesting to note the range of countries represented – amongst other countries were China and Japan, Australia, Eastern and Western Europe, United Kingdom and the USA, as well as a good number of South African delegates. This spread made the conference far more convivial than previous conferences, as there was no single country with a dominance of delegates.
The introduction of a new form of conversational session during the conference encouraged communication between delegates, who were sitting in small groups, rather than in traditional conference style seating. This helped to break the ice and ensure that people from different aquariums and countries met each other. Probably the most striking aspect of the congress for me was the open sharing which took place. The discussions were lively and sometimes heated, but always held in an inclusive manner that encouraged participation.
A few interesting issues emerged - aquariums are a thriving business, new aquariums are opening each year, old aquariums are being bought out by commercial enterprises and are being renovated and this trend appears to show no sign of slowing down. Aquariums are, however, starting to think more carefully about their exhibits and are definitely looking at better exhibits rather than bigger exhibits.
Sustainability, the theme of the conference, is another emerging trend in aquariums, although given the inherent environmental footprint of an aquarium, we still have a long way to go before aquariums can be considered to be carbon neutral. Aquarium professionals are thinking about their collection sustainability now more than ever in the past – we all know that ‘free from the sea’ is an outdated concept and we will need to look increasingly at improved animal care, captive breeding and more sustainable collection methods.
Helping visitors to care for our oceans emerged as the primary reason for the existence of many aquariums and this issue was highlighted throughout the congress. How to improve our ability to inspire care for the oceans, and the environment in general requires a great deal more attention, as this aspect of our work is as important as our ability to care for our animals.
Having attended two previous International Aquarium Congresses, this one impressed me with the depth of issues tackled. The aquarium industry is grappling with water quality issues and animal husbandry challenges, exhibit designs and problems with legislation; however, it is also looking at sustainability and relevance, better internal governance and improved education and visitor inspiration.
The bottom line will always remain critical – but the aquarium industry is looking beyond money and is tacking the challenges facing our planet with enthusiasm and commitment. Deep down we are all one – and – based on the delegates to the IAC - the aquarium industry is united to face the future.