Fellowship Brings Indigenous Journalists to World’s Largest Biodiversity Conference

Journalists from 16 countries participated in an Earth Journalism Network (EJN) Fellowship program this month that took them to the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawai’i, where indigenous communities and their role in global conservation efforts took center stage. The EJN delegation, which included indigenous reporters from seven biodiversity-rich nations, joined leaders from governments, civil society and the private sector for high-level discussions to set the world’s conservation agenda after ambitious targets were established in Paris last year.

Held every four years since 1996, the world’s largest conservation conference placed special emphasis this year on the inclusion of indigenous voices in the global conversation on protecting vital ecosystems. EJN’s timely initiative put journalists front and center following U.S. President Barack Obama’s announcement just days before the conference about the expansion of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument to include areas of special importance to native Hawaiian communities. The 582,578 square miles off the coast of Hawai’i is now the largest protected area on the planet.

Fellows were briefed by leading figures in the field of biodiversity conservation ahead of key decisions to boost support for indigenous rights, including the vote by IUCN members to protect sacred lands from destructive economic activities such as logging or mining. In one case, Nepali fellow Dev Kumar Sunuwar shared his experiences and expertise by participating in a panel where he discussed his work for the outlet Indigenous Voice and his approach to telling environmental stories from an indigenous perspective.

EJN’s media delegation, the largest at the conference, produced more than 65 stories during the conference for radio, print and online outlets, with many journalists continuing to write on these issues. What’s more, many of these stories were featured on the front pages of media outlets around the world, shining a spotlight on topics that often receive little to no attention, and are not widely understood.

In China, EJN fellow Shi Yi was the first to report that the IUCN downgraded the giant panda from ‘endangered’ to ‘vulnerable,’ which drew an immediate response from the Chinese state forestry bureau and sparked discussions around the country. A report from EJN Fellow Priestley Habru that profiled the work of a Solomon Islands conservationist awarded at the conference, brought what he called a “boost and recognition” for other conservationists working to reduce logging in the country. Many stories from the conference can be found on the EJN website.

This fellowship is part of EJN’s new Biodiversity Media Initiative, which is funded in part by the Arcadia Fund and the Full Circle Fund of RSF Social Finance. Future opportunities will include Fellowships to report on other international conferences such as the 13th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity being held in Mexico this December.

EJN also supported a South African team from Oxpeckers to cover the recent CITES conference.

The following 16 EJN fellows were selected from a highly competitive pool of over 300 applicants from around the world to report from the conference (* = indigenous fellows):

  • Marina Gilbert Aizen – Revista Viva, Argentina
  • Catalina Arevalo EFE, Spain
  • Ananda Banerjee – Mint, India
  • Pablo Hernandez Mares – Mongabay, Mexico
  • *Kevin Dayonga – National Broadcasting Corporation of Papua New Guinea
  • *Priestley Habru – Solomon Island Sun, Solomon Islands
  • *Wanjohi Kabukuru – Indian Ocean Observatory, Kenya
  • Bernardo Esteves – Piaui, Brazil
  • *Sang Hnin Lian – The Chinland Post, Myanmar
  • *Dev Kumar Sunuwar – Indigenous Voice, Nepal
  • *Cain Nunns – Freelancer, New Zealand
  • Vathani Panirchellvum – The Sun, Malaysia
  • Maria Clara Valencia – Indian Country Today Media Network, Colombia
  • Fidelis Satriastanti – Mongabay, Indonesia
  • *Gaulbert Sutherland – Stabroek News, Guyana
  • Shi Yi – The Paper, China