by Michael Rogers
The COVID-19 pandemic is flavoured with the sour taste of lost opportunities. Field work programs have been set back, employment opportunities have become scarce and outreach campaigns have moved to remote formats. To address these challenges, virtual technology has proven a valuable tool to enhance connections, accessibility, and social progress in the biodiversity conservation industry.
Virtual technology can be used in creative and engaging ways. The SER2021 World Conference will make good use of the virtual format. It offers virtual field trips with new-age technologies like drone footage, 360° viewing towers, and time-lapses of restoration sites from around the world. The Society of Ecological Restoration (SER) offers opportunities to build your professional connections both in attendance at SER 2021 and as a volunteer to help organize the conference. SER is one of many professional associations that offer webinars to maintain your professional standing. SER even granted me permission to fulfill my knowledge requirements with their virtual learning content! Virtual learning is a powerful tool to connect professionals with emerging ideas, other professionals, and with members of the public.
Never has it been easier to bring the outdoors inside. Virtual technology provides outreach programs a cost-effective and logistically practical solution to address accessibility challenges. Live-streams from the field can offer aspiring naturalists opportunities to learn through job shadowing. As an example, the rare Charitable Research Reserve offered regular live-stream updates from their field technicians regarding their snapping turtle rearing program. Virtual presentations also offer free education to those who lack the financial means to travel. Environmental education that is recorded and translated from across the globe is in growing demand to inspire appreciation of the natural world. Virtual technology is truly an awe-inspiring victory for accessibility.
Photo: A screenshot from the rare Charitable Research Reserve's September 1, 2020 YouTube video, "rare Turtle Release".
Increasing accessibility has also led to embracing inclusivity of diverse perspectives. For example, land acknowledgements and prayers at virtual events increase visibility of Indigenous practices and knowledge. Virtual presentations transcribed by artificial intelligence are also becoming the norm to help engage English as a second language (ESL) learners. Demand for virtual technology access has strengthened proposals for affordable and reliable internet to remote areas of Canada. Virtual technology is becoming a part of the toolkit to address challenges of traditional forms of environmental communication.
COVID-19 is a test of human ingenuity in many respects. It is empowering to reflect on the successes we have had despite the pandemic. Embracing virtual technology has helped build robust professional networks, address accessibility needs, and advance social progress of environmental solutions knowledge.
Blogs are written by ELB members who want to share their stories about Ontario's biodiversity.