This September I attended the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) 2023 Annual Science Conference. For my PhD studies, I have been using genetic data to explore the underlying latent state of population connectivity in the black-legged kittiwake. The kittiwake, a seabird with a circumpolar distribution in the Northern Hemisphere, is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN and is red listed in the UK as a bird of particular conservation concern: kittiwake colonies are experiencing declines in population size and productivity across much of the UK. I am interested in the extent to which breeding colonies are connected by the immigration and emigration of individuals, and what these patterns might look like for the kittiwake at national and cross-ocean scales.
At the ICES ASC I was given the opportunity to present a snapshot of my preliminary findings concerning population connectivity between kittiwakes breeding in Scotland, Norway and the Norwegian territory of Svalbard. I used my presentation to highlight the place of connected populations within future marine planning and biodiversity conservation strategies considering the kittiwake. In addition, I showed how this type of research supports the overall need for data standardisation across national and international researchers and research organisations.
Given the large geographic scope of my PhD studies, I was also keen to use my time at the ICES ASC to gain knowledge of the current and emerging coastal and marine threats to kittiwakes. In particular, how do specific threats differ in their importance at the species and policy levels across land borders and between marine exclusive economic zones? I attended a range of talks being given by delegates representing nations around the North Atlantic, who were presenting high-level syntheses of the ecosystem impacts of human activities in the marine environment. Further, attending the ICES ASC in-person provided me with opportunities to continue these conversations across the course of the conference. This word cloud, created from the titles of the theme and networking sessions across the conference calendar, illustrates a conference agenda focused on informed management and holistic forward-thinking to meet emerging challenges at both local and global scales. (Fig 1)
During the opening ceremony and first keynote, speakers acknowledged that ‘striking a balance between conservation and economic development is a challenge’, yet we ‘must acknowledge human impacts on the ocean and act to mitigate these effects’ - Bitter Oroz Izagirre, Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Policy, Eusko Jaurlaritza-Basque Government - and called upon delegates to ‘promote equitable, inclusive and ethical behaviour in sustainability science’ – Ángel Borja, Principal Investigator, AZTI. Further, the importance of access to ‘blue-green areas’, (lakes, rivers, estuaries, beaches, parks and forests), for the mental health of all, emphatically linked human health with ocean health.
I am therefore grateful to ICES, the Challenger Society for Marine Science, the British Ecological Society and the Scottish Universities Partnership for Environmental Research for empowering me to travel overland from Scotland to Bilbao and back by contributing to the costs of train travel as part of the overall cost of attending this conference. Due to the role of fossil fuel use in driving of ocean warming and ocean acidification, I felt unable to justify the carbon footprint of short-range plane travel. I wished also to take a positive step towards reducing my contribution to the acoustic pollution in our seas, therefore I decided to travel by train instead of including a leg by ferry. I have had few moments to myself this past year, despite continued efforts to find that elusive work-life balance! Choosing ‘slow travel’ provided me with a rare and valued opportunity to reflect and meditate on some present challenges and how they are impacting both my professional and personal self. The total travel time for the round trip was six days.