Controversies of ocean science in spotlight as world marine experts arrive in Aberdeen

Controversies of ocean science in spotlight as world marine experts arrive in Aberdeen

Experts with opposing views on some of most critical issues facing the planet will be in Aberdeen next week at a major international gathering of 1,000 marine scientists.

The World Conference on Marine Biodiversity has been brought to Scotland by the Universities of Aberdeen and St Andrews, and takes place at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre between September 26 and 30.

Organisers expect lively debate and differing opinions on hot topics including the extinction of marine species, the impact on our oceans of climate change, the results of fishing policies and industry, and the conservation of sea mammals.

French ocean explorer,environmentalist, educator and film producer Jean-Michel Cousteau —  son of famous underwater explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau — will kick off the conference on the Monday morning at a hard-hitting session featuring video footage from some of the world’s most challenged marine environments. Jean-Michel will also give a public talk at Aberdeen Music Hall that evening to close this year’s Techfest In September science festival.

Academic keynote speakers will include Professor Shahid Naeem of Columbia University, New York, who will put the case for the decline in biodiversity being the single most important challenge for our ecosystems.

Dr Mark Costello of the University of Auckland will give an alternative perspective, and will present new data to show that there are far fewer species on Earth than widely believed – and it is possible to discover them all this century.

A further speaker, Professor Terry Dawson of the University of Dundee will look at the hotly debated issues of climate change and its effect on the ocean environment.

International policy will be in the spotlight with Anne-Helene Prieur-Richard, Deputy Director of Diversitas, the international programme established to address the complex scientific questions posed by the loss in biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Also presenting to delegates will be Richard Brock, film-maker and founder of the Brock Initiative who produced Life on Earth and Living Planet in a 35-year career with the BBC Natural History Unit, and communication and bioinformatics expert Professor Phil Bourne of the University of California, San Diego.

The Martha T Muse Prize for Science and Policy in Antarctica will be presented during the Monday morning session.  This US$ 100,000 unrestricted award made by The Tinker Foundation  is presented annually to an individual who has demonstrated potential for sustained and significant contributions that will enhance the understanding and/or preservation of Antarctica.

The World Conference on Marine Biodiversityis being supported by ACSEF (Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Future), and by Energetica – a public-private project to create a concentration of energy technology companies, housing and leisure facilities along a 30-mile corridor from Aberdeen to Peterhead. Transport provider First Group and a number of other organisations are also providing support.

Event organisers are keen to engage with the next generation who will inherit the challenges of protecting our oceans, and a variety of film and art projects created by young people in England and Scotland will be on show at the exhibition.

Also featured will be internationally-renowned artist Lily Simonsen, who will create on a three-metre canvas her own impressions of the whole event.  Award-winning film-maker Emma Robins will be promoting Fair Trade Coral, and the Plastic Oceans Foundation will be highlighting issues of marine litter and plastic in the ocean.

Dr Martin Solan, from the University of Aberdeen’s Oceanlab, is one of the conference organisers. He said: “There are few more critical issues facing our planet than the health of our marine ecosystems.  And there are many differing views both on the interpretation of data, on the seriousness of the challenges, and the actions we should take. We are excited to have this opportunity to bring together scientists, industry experts, interest groups and policy-makers from across the world to explore and debate these very controversial issues and hopefully to agree actions we need to take.”

Co-organiser Professor David M Paterson, from the University of St Andrews, is keen to stress the influence of human activity on our oceans, saying: “International marine crime and the cross-border cooperation we need to tackle it is also very much on the agenda next week. One of the evening events will be a public seminar on marine terrorism, the trafficking of humans, drugs and weapons, the dumping of toxic waste, and unregulated and unreported fishing. We are pleased to be hosting this at the University of St Andrews on Tuesday September 27 with our Principal and Vice-Chancellor Professor Louise Richardson in the chair.”

Andrew Pratt, Ambassador Programme Executive at Aberdeen Convention Bureau, which helped to bring the conference to the city, said: “The World Conference on Marine Biodiversity is a great example of our Ambassador Programme in practice. We worked with the organisers to put together the successful bid to bring this event to Aberdeen and are looking forward to welcoming delegates from all over the world to our city next week.”

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