The REPICORE team headed back out to the Pacific in mid-June, only this time the final destination was not a Melanesian island but a Polynesian one – Oahu in Hawai’i. Instead of fieldwork, the purpose of this trip was to attend the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Honolulu, which took place this year from the 19th – 24th June. ICRS is organised by the International Society for Reef Studies (ISRS) and takes place every four years, and is the largest professional gathering in the field. Thus, the conference attracts coral reef scientists working in an array of fields including coral reef ecology, fish community ecology, ecosystem management, microbiology, genetics, geology and many more.
The conference this year took place in the impressive Hawai’i Convention Center in Honolulu, which provided an ideal base for over 2500 participants from 97 different nations. This year’s theme was “Bridging Science to Policy”, which aimed to address the disconnection between the continued degradation of reefs despite massively increased scientific understanding of their structure and function. Improving communication and trust between scientists, local stakeholders, policy makers, and political leaders is critical to develop effective management of reefs into the future. It was also fascinating for us to visit a totally different type of Pacific island after spending such a large proportion of the last couple of years working in Melanesia!
Our excited team was prepared to present a total of seven oral presentations and one poster, spanning a wide variety of topics in seven different sessions, emphasising the interdisciplinary nature of our project. Additionally, Sebastian and Sonia were chairing a session (46 – Trait-based approaches in coral reef ecology: from functional ecology to management) together with colleagues from France. With REPICORE in its final couple of years, the timing of the conference was ideal for us to present some of our most interesting findings so far and to get useful external input, as well as to develop future ideas.
The conference kicked off with an inspirational plenary by President Tommy Esang Remengesau, Jr. from the Republic of Palau, who provided a fantastic example of what politicians can achieve in terms of management and sustainability. Palau is currently in the process of achieving protection for 100% of its water, with a planned 80% no-take area and the remaining 20% restricted to domestic fishing only. Further keynote speakers continued to deliver motivating and inspiring talks, and a wide variety of workshops and meetings provided engaging discussions for experienced and young scientists alike. The presence of Pacific island scientists and interesting studies coming from this region was great to see, and we look forward to the number of local scientists increasing at the next ICRS.
The overlap of the conference with the devastating effects of the 2015/2016 El Niño event meant that there was an appropriately large focus on responses of coral reef ecosystems to thermal stress. The El Niño event has led to the worst coral bleaching and mortality recorded from many reefs around the world to date, and reports such as those from Professor Terry Hughes from the Great Barrier Reef made it really hit home how serious the urgency is to link science with policy. The effects of coral reef degradation have profound effects not only on biodiversity but also on the livelihoods and future security of many people worldwide. This point was emphasised by the large social scientist and reef manager presence at the conference, conveying that we cannot disconnect coral reef systems from the communities that depend on them and that are additionally often responsible for their management.
With so many sessions in parallel it was impossible to listen to every talk that you wanted to, but all of us attended many great talks and had useful feedback and discussions following our own presentations. After overcoming the initial overwhelming mass of people, each of us also managed to find and meet an assortment of people working in our own and complementary fields, and some promising future work was discussed. As usual, it was great to catch up with our collaborators from Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Fiji, the Pacific Community (formerly Secretariat of the Pacific Community – SPC), the Stockholm Resilience Centre, CRIOBE and so on. Furthermore, it was great to meet up with previous colleagues and peers who we have met around the world over the last years!
Sessions REPICORE presented in:
23: GLOBAL CHANGE IMPACTS ON CORAL REEF SEAWEEDS — Andreas Eich
27: THE ROLE OF MACROINVERTEBRATES ON CORAL REEFS — Steven Lee
46: TRAIT-BASED APPROACHES IN CORAL REEF ECOLOGY: FROM FUNCTIONAL ECOLOGY TO MANAGEMENT — Dr. Sonia Bejarano and Ryan McAndrews
58: THE SCIENCE OF COMPLIANCE: LINKING JUDICIAL ACTIONS, ENFORCEMENT AND MANAGEMENT FOR POLICY AND PRACTICE — Janne Rohe
63: INNOVATIONS IN SOCIO-ECOLOGICAL RESEARCH FOR RESILIENCE BASED MANAGEMENT — Dr. Sebastian Ferse
65: IMPROVING THE UNDERSTANDING AND MANAGEMENT OF CORAL REEF SOCIO-ECOLOGICAL SYSTEMS THROUGH COMMUNITY AND STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT — Akuila Cakacaka
67: INFORMING MANAGEMENT DECISIONS FOR CORAL REEFS IN A WORLD OF RISK AND UNCERTAINTY — Amanda Ford