Marine Spatial Planning is the name given to the process of brining together all the various users of oceanic space (and their activities over time and space) to look at and reduce any conflicts to sustain the ecosystem. So fisheries is just one slice of the pie; there are many more industries to accommodate.
Reckoning with MSP is to reckon with trade-offs, especially when there are both national borders and individual interests and objectives at stake.
Hypoxia, or a lack of oxygen, in sea and coastal zones is a notable problem in places. One of these is the Baltic Sea, which can claim to be one the areas with the largest amount of hypoxia brought about by humans. With a large reason for the dead zones the lack of oxygen causes being the use and the run-off of nutrients used in the likes of farming and industry, the issue spans land and water. Scientists are beginning to get to grips with understanding the effects on fish and fisheres. And there are many relevant questions - as above.
As is customary at the end of each year's conference, established and upcoming scientists are rewarded with merit accolades for those deemed to have given the best poster and oral presentations over the course of the week. Georg Engelhard, senior scientist at the UK's Cefas was presented with the Best Presentation Award for his study on the large fish inidicator and its response to trawling pressure (the large fish indicator, by the way, is a value used in stock assessment to indicate proportion of a certain fish community that is over, say, 40cm in length)
One new addition to the conference this year was the project marketplace, where representatives from several important marine projects and initiatives got together to present and discuss areas of shared interest between themselves and ICES. Are there mutual goals between the projects and ICES? How can the ICES scientific encyclopaedia best be deployed? What, in turn, can output from the projects bring to ICES?
Opened by Sigi Grueber, head of the Marine Resources Unit at the European Commission's Directorate-General for Research and Development, the nine participants went into a discussion about how they could work together and find ties. There was definite interest in this new session, despite the fact that a large initial crowd began to lose members as attention was drawn towards the simultaneous poster session. Despite the freshness of the idea and the success of just getting the relevant people into one room, I think the session should veer away from the panel-and-audience style set up of the rest of the sessions. 'Marketplace' suggests something more dynamic after all. Maybe something to reflect that?
So what was learned? Well ICES is already, and could additionally be, involved in much on the project front. Data was high on the agenda. ICES hosts loads of it, and there are always ways being looked at to make it more available and open. Much was said about ICES as a science-policy interface and its role as a potential meeting place. Also, the organization can lend its expertise to research and innovation agendas as well as co-sponsor project events and conferences.
You can read a bit more about ICES involvement with projects here.
Baselines, as per one of ICES strategic initiatives, are historical data representing ecosystem conditions before a certain point of human disturbance.
Another key point on the historical baselines issue. Science talks about a desired ecosystem state, but definitions have to be come up with first. How pristine is pristine? And where's the historical cut off point; what point in history is the best?
Communication and cooperartion between social and natural scientists as well as between science and industry - in fact cooperation in general - was one of the hot topics of the day.
This funny example had a serious undertone. If there are two correlated effects - as per Nick Cage films and number of people drowning in pools - then disentangling them when they both impact upon a certain thing is tough. So if warming temperatures and fishing pressure, for example, run side-by-side in their impacts on the ecosystem, then accurately distinguishing them is a real challenge.
The posters make up perhaps the most interesting part of the conference to a non-scientist like me. In theory and because of their nature they should be a little more digestible and succint than the presentations. In theory. Yes, the scientists, research and topics are all incredible, but it was interesting to note that not many of the posters captivated on that intrinsic level that posters are designed to: they should visually engage, be punchy, colourful, strike emotional chords and draw in. They should act as windows to the world of science and not be straight-out, all-encompassing edifices. And they so often are - as if the original research papers themselves have been wallpapered onto the backboard. Scientists should relish the challenge of appealing through a different sort of medium than standing on a stage and delivering speeches.
There were several notable exceptions in my mind. Not all of them I managed to cover, but here are a few examples of the more visually-appealing or interactive ones.
Social-economic drivers in (political) TAC setting decisions, Julia Hoffmann (one of several co-authors)
Industry science: unlocking the real potential of industry data, curiosity and knowledge. Co-author Martin Pastoors.
Field identification guide to benthic invertebrates in West Greenland. Co-author Helle Jørgensbye.
Science-industry partnerships in a high risk, high-technology biotechnology project: developing a vaccine to sterilize farmed salmon. Co-author Dorothy Dankel.
Also a special shout out to John Pope for his uber-communicative methods during the poster session on Wednesday night.
Neither science nor the ASC is just about science. Imagine the work carried out by the plethora of people here as some grand, migatory journey with this singular event here in Copenhagen as a mere migratory stop-off, a resting place to take stock, socialise with others, and feed on ideas. It's the physical manifestation of weeks, months, and years of email and online correspondence and meetings. Whilst many of the strategic groups and committees meet more regularly, it's those colleagues who communicate across national borders and institute that this proves most useful for.
As a scientific outsider, it's good to see that the ASC isn't just about individuals presenting their science and he ensuing discussion. It's also not just about the scientific dinosaurs (although it will be a long time yet before any go extinct), but about the rookies, those early careerers who are welcomed into the fold for the first time. This is why an informal lunchtime get together with a collection of the older-timers is beneficial. The stage and performance aspect makes way for a more recnogisable social one.
Here's what some of them had to say about the lunchtime session and picking the brains of their elders.
Karin van der Reijden, PhD student, Netherlands"Some advice given to me was just to try everything, and if it doesn't feel right then return to what does feel right. It's not about just setting a goal in the beginning but also having fun."
Atal Saha, PhD student, Norway
"I think it was a very important event here learning from experience people. I got some advice on how to network and expanding your field."
Melina Kourantidou, Phd student, Denmark
"I really enjoyed this early career scientists event and the conference itself. I spoke to one of the scientists about social sciences who jumped in her career from marine biology to policy and governance, working with coastal communities and things like that."
And now for one of the later career scientists...
"I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think I learned more from the students than they did from me. What we've got to do for young scientists is find a way that they can make contact and talk to people, the people they want to talk to. When you come here for the first time it's a bit daunting, I remember myself. All these old, famous guys around who you want to talk to, but you need some reason and some excuse to talk."
It's a task much easier said than done. Beyond the walls of the ASC and the noises of science, many wouldn't be ready to recognise our place in the ecosystem or foodweb. Didn't our species evolve to be prowling the web like a spider rather than ingrained in it like a struggling fly? They might think…
But science sees us very much one dot, albeit a very large one, in a large nexus. Everything that takes place in the marine world affects and is affected by that which happens on the land – and those systems that span both.
Theme session M, which acknowledges this interconnectedness, wrapped up today following its opening yesterday. It featured a couple of talks that were pitched more at my sort of level, including one on ecotourism in the Azores and the demographics involved in whale watching, swimming with sharks and big game hunting. How much do they bring to economy? And who are they? It's interesting both because it bridges humans and the ecosystem but also because it stands for the sort of foundation study for lots of the integrated work that is layered on top of it. Things get much more complex than that of course.
For some of the other brief highlights, take a look at some of these thought-provoking tweets from yesterday.
Tracy Playle of Pickle Jar Communications talks on the the empathy, entertainment, humour and usefulness that should be considered when devliering any content to an audience.
As well as much other science, there was also a first-ever meeting for those who share and disseminate it. Involving communicators from various institutes and organizations, the get-together was a pow-wow of stories of how, why and to whom we all communicate. There were discussions, a quiz, and a special talk that focussed on content – more specifically targeted, winning content. How to get the message across? I have a feeling it's something that communicators and scientists like could take inspiration from this kind of thing. As long as it's a case of content being presented in some way, any tips on how to better grab the audience can't be a bad thing.
Generally though, approaching a conference like this is all about knowing what you can potentially take from it before you get here. As some of the participants (and David Secor) have pointed out, there is such a wealth of information and case studies it's tough to know where to start.
A few selected Tweets from the various theme sessions covering some of the main scientific themes.
First, from David Secor's plenary lecture
And on bringing benthic communities - that is, the groups of organisms that live on the seafloor - into ecosystem-based management.
Theme session L meanwhile heard many talks on cooperation between science and industry.
And a couple of interesting trends explored on fish populations and survival...
Meanwhile, with human behaviour 'predictably irrational', the focus of one paper was on findings of the economics of the behaviour of those who catch the fish - and the effects on fish catch. An interesting angle which explored the notion that rule obedience isn't always conducive to the best behaviour.
And on bycatch mitigation...
A delicate trade-off associated with vacinating wild and farmed salmon, the latter a key issue for one of ICES action areas: aquaculture
Finally, in the evening at the reception, the full spectrum of people associated with ICES was on display...
And even more finally from the marine science comunicators' get-together, a message on delivering content: humour can make an impact.
Some of the extraordinarily broad range of people attending the conference tell us what they've learned or why they've come.
Twitter roared through the ASC today like wildfire, with participants taking to the social media platform in their tens to break the scientific presentations on show down into 140-character bites. Although that seems improbable (and by no means can a single post be an exhaustive account of a research effort), the idea for the outsider is irresistible: a short, snappy headline that encapsulates the essence of the talk, or at least one of the main messages.
As one participant in the Ecosystem and Dynamics Open Session put it 'scientists should be able to write what they did in the meeting on the back of a matchbox'. Matchbox, post-it note, stamp, whatever. The quest for conciseness in communication is always a worthy one.
Here's a highlight reel the Tweets to narrate the conference's first day*