Sharing skills: Interview with Eleanor Sterling

22 August 2014 | Article

Eleanor is a leader of the IUCN World Parks Congress capacity development theme.

How did you come to be involved with protected areas?

Over the course of almost three decades of field research in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, I have studied the distribution patterns of biodiversity in tropical regions, including in protected areas, and translated this information into recommendations for conservation managers, decision makers and educators.

As Chief Conservation Scientist at the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation (CBC) at the American Museum of Natural History, I use my background to lead the development and coordination of the Center's national and international field and capacity development projects – many of which are focused on protected areas in places like the Central Pacific, Africa, Southeast Asia, and Melanesia.

Why are you passionate about protected areas?

Over the course of my career, I have observed first-hand how protected areas serve as essential tools for biodiversity conservation: from watching a juvenile green sea turtle fresh from years of ocean voyaging forage at the Palmyra National Wildlife Refuge in the Central Pacific to meeting with indigenous landholders at a research and education centre on the edge of the largest terrestrial biodiversity reserve in the Solomon Islands.

I am passionate about enhancing the capacity of stakeholders at all scales to effectively manage protected area systems, which depends on key elements of equitable governance, sustainable financing, and successful communication and support strategies.

Why is your cross-cutting theme important?

Protected areas play a critical role in contributing to biodiversity conservation, yet an often overlooked key link in this contribution is the fact that those protected areas must be managed effectively with the participation of relevant stakeholders.

In order to achieve conservation goals, IUCN must support protected area capacity development and the WCPA Protected Area Capacity Development Programme Strategy is a significant contribution. The ultimate legacy of our work within this cross-cutting theme will be to professionalise the field of protected area management, thereby contributing to effective conservation of biodiversity and the ecological and societal services it provides.

We are also working very hard to develop peer-to-peer networking and other resources for capacity development with indigenous peoples and local communities which really falls outside the description of professionalisation.

Why did you want to be a cross-cutting theme leader for the IUCN World Parks Congress 2014?

Over my career, I have developed several environmental education programmes and professional development workshops. In 2000, in partnership with colleagues from around the world, the CBC launched the Network of Conservation Educators and Practitioners (NCEP), a global initiative that primarily targets undergraduate- and graduate-level educators in developing countries who will train the next generation of conservation biologists.

The project has held training workshops in Ukraine, Mongolia, Bolivia, Vietnam, Lao PDR, Mexico, Peru, Rwanda, The Bahamas, the Solomon Islands, and Madagascar. In the years since the NCEP was launched, we have seen how conservation practice can be improved through targeted and effective use of capacity development strategies. I am excited to bring this expertise to bear at the IUCN World Parks Congress.

What do you hope the IUCN World Parks Congress achieves?

My hope is that the Congress culminates in a substantial roadmap for the sustained success of well-managed protected areas and that capacity development strategies will be implemented to ensure the effective management of these areas across the globe.

What’s been your most memorable experience within a protected area?

Wow, that’s hard to say, since I have had so many memorable experiences! I think, though, that the two years I spent living in a tent on an uninhabited island protected area off the coast of Madagascar, studying a nocturnal lemur was one of the highlights of my career.