The Natural Paradise of Vilm

If Helen of Troy is the beauty that lands a thousand ships, the Island of Vilm is the charming  paradise that captivates the generations of Europeans.

This 94 hectares island in the Baltic Sea was estimated to be inhabited by humans in the early Stone Age. Then the Slavic people built a temple there for spiritual purposes and in the Middle Ages it became a place of pilgrimage for Christians. In 1959 and until the dissolution of the GDR, the Council of Ministers of the German Democratic Republic made the island exclusive, with its eleven (11) guesthouses, administrative and farm buildings used as private retreat for high functionaries, including the GDR heads of state Walter Ulbricht and Erich Honecker. Today, the island is known as former summer residence for aristocrats.

The beauty of this island has also charmed the CIPSEM EM-42 participants during their excursion to the Vilm Island on 13th-18th May 2019. But rather than feeling the hype of the past aristocrats and experience the paradise as vacationers, the participants were also there to attend the module on international nature conservation. The trip from Dresden to Vilm took 8 hours but the participants were not tired because of the island’s healing landscape and warm welcoming  breeze of the wind. Around 6:20Pm, the participants were briefed with a short introduction of the Insel Vilm by Dr. André Lindner (CIPSEM) and Ms. Kathrin Bockmuhl (International Academy for Nature Conservation) followed by a joint dinner which captured the attention of participants. They appreciated how environmental friendly the International Academy for Nature Conservation is. The food was vegetarian from day one and a special fish which can be found only in that region and solar energy is used as a source of energy in Vilm Island. Most of the participants were amazed by watching the sunrise and sunsets in this part of the Biosphere Reserve South-East Rügen.

Vilm Island was a nature reserve since 1936 and it is a core area of the Biosphere Reserve since 1990. During its guided tour around the allowed perimeters of the island, Ms. Kathrin explained that the area is a special reserve, because since 1812 the protection against forest logging in this Island started and since then there was no logging in the area which means this island has  special old beech trees which barely can be found elsewhere.

The week-long excursion was also full of energy-boosting indoor activities, with a constant and fruitful exchange of knowledge and experiences from the German specialists, CIPSEM EM-42 fellows, and four (4) German colleagues from the Master on Biotechnology and Applied Ecology. As one of the focus of the International Academy for Nature Conservation, we had an introduction to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), how the CBD Conference of Parties works and which are the subsidiary bodies. This led us to a simulation game about negotiations on the CBD, when we could know firsthand how difficult, exhausting, and rewarding (all feelings at the same time) negotiations can be. As a complement, during the first night the participants watched and exchanged thoughts on  the movie “Guardians of the Earth”, about negotiations that led to the Paris Agreement in 2015. During this first day, a special reference was done to the IPBES’ 2019 Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, whose findings (e.g. one million species are facing extinction) compelled the participants to take urgent actions.

The second and fourth day brought the participants to very important topics. First was the exploration on how benefits from the use of biological diversity could be shared. In this regard, Dr. Ute Feit and Ms. Gisela Stolpe described The Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-sharing as a mechanism of the CBD to promote fairer distribution of benefits, taking into account local knowledge. For this, the conflict on Teff (Eragrostis tef) between Ethiopia (where this grain has been adapted and produced for centuries) and a Dutch company that tried to patent teff processing allowed us to discuss fairness, local knowledge, market development, among other key issues for our countries. Later, we became owners of fishery companies to explore our own behavior on the use of natural resources, fish in this case. After ups and downs, we realized how individual and mercantilistic decisions can lead us to ecological catastrophes, which was the situation for cases such as the anchovy in Peru during the decade of 1970. We also had lectures on the IUCN Red List, marine nature conservation and the approach of Integrated Conservation and Development Projects.

On May 16th (fourth day) the participants had the privilege to visit the Conference Centre of Naturerbe Zentrum Rügen, walk through a canopy walkway and explore the National Park Jasmund. A great surprise was seeing how the infrastructure in the canopy walkway was inclusive and provided enough accessibility for people in wheelchairs. The participants also enjoyed how interactive several elements in the canopy walkway and information centre are, making the experience more fun and complementing explanations for the specialists who kindly explained the history, current state and governance system around these areas, which led to discussions and comparisons with the reality in our countries.

Days in Vilm Island were so fast for the CIPSEM EM-42 participants. The proof was their feedbacks of the module, stating that they enjoyed their stay in this Nature Reserve where they used to have parties and karaoke after classes which made the stay more fun and exciting. A special thanks to Ms. Kathrin and the whole team of Vilm for making the stay so good and in a special way. They cared for the Muslim participants who were observing Ramadan by making sure that they got what to eat in their favorable time. That was so much appreciated and the kindness of Kathrin was so touching from day one till the last minute to the boat, saying goodbye to her brought tears of joy to the group. On their way back, the group had lots of reflections and lots of photos from the nature paradise.

by Ms. Liliane Umukunzi (Rwanda) and Mr. Juan del Castillo (Peru), with contributions of Mr. Jun Piong (Philippines), EM-42

photos by Ms. Haili Zhou (China), Ms. Sreymoch Bun (Cambodia), Ms. Hasmik Barseghyan (Armenia), Ms. Thanh Tam (Vietnam), Mr. Juan del Castillo (Peru), and the International Academy for Nature Conservation (INA)

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