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SAEON student participates in World Marine Biodiversity Conference

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“Never has there been a more important time to study biodiversity in our oceans -- with 32% species of fish over exploited and 53% of fish fully exploited, we need to make sure that we are able to quantify the impacts we are having on the marine ecosystems of the world.” – Shannon Hampton

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The World Marine Biodiversity Conference was held in Aberdeen, Scotland (Picture: Shannon Hampton).

- Shannon Hampton, Member of SAEON’s Graduate Student Network

This September I was privileged to attend the 2011 World Conference on Marine Biodiversity in Aberdeen, Scotland.

The conference has the overall aim of bringing together scientists, practitioners and the public to discuss and advance our understanding of the issues surrounding the importance of biodiversity in the marine environment.

The conference organisers did a sterling job of coordinating 930 delegates from 76 countries. They even managed to organise the best weather that Aberdeen has had all summer for the event!

This was my first international conference and it was an overwhelming experience. At any of the 14 parallel sessions there were nine talks to choose from, covering a diverse range of topics.

The opening ceremony included a short video with an appeal from the next generation of scientists to protect the marine biodiversity we are custodians of. This message was reinforced with a passionate and well presented talk by Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of the legendary Jacques Cousteau. One of the shocking statistics I learnt from the opening ceremony was that, globally, less than 1% of the ocean is protected.

The technological advances we are seeing in this field open up whole new frontiers of study.

One of the parallel sessions was dedicated to molecular phylogenetic1 approaches. Since my work is investigating stock differentiation of sardine and anchovy of the southern African coast using genetics, it was beneficial to see what is being done in this field. It was also heartening to see that the methods I am using are being used in different countries around the world.

Digital object presentations

While I was not presenting a talk myself, I was faced with a whole new challenge -- instead of the traditional poster, this conference had digital object presentations (DOP), an innovative way of presenting data. Some presentations included video and sound clip, taking the viewer right into the laboratory or field with the researcher. The DOP were displayed on screens in the main hall and, in addition to a dedicated time slot, were available for viewing throughout the conference. All the DOP are available online at http://www.scivee.tv. Mine can be viewed on http://www.scivee.tv/node/33497.

It was overwhelming taking in so much information on so many topics. This made me excited to be working in this field -- despite so much being done there is still so much more to be done. It is easy to become so involved with your own topic of study that you lose track of the bigger picture.

Never has there been a more important time to study biodiversity in our oceans

The technological advances we are seeing in this field open up whole new frontiers of study. However, in a realm as vast as this, it is only through international collaboration and meetings that we can identify weak spots in our knowledge base. Never has there been a more important time to study biodiversity in our oceans -- with 32% species of fish over exploited and 53% of fish fully exploited, we need to make sure that we are able to quantify the impacts we are having on the marine ecosystems of the world.

I am very grateful to SAEON for partially funding my trip there. I was proud to be a part of this very important conference on marine biodiversity and pleased to see that South Africa was well represented. This was especially noticeable at the final plenary talk on Friday the 30th September where a contingency of South Africans were proudly supporting their green and gold.

1 Phylogenetics is the study of evolutionary relatedness among groups of organisms (e.g. species, populations) which is discovered through molecular sequencing data and morphological data matrices.

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