Farewell to Songdo

Spike Millington recently finished his service as Chief Executive to Secretariat of EAAFP. The following is a note from him on his six years in the position.

Spike and his wife Carina at MOP7 in Alaska

It was a cold February evening in 2012 when I first arrived in Incheon and took the bus over the impressive suspension bridge and into Songdo, in preparation for an interview for the Chief Executive position at EAAFP. That I have taken that bus many times since that first trip almost six years ago is testimony that I survived the grilling by the interviewers, Jim Harris, Doug Hykle and Mr. Kim of MOEK, all of whom I later got to know as strong and dedicated supporters of the Partnership.

I was lucky to inherit an organized office and wonderful Secretariat team that my predecessor, Roger Jaensch, had set up in Songdo. Since that time, EAAFP has grown from strength to strength. The number of Partners has increased from 27 to 35, national and regional partnerships have deepened, the Flyway Site Network has expanded (albeit slowly) and task forces and working groups have developed and expanded (some more than others).

That EAAFP has flourished is down to the vision, dedication and hard work of all involved, from Partners, scientists, site managers and collaborators. The one thing that unites all these people and organizations is commitment to the cause of saving migratory waterbirds and their habitats along the length and breadth of the Flyway. The reality is that without international cooperation this mission will be very difficult to achieve. Take the case of one of our flagship species, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, from head-starting on the breeding grounds in Chukotka to increase productivity and nestling survival, through conservation actions and awareness raising in staging areas in Jiangsu province in China to alternative livelihood programs to reduce illegal trapping in Myanmar wintering grounds, all these actions are vital to reinforcing each other to promote the survival of this Critically Endangered species. Similar cases could be made for any number of other waterbirds dependent on our Flyway.

Personally, my time at the EAAFP Secretariat has been so enjoyable because of the Secretariat team of which I was a part. I could not hope to work with a more passionate and professional group of people, caring about migratory waterbirds and working so hard to protect them. Together, we have faced challenges and frustration, shared joy and sometimes disappointment, but always with good humour, optimism and mutual support. I am proud that people have stayed long in their jobs, that turnover has been low. This also goes for all the interns that have brought such energy and enthusiasm to the office, many of whom have extended their stays at the Secretariat. I am sure that as staff and interns go on to pursue their careers, they will retain their concern for migratory waterbirds and may, in their different ways, contribute to their conservation. Just spreading the word is important!

I must also acknowledge the strong support of Incheon Metropolitan City in hosting the Secretariat, not only through vital budgetary support, but also through secondment of personnel to the Secretariat (the three Deputy Chiefs and three Finance Officers I have been lucky enough to work with were all there at my farewell party in October, a very nice moment), encouragement to work with Incheon citizens and NGOs, and support to waterbird conservation during sometimes difficult times.

Spike enjoying one of his favorite activities.

I have happy memories of the MOPs I attended – Palembang, and getting caught on the falling tide, Seward, Alaska, and the towering seabird colonies, Kushiro’s dancing Red-crowned Cranes and Singapore’s always-welcoming Sungei Buloh reserve.  Haha, why is it the field trips that I remember and not the plenary discussions and logistical snafus ?!

I feel that I leave EAAFP in a good place, a vibrant, and I’m sure, enduring Partnership. The ties and connections that bind the partnership together are strong and resilient. As we passed our ten-year anniversary last year, I am confident that our institutional history and organizational strength will serve us well in the future.

As I write this, I reflect on the friends I have made, the bonds I have formed, the relationships that have been forged. These have defined my time at EAAFP and have given me cause for hope and optimism for the conservation of the Flyway, its wetlands and coasts, and its migratory waterbirds. When I announced I was leaving, one of our most active collaborators expressed the hope that I would stay in the region and “keep fighting alongside us”. Well, Jing Li, I promise that I will keep fighting alongside you, and all the other dedicated people working to save migratory waterbirds in the Flyway. It’s just too important an issue not to. And together, I’m sure we will succeed.

Spike surrounded by the entire staff of the Secretariat on one of his last days in the office.

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