Alex MacDonald is protecting parks, people and the planet.

 Photo: Alex MacDonald

Photo: Alex MacDonald

Building on the theme Parks, People, Planet: Inspiring Solutions, the International Union for the Conservation of Union (IUCN) is hosting the premier global event on protected areas, the World Parks Congress (WPC), on November 12-19 in Sydney, Australia. The Starfish Canada will be featuring stories of Canadians and their journeys into protected areas as we lead up to Wednesday's Congress.

“I connect with nature because it’s what I grew up with; it’s a part of me.”

Alex MacDonald, Nature Canada’s Manager of Protected Areas, will be one of many who will be representing Canada at the 2014 IUCN World Parks Congress (WPC), scheduled to begin Wednesday November 12. “As an idealist, I want to be inspired and re-energized by the WPC, and to walk away feeling that I’m part of a movement - something big, something bold and something that will truly make a positive difference for the natural world. “

The 2014 IUCN World Parks Congress, to be held in Sydney, Australia, is a “landmark global forum on protected areas,” and is an amazing opportunity for individuals to share and discuss the issues surrounding conservation, protected areas, and sustainable development . This event is also an important platform for building partnerships learning new perceptions, and exploring novel techniques for not only these issues, but also for connecting the younger generation to nature. Alex is approaching this opportunity with great enthusiasm. “In many ways, our capacity to achieve our goals is limited only by our ability to identify and join with others who share them.”

Involved in a number of projects to inspire others to connect, appreciate and conserve nature, the knowledge and experience Alex brings to the Congress is very impressive and important. He is a board member and volunteer for the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club, custodian of the National Capital’s Fletcher Wildlife Garden site in Ottawa, Nature Canada representative in the Green Budget Coalition, and was the Lead on Nature Canada’s NatureHood program. The NatureHood program is an initiative that aims to inspire urban Ottawa, ON and Gatineau, QC, residents to connect with the natural environment through a variety of activities “set in urban green spaces and Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas”, and recognize the nature that is right in their backyard.  

Nature surrounds us, “be it a single plant poking out of a crack in an urban sidewalk, in a lush forest surrounding by the sounds of wildlife or weather, or in a vividly written story or a beautifully orchestrated piece of music. “ Birds, bugs, and botany, “three groups of organisms [we] are perhaps most accessible of all the human experience”, says Alex, “and we have ample opportunity to interface with them each day”.

Proper communication however is vital component to helping make a successful connection with audiences, and audiences with nature, says Alex. “Always try to identify your audience's point of departure on a subject (e.g. birds, gardening, air/water pollution, litter) and, where possible, the barriers they face in understanding it. Know the context. When you possess these insights, you've got a starting point from which you can relate to your audience and communicate your message(s). Whatever the case, keep it simple and never lose sight of the context.”

Alex himself connects with nature alongside his kids and seeks out signs of it wherever he is. “I want [my kids] to have the same opportunities I had as a kid to get dirty and explore the magic of nature on their own terms… our generation must continue to connect with nature lest we forget where we as a species come from.” So how can we inspire others to connect with nature? Follow Alex’s advice: “Through enthusiasm, humour, intrigue, music, storytelling and, most importantly, leading by example.”