AMSA2011 - Fremantle, Western Australia : 3-7 July 2011
The AMSA2011 Conference was held in Fremantle, Western Australia from 3-7 July 2011 at the Esplanade Hotel, with the theme of Crossing Boundaries. The conference was the 48th Annual Conference for the Australian Marine Sciences Association Inc.
The 2011 conference was held from Sunday 3 to Thursday 7 July at the Esplanade Hotel, Fremantle, WA. The conference theme for 2011 was Crossing Boundaries, reflecting the need for communicating across AMSA's wide diversity of disciplines, and for understanding and communicating across different scales, spaces and environments. We were overwhelmed by the interest shown by our local, national and international colleagues, with over 300 papers presented and over 50 posters. As a result, the program for 2011 was large and varied: five concurrent sessions, eight General Sessions and 17 Symposia. Participation was equally enthusiastic, with 462 delegates attending: 29 from overseas, 186 from interstate and 247 from WA.
The conference opened at the Sunday evening 'icebreaker', and from the outset the 'vibe' was great. You couldn't turn around without Esplanade staff offering you beer, wine or food – and that got the networking and discussions into overdrive. The next day the conference commenced in earnest, and we had a lovely Welcome to Country by Noongar custodian Marie Taylor: part story-telling, part driving away of bad spirits and part blessing. Quite a few people commented on how good it was, but some think it went deeper than that, and the conference actually was blessed - everything seemed to go so well from there! Anyway, we made sure that the eucalypt sprig Marie draped over the microphone stayed there for the duration of the conference.
Marie's welcome was followed by Ian Poiner's inspiring welcome address, and then the first of our keynote speakers, Peter Mumby (noting that all our keynote speakers and plenary speakers were terrific, and seemed to complement each other). Peter's talk on the resilience of Caribbean coral reefs was both encouraging and daunting (so much learnt, but still so much to learn for other coral reef systems), and the theme of needing to 'understand to effectively manage' was picked up in Ian Cresswell's talk on the Australia's marine environment. Then into morning tea (the cakes were sumptuous!), and rolling onto the five concurrent sessions that characterised each day. Monday evening was the Poster Cocktail function, and this went off – there is no other word for it. The place was packed, the interest and discussions were intense, and again Esplanade staff were everywhere, 'inflicting' beer, wine or food on us. I have a confession here: my faith in my colleagues had suffered a little at the 'icebreaker' on Sunday, because we hadn't utilised our quota of alcohol and food. Thankfully my faith was restored at the Poster night, as we more than made up for the previous night's 'deficit', with the venue function manager quietly commenting to me that she was 'impressed with how much the delegates could eat and drink'.
The morning of day 2 was dedicated to AMSA, and we had the privilege of hearing two Jubilee addresses: Graham Edgar's 2011 address, and Pat Hutchings 2010 address (Pat couldn't give her talk in 2010 because she was overseas). Again, these two talks complemented each other perfectly: Graham's was broad-ranging, inter-disciplinary and conservation-based (not to mention his colourful and varied career), and Pat's was so focussed and passionate, illustrated by her exquisite images of polychaetes. Then into what would have to be the most crisp, efficient AMSA AGM ever (thank you Lynnath!).........perhaps people knew there were warm chocolate brownies with hot chocolate sauce for morning tea? And so into the concurrent sessions (I went to the dredging one, a hot topic in WA). Tuesday night was student night at the Newport Hotel – another packed event that went well - with 50 pizzas proving to be only just enough (along with the chips, nuts, and tasting platters).
Wednesday started with Paul Snelgrove's wonderful keynote address on marine biodiversity and the Census of Marine Life – just breath-taking. There was a great 'cascade of scales' operating that morning, as we went from Paul's talk on global-scale marine science, to Steve Blake's regional-scale (Western Australia) marine science (the Western Australian Marine Science Institution) to Melanie Bishop's ecosystem-scale research on impacts of different detritus sources to estuarine sediment communities. After morning tea (I won't mention the cakes this time!), I had the privilege of hearing and judging some great student talks. Wednesday evening was the screening of the film 'Oceans', preceded by the (inevitable, it seemed) beer, wine and nibbles, while our wonderful conference secretariat (EECW) also organised little boxes of chocolates and lollies for during the film. This was another function where everyone just seemed excited to be there, and film itself – well, what can one say? Words like awesome, mind-blowing, heart-breaking, exhilarating and enchanting all spring to mind, and still don't do it justice. If you haven't seen it, do so – some images are destined to stay with you a long time.
Thursday (the last day of the conference) opened with another great keynote talk, by Anya Waite on the biological oceanography of the Western Rock Lobster larvae. Anya confessed to going out on a limb for her talk, discussing research literally 'hot off the press' rather than a distillation of her career. It worked a treat, and was enlivened by a good sprinkling of Anya's humour. Anya was followed by Richard Brinkman's terrific talk on simulation of the hydrodynamics of the GBR: all praise to the IT Support – the videos of all Richard's simulations worked beautifully - and reality was simulated with astonishing accuracy. The final plenary talk was the dynamic duo of Tonney Wagey and Lourenco Fontes, our colleagues from Indonesia and Timor Leste, who provided a wonderful synopsis of the challenges and opportunities for research and management of the Arafura and Timor Seas. After morning tea I indulged myself a little, and flitted between the concurrent sessions (from seagrass wrack, to Ecolab models to marine life of the Kimberley, to name a few), before recruiting my energies for the Conference Dinner.
The Conference Dinner was always destined to be a success: the conference vibe had been great and marine scientists sure know how to party. The large 'marine creature' balloon decorations on each table also led to some light-hearted raiding, as each group tried to secure their preferred taxon. One of my great memories of the Conference Dinner was, however, the thankyou song and dance given by Timor Leste delegates in appreciation of their welcome at the conference (it was the Indonesian & Timor Leste delegation's first major marine conference in Australia). They invited delegates to join them on the dance floor, and I don't think I've ever seen a dance floor get packed so quickly: it was one of those magical moments. The dance floor got packed later in the evening too..... except when the judging of the Sherwood Award came down to a dance-off between the two semi-finalists, and Hugh Kirkman's exuberance won out over Pat Hutchings' slick dance moves. It was a fantastic night – the band were terrific, and the only complaint was that the evening ended too soon.
The student prizes awarded at the 2011 Conference Dinner were as follows:
• Ron Kenny Oral Award – Kade Mills
• Ron Kenny Poster Award – Candace Willison
• Peter Holloway Physical Oceanography Award – Alicia Sutton
• FRDC Oral Award – Natalie Toon
• FRDC Poster Award – Luke Silvester
• AFMA Oral Award – Amy Newman
• VMSC Oral Award – Justin Lathlean
• CSIRO Editor's Choice Award – Andrew Olds
• Ernest Hodgkin Estuary Research Award – Melissa Duggan
• Sea World Poster Prize – Kate Sprogis
• Ron Kenny Oral (Highly Commended) - Jo Tonge
• Ron Kenny Poster (highly commended) - Patricia Natin
• And on a parochial note - Gabrielle Cummins won the AMSA WA Honours prize for best oral presentation
[Link to 2011 & previous conference student prizewinners]:
As mentioned at my conference opening address, great conferences don't just happen: they take a dedicated committee and generous sponsors, and we were blessed on both counts. I would like to finish by thanking particular committee members for their hard work: Lynnath Beckley (support on all fronts), Kathryn McMahon (chair of the scientific committee), Sarah Scott (linchpin of the organising committee), Jane Fromont (workshop coordinator), Matt Harvey (student prize judging coordinator), Claire Smallwood, Dave Holliday, Renae Hovey, Ben Davis and Candace Willison.
President, AMSA WA Branch
Chair, AMSA 2011 Conference Organising Committee