Can’t go to New Zealand? Try Twitter for a seat @ the 25th International Congress for Conservation Biology

by CB alum Andy Holdsworth (’06)

When I saw that the 2011 SCB meeting was going to be in New Zealand I immediately wrote the meeting off. Then I came across the SCB press release for the conference two days ago. It said, “The center of the conservation universe will shift to Auckland, New Zealand…where more than 1,300 biologists, scientists and conservation professionals will meet.”  I got excited in anticipation of this significant meeting.  How could you not when the center of the conservation universe is shifting? I wondered how much I could glean from the meeting while it happened 8,000 miles away?  I searched Twitter for the hashtag “#SCB”.  This turned up a random mix of things I could only begin to guess the meaning of.  But then I tried #ICCB (for International Congress of Conservation Biology) and found a few tweeters organizing their hashtags and sharpening their tweets.

Is this just my own quirky curiosity?  Yes and no.  Scientific meetings are an essential means for conservation scientists and professionals to share their latest research findings, network, collaborate, build community, and have some fun. Yet, meetings are more and more challenging to get to, especially in this economy. They are costly in dollars and carbon.  I was set to go to a conference in Florida in November.  It was canceled due to so many agency employees facing out-of-state travel restrictions.  For the meetings that do occur, how could people better participate without traveling great distances?  How can new technologies help people participate wherever they are?  The MN Chapter of SCB first experimented with podcasts from its annual meeting 5 years ago. We would like to try other ideas for broadening the reach of meetings in real-time.  I am taking the 25th ICCB as an opportunity to evaluate other technologies, in particular Twitter. 

I tuned in to #ICCB again towards the end of the first afternoon (Dec. 5th) of the Congress (Auckland is 19 hours ahead of Central Standard Time!).  Here are some selections from the #ICCB Twitter-verse.  I hope this gives you a sense of the dialogue that can occur beyond the walls of a conference center. 

Here are the basics-  a Tweet with a link to the conference program:

LizNeeley Keep an eye on the #ICCB hashtag to keep up with the Society for Conservation Biology meeting in New Zealand. Program:

This is cool- I found out that the President of SCB was interviewed about the Congress on a New Zealand news show: (check it out by clicking the “” link below).

Spokesbird Skraaark! Watch @breakfastonone talk to the President of the Society for Conservation Biology: #ICCB

By far the champ Tweeter is a shark conservation biologist and blogger from Florida named David Shiffman.  He seemed to be sending a tweet every 1-2 minutes for his first three hour session! 

WhySharksMatter #ICCB The leaders of each of the “Think Tank” brainstorming sessions will give a brief presentation, followed by a Q&A with the public.

He is getting pretty excited:

WhySharksMatter #ICCB At the end of the public Q & A for Auckland citizens, the organizers will open up the panel to questions from Twitter!!

WhySharksMatter #ICCB Audience includes scientists, government officials, NGO representatives, local journalists, and local citizens. Awesome!

Here is one of many tweets on what is being presented:

WhySharksMatter #ICCB These marine resources are traditionally managed for food security (avoid overharvesting), not conservation.

He apparently got many questions.  Here is one and then another to give you a sense of how far away they are coming from.

Dmnhauntedworld @WhySharksMatter – Why is it hard to convince fishers (especially recreational) that MPAs work? Penny-wise and pound foolish?

WhySharksMatter Hey @Boraz – I’m tweeting an international panel on marine conservation and have been able to ask questions from folks from 5 continents!

He tweeted the panelists answers to questions.  For example…

WhySharksMatter #ICCB Question: Dr. Bowen ( @NerdyChristie ‘s adviser) believes that scientists should be better COMMUNICATORS, not better advocates

The Nature Conservancy’s Lead Scientist, M. Sanjayan, apparently liked this statement and tweeted on his way to the meeting: 

M Sanjayan @WhySharksMatter @NerdyChristie – better communicators not better advocates needed in the science community

And the latest development to come in as I wrote this post. 

HonuaConsulting @WhySharksMatter SCB marketing & communications coordinator sent out an email to moderators asking them to inform their sessions about #ICCB

Will #ICCB go viral?

What can you find out about the content and dialogue at the meeting?  What would you like to know about the meeting?  We could send a tweet to these #ICCB informants and see if we get some valuable answers.      

About the author:  Andy Holdsworth is President of the Minnesota Chapter of the Society for Conservation Biology and Science Policy Coordinator at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. He can be reached at You can follow him on Twitter @Phrius