Communicate 2020: Meet the speaker – Ian Rowlands, Incredible Oceans

Ahead of Communicate 2020 our amazing volunteer writer Tom Bell is meeting with the speakers at this year’s conference to find out more about their work. This week Tom spoke to Ian Rowlands.

Ian is director and co-creator of arts and environment festivals, including the world’s largest whale festival. A former journalist and wilderness guide, he creates video and podcasts, whilst also leading not-for-profit ocean communication org Incredible Oceans.

The science and art of communicating about life below water:  the go-to people for bright ways of talking about ocean issues and inhabitants

Ian is running the session “scary, grey, grim and gloomy” UK seas versus BBC Blue Planet at Communicate 2020.

 

Did you have a big ambition as a kid?

At the age of six, I saw that life size figure of a blue whale in the Natural History Museum and it was a trigger point for me.  I wanted to see one of those for real. I wanted my life to be wrapped up in doing things to do with the natural world. The trouble was that back then I couldn’t see how.

 

What’s the best thing about your job?

Giving young people the chance to help make the change they want to see, that’s the bit I never get tired of.  It’s a privilege. I have crazy dreams and ideas and I’ve learned that sometimes by saying it will happen, you can make it happen. Young people are facing the worst set of circumstances imaginable, and that can seem to shut down all possibility for dreams. It helps to have someone crazy at the front saying, ‘ we can do this. It can work’.  The onus is on us to give them hope.

 

Do you have a hero?

Funnily enough, my biggest heroes are from the world of civil rights. Martin Luther King for example, Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu – people who saw the potential in bringing us together rather than dividing us.. I think I am a bit late to the party on this but it’s a view I’ve come to in the last two or three years. We have to find ways to bring together people who hold polarised views on the environment. People we perceive as the enemy. Otherwise, we keep trying the same thing and it doesn’t work.

 

Where’s your favourite place?

Yellowstone national park. I should probably say Baja, California which is also somewhere I love, where I’ve seen a lot of incredible marine life. But Yellowstone is a really interesting place for optimism. It’s freedom. It’s a glorious wild space of a size we can’t imagine in the UK. It’s an astonishing landscape with a fantastic ecosystem.

 

What’s the best advice you’ve been given?

Admit when you’re wrong. When I was younger and determined to make things happen, I’d often press ahead at all costs. I eventually learnt the humility to say, ‘we got that wrong’ and started listening to other people who had other ideas. It’s a tough thing to say, we didn’t get that right, we made a mistake. I like to think our organisation now takes the best ideas from whoever’s got them.

 

What advice would you give?

It will take five times longer than you think. And don’t be afraid to fail. We live in a very risk averse culture and we need to step past that because it’s only by making mistakes that we learn things.

 

What do you wish you’d known at the start?

It can be done. When you dream up and imagine projects, it’s easy believe it’s not possible. I wish earlier in my life I’d had less of that fear of failure. You can succeed at things. They can work. It’s very easy to assume that tasks are too big to be achieved. I’ve learned that by pulling together amazing people, things get done. It’s amazing.


Communicate is an annual environmental communication conference bringing together a diverse group of delegates each year to develop their skills, share best practice and debate latest issues in science communication, nature conservation and engaging people with the natural world. 

Communicate 2020 will be held online between November 26-27, 2020. Passes can be purchased at www.communicate2020.org.uk