As another year draws to a close, it’s typical for us to reflect on where we’ve come and were we’re going. What we can predict for 2017, perhaps more than many past years, is relatively uncertain. Even a few highlights from a list of current environmental issues is enough to give most of us pause. The Arctic was 36° warmer than usual at the beginning of the northern winter and the change in climate is already reflected in major shifts in flora communities in previously permanently frozen areas like Greenland. Sudan’s ecosystems and natural resources are deteriorating due to desertification to the point where the area could become uninhabitable. The 2016 wild population of black rhinos is between 5,042 and 5,455 individuals, a staggering decline from 500,000 individuals a hundred years ago. The World Economic Forum predicts that the world’s oceans will contain 1 tonne of plastic for every 3 tonnes of fish by 2025 and by 2050, more plastic, by weight, than fish. Only a minority of Americans fully accept evolution through natural selection.
Added to this is the uncertain future of science and research in many countries, heightening concerns over the state of global environmental protection. What will 2017 bring in terms of the operating context of natural history museums? How will our institutions add to global understanding of evolution? Biodiversity conservation? How will we fare in a global economic and political climate that may or may not value our key messages and core work?
One thing is certain: our work, both as as individual institutions and through membership-based organizations like ICOM NATHIST, is more important than ever. As one of the main (and most credible) channels through which the public learns about the natural sciences, natural history museums are critical sources of knowledge on which to base informed decisions. In view of this, our committee has been very busy on a number of fronts this year and has achieved a considerable amount. Here are some highlights:
- The Wildlife Trafficking Working Group released the white paper on natural history museums and wildlife trafficking, presented at the annual conference of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and has received international attention.
- We held our 2016 conference in Milan, as part of the ICOM triennial conference in which we welcomed a number of new board members and collaborated with the Committee for University Museums and Collections (UMAC) on a symposium about displaying human remains.
- Our website visitation climbed by more than 10% since last year and better than by 37% over the past two years.
- We released a conference planning manual which is already gaining credibility as a best practice document for the sector.
- We published a Japanese version of the ICOM Code of Ethics for Natural History Museums and redesigned the website for the ICOM NATHIST Ethics Working Group
- We archived back issues of our newsletter going back to 1978 and made them available on the web
- Signed a memorandum of understanding with the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC) and engaged in joint projects with our partners like WAZA and UNEP.
- Administration of Platform 2022 has been taken over by the National Taiwan Museum, who have also produced the first comprehensive history of ICOM NATHIST.
The Board of ICOM NATHIST is enormously grateful to all those who have contributed to our success this year. From our hosts at MUSE and ICOM Italy for consummately hosting our conference, to the members of the Paris-based ICOM Secretariat who have provided such excellent support for administration, to members of the cultural and scientific sectors who have partnered with us so effectively this year and, most important, to our members who are life’s blood of the Committee the reason for what we do.
Warmest wishes for the 2016 holiday season to you and your family.