Friday, 7 December 2012

New Zealand and the 13th International Deep-Sea Biology Symposium

This has probably been one of the coolest and geekiest weeks of my entire professional life. Actually, possibly just of my entire life (star trek conventions don't count do they?). Anyway, before I forget too much of the last week in the whirlwind of jetlag, coffee, science, beer and giant squid that it's been, I thought I'd better do a wee recap of the last week in Wellington, New Zealand and of some of the highlights of the 13th International Deep-Sea Biology Symposium.

A long flight for science!

As any of you who've made the trip before will know, the direct flights from the UK to New Zealand are epic. Mine went from Glasgow - (1.5 hours) - Heathrow - (15 hours) - Singapore - (7 hours) - Melbourne - (2.5 hours) - Wellington with a couple of breaks, adding up to a glorious total of 30 hours in transit and which I'm pretty sure landed me well and truly in tomorrow. It was confusing. I'm not sure if it's the best way to start a meeting with a load of new-found colleagues and potential future employers either, but at least most people were in the same boat! Still, attempting to stay awake all day until a reasonable bedtime meant I got to see a fair chunk of the city the day before the conference started (if you're walking near traffic you're probably not going to be sleeping!).

A blurry 36 hours after landing, on what was apparently Monday morning, the symposium began with an address from the Wellington Mayor (who is cool) and a Maori (sing-along) blessing before launching straight into the science. And man was it awesome!

Some of my highlights (in no particular order):

James Cameron presenting his one-man submersible at the plenary session on Tuesday. 

  • I gave my my very first presentation as a deep-sea fish ecologist on the work we've been doing on the DELOS project! Go me!
  • James Cameron (yes, the guy who directed The Abyss and some other less-cool films) gave a plenary talk on Tuesday about his solo dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in Deepsea Challenger
  • Hadal research (>6000m) is all set to move forward with a brand new three-year project (HADES) to compare trenches to surrounding abyssal and bathyal regions to see just how different they really are. 
  • A new iPad app (iDeep) is in development through the INDEEP project to aid identification of deep-sea species.
  • Drs. Bhavani Narayanaswamy and Craig McLean are proposing the establishment of a brand new Deep Sea Society! Please contact them directly if you're interested in becoming part of the steering committee.
  • Thanks to my meeting Dr. Craig McLean I discovered that I'm only two degrees of freedom away from Joss Wheedon (via his Deep-Sea News connection)!
  • Work by Dr. Melanie Bergmann at the HAUSGARDEN arctic observatory suggests that the deep-sea may be a sink for litter as the amount of human garbage and plastics continues to rapidly increase at the seabed.
  • The value of predictive modelling in assessing species distribution patterns and figuring out how different populations may connect together over large distances was highlighted by several fascinating talks including by Dr. Kerry Howell and Dr. Ana Hilario.
  • According to Dr. Chuck Fisher's plenary presentation, the impacts of the DeepWater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2009 has impacted coral communities at least 11km away from the well, and possibly up to 25km, which is further than they thought the oil would reach...
  • Deep-water phosphate mining is a real and somewhat terrifying thing which involves dredging up the top c. 3m (1-6m) of seabed and taking it back to shore for processing.
  • According to modelling work presented by Dr. Dan Jones (NOC), the NE Atlantic (all around the UK coasts) could face massive declines in biomass of most taxa by the end of the century if global warming continues at predicted rates.
  • However, on the positive side, many countries and organisations are making real progress in establishing areas of ecological interest as a first step leading towards marine protected areas (MPAs) in the high seas.

And finally: An underwater volcano erupting around a survey ROV

There was loads more going on that I can't possibly hope to cover, but these were some of the things that I thought were particularly interesting. I'm sure I'll probably add to that list as all the information I've absorbed slowly filters into my brain! Anyway, I've got to repack all the stuff that has exploded out my suitcase before I check out and head to the South Island tomorrow for some wildlife spotting and a bit of relaxation before I have to face the flight home again for Christmas. Proper photographic updates will resume soon I promise!

Finally, thanks to everyone at the Deep-Sea Conference who made it such a good laugh, and I look forward to meeting all of you again in Portugal at DSBS 2015 if not before.