We woke early and excited (and maybe just a little nervous). Today was our big day where we were the featured presenters at an environmental education conference organized by Vlad BG. We’d seen this event on our itinerary prior to the trip and not thought much about it, but now it was being billed as a much bigger deal that several higher-ups would be attending, the U.S. Consulate for Vladivostok among them. There would also be a couple TV crews. I suddenly regretted not brining a dress shirt or tie. Oh well.
The conference was being held in the auditorium of the nearby Institute of Marine Biology. Vlad is a major port serving this part of the world, and a fishing hub to boot. As such, marine biology is much better funded than botany, and this favoritism was reflected in the well-kept building beautifully perched on the shoreline overlooking Peter the Great Bay. The interior was bright white, pristine and filled with natural light. The auditorium was smallish, but the stadium seating allowed for at least 200 people. There were about 60 in attendance for the conference.
Our colleagues from Vlad BG were up first, filling everyone in on their efforts to establish an EE program, and referencing their visit to Seattle. It was a good segue into my presentation on the UWBG. I’ve done a version of this presentation during the last few guide trainings, and could almost give it in my sleep, so I hadn’t felt the need to rehearse. Delivering a talk through a translator, however, is a whole different ball of wax. Fortunately, my translator was Tony, who knows the garden every bit as well as I do, so whatever gaps I left, he filled in. It was very much a tag-team effort and as if by design, we finished exactly at our allotted time 45 mins. There was 30 mins. carved out for questions, and to my surprise, the audience used every second of it – they were captivated! It felt good to have come through for our hosts who had kind of gone out on a limb to have us there.
We took a brief lunch break and were then given a tour of the museum housed on the top floor. It was modest in size, but really cool, featuring sections of a Blue Whale skeleton and countless other sea creatures large and small. My favorite part was this hokie little video illustrating how whales evolved from land animals (I’ll try to attach it). After our tour, it was time for Sally and I to give our joint talk titled, “Environmental Education: Theory and Practice”. I presented the first half going over the what, who, why and how of EE. This was followed up by Sally using the Mountains to Sound Greenway as a case study and then back to me to talk about EE at the Arboretum. To our great delight, the audience was very interested in all of it. During the intermission afterwards people were gushing at how interesting my part had been and one woman even asked where I was published. I felt like a rock star, especially b/c I had given a rough version of this talk during guide training last spring that nearly put everyone to sleep.
After our joint presentation, Sally presented more in depth on the Greenway. She had managed to send her slides over well enough in advance to have them translated into Russian, and so tall Katya, one of the Vlad BG staff, was the one to actually deliver the information. It was so robotic and quick, though, that Sally pretty much re-presented everything during the Q&A session. While they have protected natural areas in the Russian Far East (“zapopriedniks”), this concept of working with business interests to link together large tracts of land as wildlife corridors is a new one for them. This foreign way of doing things was beautifully illustrated by a question from Pavol who asked, “So how do you force the businesses to compromise with you”. After Sally, there were a slew of very brief presentations from various groups doing EE in the region, including a high school student who spoke about how they were promoting “tiger day” at their school. It was not the last we would hear of tiger day.
The conference ended around 5pm, there was another hour or schmoozing and picture taking, and everyone could finally take a big breath of relief. We had done it and it was a complete success. But our day was not over, not by a long shot. It turned out that we now had a meeting to go to with an organization known as the Phoenix Foundation located in downtown Vlad. I would have been pissed about this if not for the character we would meet when we got there, Alexander, my new hero. He’s a former botanist turned biology teacher turned EE activist who is sharper than a tack with the energy of a Jack Russell on speed. The small outfit of which he is a part (I think they are 6), is dedicated to stopping poachers, raising awareness of Primoria’s incredible biodiversity, and developing educational materials for teachers to use in the classroom. They’re also responsible for making tiger day something of a national holiday around these parts. To top it all off, he took us up on the roof for a bird’s eye view of Vlad.