The long journey back from Brisbane has given me plenty of time to reflect on my involvement with INTECOL. I have gained many things: important scientific knowledge which has helped to advance my research; an understanding of many and varied ecosystems which I otherwise would not have visited; a knowledge of many countries and cultures; and most important of all, many new friends.
I missed the First International Congress of Ecology in The Hague because it clashed with a prior commitment, but I have been to all the other congresses and was chairman of the local organising committee for the 1994 Congress in Manchester. All these congresses have been memorable, including the congress that never was. I went to Warsaw in the late 1970's to help plan the Third Congress. There I met two of our past presidents for the first time, Frank Golley and George Knox who gave me my first lessons in international science diplomacy, and who remained friends until their fairly recent deaths. I also met the famous Polish ecologist Professor K. Petrusewicz, a former resistance fighter who had very narrowly escaped execution by the Nazis in the Second World War, and who subsequently became a minister in the Gomulka government. Those members with long memories will recall that the Congress was cancelled because of the political unrest in Poland at that time.
The first congress I attended was in Jerusalem. This gave me an introduction to desert ecosystems and their use by humans over millennia. It also provided my first insight into the ecology of coral reefs and to the complexities of organising large scientific meetings. All the subsequent congresses have been very memorable in their own way. Many INTECOL members will remember the opportunities, skillfully provided by Almo Farina, which the Florence congress brought to combine important science with culture, as well as to improve their knowledge of Mediterranean ecosystems. The two congresses held in North America jointly with the Ecological Society of America at Syracuse and Montreal were exceptionally well attended and organised, the latter attracting the largest attendance for any ESA meeting to that date (2005). They both had brilliant plenary lectures, of which Tony Sinclair's in Montreal on his long term studies of the Serengeti was perhaps the one that stands out most for me. In general the plenary lectures have been an outstanding highlight of most congresses given as they have been by many of the leading ecologists of their day, Jane Lubchenco, Robert May, Thomas Rosswall and Hal Mooney for example. However, there was an important landmark set in Brisbane where for the first time some of the plenaries were given by young scientists; I hope that this will be a feature of future congresses too.
Generally the congresses have been well attended and have had a high profile in the host country. For example there have been addresses from city mayors (in Jerusalem and Seoul), environment ministers (Brisbane and Seoul) and at least one president (Seoul). At the Yokohama Congress I had the great and unexpected privilege together with about ten other ecologists of an audience with the Emperor of Japan and his younger son. This caused me a little local difficulty as I had gone to Japan without a jacket and had to borrow one from my friend Alastair Fitter for the occasion. As I recall, it didn't fit me too well! Alastair is chair of the scientific organising committee for the 2013 London Congress.
The congress in Yokohama gave me my first insight into Asian ecosystems, and proved to be very important for me personally. There I met for the first time my good friends Byung-Sun Ihm and his wife Jeom Sook Lee. Subsequently they joined my research team in Manchester for a short while. Later, I met Byung-Sun in Florence at a Board meeting arranged by the Secretary General Almo Farina to find a location for the Eighth Congress when Byung-Sun and Sun-Kee Hong made a presentation on behalf of the Ecological Society of Korea. Fortunately the Board accepted this proposal because much of the most recent success of INTECOL can be put down to the commitment of the Ecological Society of Korea through its past president Byung-Sun and its current president Eun-Shik Kim. Eun- Shik was an important member of the local organising committee in Seoul and subsequently succeeded Almo as Secretary General. To him goes the great credit of completely reorganising and running INTECOL's administration giving us the web-based system we have today. Sun-Kee continues to play a major role as the founding editor of our relatively new e-Bulletin.
The Jerusalem Congress was important also for the establishment of the Wetlands Working Group initially under the chairmanship of Professor V.J. Chapman. This led to the International Wetland Conferences the first held in New Delhi in 1980 and which continue to be highly successful to this day. They are held every four years in between the congresses; the eighth conference was held in Cuiaba, Matto Grosso, Brazil in 2008. I have only been able to attend one of these, the seventh in Utrecht, but this was another major and high profile meeting attracting over one thousand participants. Much of the success of the Wetlands Working Group is directly attributable to Gene Turner's commitment and skill, and all INTECOL members owe him a considerable debt of gratitude.
Gene was INTECOL treasurer for a number of years too. I have relied most heavily during my presidency on him and other officers past and present, notably Rebecca Sharitz, Bernd Markert, Helmut Lieth, Azim Mallik and Eun-Shik Kim. I have had great support from past presidents Akira Miyawaki, Wolfgang Haber and the late Frank Golley and George Knox. I have also been blessed by having outstanding vice-presidents during my tenure, Byung-Sun Ihm, Rebecca Sharitz and Craig James who have borne the full brunt of organising the three congresses under my watch. I also thank all Board members past and present for their ideas, support and encouragement. I would like to single out Rusong Wang who in encouraging us to co-sponsor the EcoSummit in Beijing in 2007 provided INTECOL with another important international forum to place alongside the congresses and wetland conferences.
Looking forward we are exceptionally fortunate to have such a distinguished ecologist as Alan Covich as our new president. He brings much experience and many new and exciting ideas for the development of INTECOL. I look forward very much to supporting him as I continue as past president on the Board. (September 2009)