Conference focuses on ecological learning

Emilia Askari, a teacher and journalist from the University of Michigan, reels in a kingfish during Thursday’s deep sea fishing boat trip. Participants spent six hours on the water learning about sustainable recreational fishing methods in Florida. Marlena Skrobe//Photo Editor

The Society of Environmental Journalists, in conjunction with UM, hosted their 21st annual conference from Wednesday to Sunday at the InterContinental Hotel in downtown Miami.

The opening ceremony featured UM President Donna E. Shalala, Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen and all five members of the Cousteau family, relatives of the late sea explorer Jacques Cousteau that continue to further his work in the field of marine conservation.

During the five-day event, journalists from across the nation participated in dozens of panel sessions and field trips that explored environmental issues.

The field trips included a trip to the Everglades, a scuba-diving expedition in Aquarius, which is the only undersea research lab in the world and a chance to go catch-and-release fishing.

“So busy,” said Rhonda Green, who was in charge of registration for the excursions on Thursday. “It’s all downhill from here. The tables are all set up and everything from now on is on-site.”

UM alumna Cristina Gonzalez, 22, who works for non-profit organization Earth Learning, led journalists on a tour called “From Farm to Table.”

Earth Learning works to inspire people, ventures, projects and activities dedicated to ecological learning and sustainability in the Greater Everglades bioregion, according to its website.

During her tour, Gonzalez shared information about Earth Learning initiatives, like a green job training effort with the homeless.

“They got a very nice overview of the food situation in South Florida, and they were able to see an actual farm and see how a farmers market in Homestead works,” Gonzalez said.

Another organization, Ocean Kids, jumped in on the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science’s booth at the conference to network with journalists.

“It was both fun and a little intimidating as we talked to people from major newspapers, magazines and TV stations from all over the country,” said Katie Silliman, fundraising subchair for Ocean Kids.

Hundreds of attendees gathered to participate in interactive panel sessions and question-and-answers with experts from various fields.

Those in attendance included a mother and her high school daughter, reporters from The New York Times, freelance reporters, government officials and scientists.

“My daughter is the one interested in all of these things but as a working mother, I am interested in how we can help the environment with more than just turning off the lights,” said Cecilia Andrade, a Miami resident who attended the conference.