The International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Hawaii has come to an end. While I am using the opportunity to explore more of Hawaii, I figured it could be interesting to share some of the highlights. ICRS is a huge conference held once every 4 years, with about 2500 marine biologist gathering together for 5 days of presentations, workshops, poster sessions, networking and socializing. To give you an idea of just how much research was being presented: for 5 days straight up to 10 differently themed sessions would run at the same time. Session themes were very diverse, from reef fish ecology to the role of macro algae, to protected area management, genetic connectivity, effects of pollution, etc.
With literally more than a thousand interesting talks going on simultaneously, the hardest thing was choosing which ones to go see. Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, there were very few talks about cryptic critters (3 to be precise), but there were plenty of other really good talks to see. So here is an overview of a few talks that stuck in my mind.
One of the plenary talks was to hand the the Darwin medal to Jack Randall, this medal is awarded once every four years in recognition of major scientific contributions throughout the career of a coral reef scientist. Most people reading this blog won’t know Jack Randall, but on his own he described more new species than any other fish taxonomist ever did. In other words, an absolute legend in the world of fish taxonomy. It was inspiring to hear him talk about his long career and to see how passionate he still is at the age of 92!
Another talk that stuck with me was a talk on cryptobenthic fishes (small fishes) living on coral reefs. Chris Goatley‘s research showed how important it can be for small fish to grow even the smallest bit. A difference of only 1mm can increase their chances of survival massively. Size however is not the only factor that helps them survive, for these small fishes, the most important thing seems to be experience. In other words, a fish of 2cm that is 2 months old has a much higher chance of surviving than a similar sized fish of 2 weeks old. Which proves that you can forget about that 3 second fish-memory myth as well.
Miss Baldisimo from the University of Philippines talked about the aquarium trade, a hot topic now that Finding Dory is out. The trade usually does not get much attention but it is still massive, and Philippines is the biggest exporter of marine aquarium fish globally. What was new to me, is that in some areas fishermen are starting to specialise in collecting frogfish! Unfortunately there is still massive overfishing and high mortality of the fish during catching and export. What makes this even more tragic, is that the fishermen are very poorly paid for their hard work, the price per fish has not increased in over 20 years! So think twice before you want to get a marine aquarium.
Also connected to Finding Dory, was a presentation about clownfish in the Red Sea. Researchers have noticed a huge decline (86%) in host anemones in the gulf of Eilat. This has lead to a similar decline in Red Sea Anemonefish (Amphiprion bicinctus) and might even lead to a local extinction if this trend continuous. The researchers could not find the cause of this decline, which is particularly worrying. Luckily the species is very common in the rest of the Red Sea, so there is no immediate threat for the species as a whole.
I had the pleasure of watching the talk of a blogger I had been following before the conference even started. Jobot turned out to be someone I had actually already met a few years ago during fieldwork in Lizard Island. For her very cool project she used acoustic trackers to see when reef fish died or got eaten. One of the most surprising results she found, was that most predation (fish being eaten by bigger fish) happened during the day and not at night! Sunset and sunrise were even more intense, which has been assumed for a long time, but the fact that less fish get eaten at night was a surprise for most people attending the talk.
During the conference I presented a poster about the fluorescence research I have been doing the last year and a half. It seems that the poster was well received, as I got the student prize for the best poster during the conference. I am still not sure what I actually won since I was not present at the last plenary talk, so still some mystery in the aftermath of the conference.
The day after the conference I was lucky enough to be able to visit the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB). HIMB is a world class research station located on a small island at the northeast coast of Oahu. Besides being a place where awesome science is done, they also had hammerhead sharks in their big enclosure, and seeing hammerheads is always a treat 😉
In short: I had a great time at the conference, not only because of the science but also because I got to meet up with old friends and meet a lot of great new people. The next few days I am off to do some volcano exploring on the Big Island in Hawaii, before heading back to Perth for some more serious sciencing!