AMSA2008, Christchurch, New Zealand. 6-9 July
AMSA2008 was held in Christchurch, as a joint conference with the New Zealand Marine Science Society.
2008 AMSA Student prizewinners. AMSA thanks our major sponsors for their continuing support of the Association.
by Fred Wells (Immediate Past President)
As we boarded the flight to Christchurch in Sydney, Qantas announced the Christchurch weather as - partly cloudy with light winds and a temperature of 6ºC. That sounded pretty good, except that it was more than 10ºC less than that day's forecast for Perth. Three hours later the flight captain presented a much different picture. Sorry folks the weather in Christchurch has deteriorated. It is down to 0ºC, raining, with winds up to 100 km/h. The landing will be very bumping so we're closing the cabin service 15 minutes early to allow the crew extra time to prepare. Please remain in your seats with your seatbelts tightly fastened. Oh great! I always had doubts about leaving sunny Perth for the South Island of New Zealand in winter. Even Perth is too cold these days.
The landing was fine after we finally broke through the low lying clouds. But there was a driving rain mixed with hail and it looked horrible. Getting through customs and immigration was pretty quick. By the time I left the airport it was snowing and the airport was closed. Welcome to sunny New Zealand, land of the long white cloud! The beginning of the long awaited joint New Zealand Marine Sciences Society -Australian Marine Sciences Association joint conference wasn?t looking too good at all!
It turned out this was the low point of the trip. Even the weather improved greatly so that by Friday morning it was up to 15ºC, allowing for a pleasant morning walk around Christchurch before going to the airport.
There was an initial solid response when the conference website came on line. As with all conferences, there was then a lull when registrations lagged and there was concern we wouldn't get enough participants. As the deadline for abstract submission approached things happened quickly. In the end there were well over 350 registrants, a very fine number indeed. Pleasing from AMSA's viewpoint was that about a third were Australians.
The conference venue was well laid out. There were three lecture theatres in the Central lecture block that internally went up to the next floor. The main lecture hall was in the centre and was flanked on each side by a smaller theatre. On the upper floor the hallways between the theatres were large enough to accommodate the posters, and the central hall was big enough for plenary talks. The foyer in front of the lecture halls on the ground floor was big enough to allow for stand up sandwich lunches to be served. This is always good as it keeps the group together and encourages interactions at the conference. There was one lecture series in the Coppertop building immediately adjacent, but it was easy to switch to the other room when necessary.
The conference followed a standard format, starting with an icebreaker and registration on late Sunday afternoon at the University of Canterbury. It was a great opportunity to catch up with New Zealand colleagues I hadn't seen for years and to meet new ones. For many it was an old home week, as there are so many Kiwis working in Australia and vice versa.
Things got rolling on the Monday morning with the formal opening at 8:30 a.m. in the main lecture theatre. The following four days were very full indeed, with a full set of lectures every day in the four theatres, posters, catching up with everybody, and so on. Just how full the schedule was is shown by the conference book that ran to 184 pages!
The conference theme was Human Impacts & Functioning Ecosystems, an important topic in these days of increasing industrialisation in both countries, and indeed worldwide. It is also a broad topic that allowed for a wide diversity of approaches. There were major symposia on climate change, biosecurity, aquaculture, marine bioactives, fish ecology, and fisheries management. There were also sessions on ecophysiology, sedimentation, marine mammals, soft sediment ecology, rocky reef ecology, value mapping, biogeochemistry, marine reserves and conservation, physical oceanography, biodiversity and taxonomy, and resource management. One of the strengths of AMSA conferences is the number of different aspects of marine science that are presented. It provides a welcome opportunity to get outside your particular field and see what is happening in the broader world of marine science, perhaps getting ideas from other areas for your own work. Judging from the variety of presentations, the NZMSS operates in much the same way.
For AMSA one of the highlights was the announcement of the winner of the Silver Jubilee Prize, Dr Winston Ponder of the Australian Museum. Winston then gave a plenary talk "Molluscs" opportunities and challenges on his work on molluscs and the importance of such research in a broader context. Winston's talk was nicely placed in a group with the 2007 NZMSS award recipient Wendy Nelson, who spoke on Calcified macroalgae critical to coastal ecosystems and vulnerable to change. There was also a lecture Where are you going, where have you been? What we can learn about population connectivity from cockle DNA. By Philip Ross, winner of the 2007 NZMSS Student Research Grant. Perhaps this is a format AMSA could follow by asking the winner of the Allen International Student Travel Award to be a plenary speaker at the following AMSA conference.
There were plenty of chances to catch up with other participants. In addition to the icebreaker and lunches, Monday night there was a welcome social and poster session in the foyer that provided another opportunity to catch up with people. Tuesday night had a student social at the Coppertop. Wednesday evening there was a drinks session immediately after the last talks to get the evening off to a good start. Thursday night the conference dinner was held in the Horticultural Centre in Hagley Park, near some of the accommodation venues. This was an excellent evening that was well enjoyed by all.
Warm thanks go to the NZMSS for superbly organising the conference, particularly the NZMSS organising committee, David Schiel, Mike Hickford, Kerry O'Connell, Colin McClay, Islay Marsden and Genny Schiel. They were ably assisted by an army (perhaps if should be navy) of helpers that ensured the conference ran so smoothly.
The tradition has been for AMSA and NZMSS to meet alternately in the two countries every four years. So far we have met in Auckland, Townsville and now Christchurch. AMSA has extended an invitation to NZMSS to meet again in Australia in four years, and we look forward very much to our Kiwi counterparts joining us then!