If only I could be Sanjayan.

Or Erik Meijaard.

Or Ali Green.

Or Dave Mehlman.

Exploring beautiful and remote lands and waters, side by side with sea turtles, orangutans, manta rays and…prairie chickens. Seeing with their eyes the very diversity we are trying to protect.

But such is not my lot in life. As the manager of communications related to the Conservancy’s international policy efforts, mine is the world of the everyday convention center; the hallowed acronym; the sought-after “bilat” (“blilateral agreements,” for those of you not accustomed to policy lingo); the prickly position paper; and if I’m really lucky, the extremely rare head-of-state dinner.

My first (and to this day still my only) head of state dinner was when the president of Palau and colleagues from five island governments launched the Micronesia Challenge, an ambitious regional initiative to conserve 20 percent of their land areas and 30 percent of nearshore areas. This in and of itself was and remains a tremendous achievement, inspiring conservation action across Micronesia, and inspiring me by how much can be accomplished through political will and convention centers.

And during that evening, another inspiration was born. President Yudhoyono of Indonesia, while not there in person, sent a message signaling his intent to formalize collaboration with neighboring governments to protect the vital resources of the Coral Triangle. It was a short speech, even an overlooked moment in that dinner, but one that lives on today.

Next week, during the World Oceans Conference, President Yudhoyono’s vision will take hold at another head of state dinner, this time with leaders of six countries who will officially launch the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries, and Food Security (CTI). This broad-based effort recognizes that the sustainability of marine and coastal resources is vital for the safety and security of coastal and island people around the region.

The Nature Conservancy is supporting these governments – in conference halls, coastal communities and on coral reefs — to find solutions that can help. We are working with the people of the Penida islands to ensure their livelihoods – based on fisheries and tourism – are sustainable. We are working with the Indonesian government to protect the Savu Sea. We have been innovating conservation methods for addressing climate change, creating resilient networks of marine protected areas in places like Kimbe Bay and across the globe.

While my life list for heads of state dinners will remain at one (look for a guest post from our global marine team lead Lynne Hale who will attend the CTI gala), I will be reporting from inside the UN climate negotiations in Bonn in early June, where the Conservancy will be advocating for a global solution to climate change, and demonstrating how efforts like the CTI can help protect the world’s most vulnerable communities from the impacts of climate change.

Not all conservationists are in the jungle discovering new species and measuring tree cover, or counting reef species in crystal clear tropical seas. Some make the biggest difference in conference rooms. So I dare say to the Sanjayans, Eriks, Alis and Daves of this world… you keep up your good fight, and we will keep up ours. We will fight in the halls of the Manado, Bonn and Copenhagen convention centers to the lay the groundwork for the very conservation that you so colorfully achieve.

(Image: UN Climate Change Conference dais in Bali, 2007. Credit: David Steven through a Creative Commons license.)

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  1. What’s the carbon footprint for one of these transoceanic conferences?

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