Drew Lanham can boil the definition of “conservation” down to one word — love.
“Conservation is caring about something enough, intensely enough, that you want to save some for later,” the ornithologist said Saturday during his keynote address at One Hundred Miles’ second annual “Choosing to Lead” conference. “Now, move that intensity another level — you want to save something for later for others.”
All living creatures on Earth are connected, Lanham said, and play a role in preserving and protecting this planet.
“Know that what you work to protect here is more than just 100 miles of coastline,” he said. “It is legacy and vision that will benefit countless souls that fly, swim, skid or crawl, and those of us that walk or wheel.”
One Hundred Miles, a local nonprofit environmental organization that works to preserve Georgia’s coast, hosted the two-day conference, titled “Coastal Conservation in Action Choosing to Lead.”
Around 300 attendees spent Saturday at the Jekyll Island Convention Center learning about the role they can play in protecting the coast through workshops, keynote speakers and roundtable discussions.
Participants came back together Sunday for field trips and small group discussions on how to move forward with conservation projects of their own.
Julie and Lisa Jordan, St. Simons Island residents, attended the conference hoping to learn about ways they can help protect the coast and aid local organizations doing that work.
By the end of the day Saturday, both said they had learned a great deal about how to tackle this mission.
“We’re learning about what are we going to do when the sea level rises, how do we adapt, how can we make better environmental choices,” said Julie Jordan. “So this conference is ‘Choosing to Lead,’ and they’re trying to show us how we can advocate for the environment and where we live on the coast.”
Both women are members of Women’s Voices of Glynn County, which was honored during the One Hundred Miles 100 reception, held Saturday night.
The News’ reporters Wes Wolfe and Tyler Jones were also recognized during the reception for their reporting on environmental issues affecting this area.
The conference aimed to educate people of all backgrounds on the role they can play in conservation efforts.
“This is the way you do it. This is the future,” said Wallace ‘J’ Nichols, a sea turtle scientist who gave a keynote address during the lunch break Saturday. “This is what we wish all organizations were doing and the way they were approaching these topics — in a very highly collaborative way, but from the heart.”
The heart, Nichols said, should be the motivation behind all conservation work.
Nichols is the author of “Blue Mind,” a book that focuses on the connection everyone has with water and how that connection affects conservation efforts.
Many people, Nichols said, associate fond memories with water — trips to the beach, summer afternoons in the pool, beautiful sights and sounds they’ve experienced.
“It all helps us to be more connected and more peaceful,” he said. “Water is everywhere. This is not just a coastal conversation, it’s an everywhere conversation.”
The human, emotional component cannot be left out of conservation science, he said.
“We’re taught to leave the emotion out, check it at the door on your way into the serious meeting,” he said. “What I’m trying to say is — bring it in, strategically, powerfully, as a way to enhance the work that we’re doing.”
Lanham echoed this in his talk later Saturday afternoon.
Lanham, a wildlife biology professor at Clemson University, has focused his work on translating conservation science into a relevant conversation for people of all backgrounds.
Hope has to be kept alive for conservation efforts to be successful, Lanham said.
“We spend day after day talking about all that’s wrong, and there is a lot that’s gone wrong, but there are success stories to tell,” he said.
To conserve is to care, he said, and it must be done with love.
“We need to speak from our heads and our hearts now,” he said.