Conferences are one of the currencies of science. To an outsider it might be difficult to see their importance, but they are really one of the best ways to see what work is ongoing in your field, promote your own work, drink lots of coffee, network, and have an all-around good time.
Last week, I attended the Australian Marine Science Association conference in Darwin and presented an oral presentation and a PEP (short) talk. Six months ago, tagging on a conference at the end of my field work seemed like a good idea since I would layover in Darwin from Dili, Timor-Leste en route to Brisbane anyhow. Things always go slower though and field work is always busy and despite best intentions the law of conferences means you are always scraping together your presentation right til the very end. Of course, both of my presentations were on the first day...
At the closing conference gala, I was more shocked than anyone when I won the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation Best Pep Talk. Thankfully, I had spent a whole day on my 5 minute presentation and it does feel good to be recognized!
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of topics and variety of organizations (CSIRO, AIMS, universities, indigenous rangers) within the marine realm that the conference encompassed. There were talks on genetics of mud microbiota, kelp ecology, seagrasses, marine management of dugongs, and more. There was also a lot of emphasis on indigenous management as 85% of northern Australia are managed by indigenous communities which was very encouraging. All of the research that is undertaken in the north (cue Game of Thrones references) is heavily dependent on local knowledge and the rangers that patrol the area as it is extremely remote with turbid waters and lots of bitey and stingy creatures. A new term I learned was ‘paticipatory mapping’ where the local knowledge – marine habitats, fishing grounds, currents etc. - is outlined on maps and then digitized to collate the local knowledge and inform management because there is so little data collected in these remote areas.
‘Developing the North’ was also a theme as it is the gateway to Asia and very much underdeveloped. I was surprised to learn that the Port of Darwin has been leased for 99 years by a Chinese company which says a lot about the future of Darwin. Despite the north’s remoteness, a survey of the Kimberley coast demonstrated that there are still significant numbers (1000s!) of people who visit the area during the tourist season. These are mostly due to cruises from Broome to Darwin and 4WDriving, but a single boat ramp was measured to peaks at 45 boats per day during the high season!
In conclusion, although piggy backing conferences to the end of fieldwork was not the smartest idea I am very glad I managed to put together at least one good presentation. AMSA was a great meeting and I would love to come back another year!