International Marine Connectivity Conference (iMarCo ’19)

Molly James

Plymouth University


The 5th annual meeting of the International Marine Connectivity Conference (iMarCo ’19) took place from the 21st to the 23rd September 2019 in Aveiro, Portugal. Situated on a coastal lagoon system, Aveiro boasts a network of canals that run though the city that give it its nickname: ‘the Venice of Portugal’. iMarCo is a prominent conference within the dispersal modelling and population genetics communities, where researchers present their work under the overarching theme of connectivity within the marine environment.  Thanks to the support of the Challenger Society, along with other societies, I was able to attend this conference and present my research to an audience of leading researchers working within my field.  This was the first opportunity for me to present my work at an intentional conference and I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

I arrived in Aveiro late Saturday night, which gave me a whole day to explore the city before the conference kicked off on Monday.  I walked down to the canal and booked a trip on a moliceiro: a colourful boat analogous to the gondolas of Italy, traditionally used for harvesting seaweed. After a relaxing Sunday I was eager to get to the conference to catch up with familiar faces, meet new people, and indulge myself in all things marine connectivity.

The conference was held in the University of Aveiro and kicked off with a talk from keynote speaker Professor Christopher McQuaid, head of the Coastal Research Group at Rhodes University in South Africa, on ‘the black box of marine connectivity’.  Talk themes were intermingled through the entire conference to give attendees the opportunity to attend talks outside their own disciplines. Each day was split into four sessions: 2 before lunch and two after, with keynote speakers leading the first three sessions each day.  My talk was in the first session of the first day which meant that I would be able to relax and enjoy the rest of the conference after presenting.  I chose to discuss my recently published research, which looks into reverse-engineering larval behaviours from observed vertical distribution profiles. In this work I used a numerical approach and curve fitting to determine the swimming behaviours that particles should be assigned in a modelling environment to result in the smallest error between simulated and observed vertical distribution profiles.  I was nervous to speak in front of such prominent scientists in the field, however the atmosphere within the room quickly made me feel at ease. I received constructive feedback from my peers which led to interesting discussions during the first coffee break.  During the coffee breaks I watched a number of flash talks, 3 minute ‘micro-presentations’ that did not fit in to the main conference program. These were a lot of fun and covered a range of interesting topics, including using dispersal modelling to track the mortality location of dead turtle stranding events!

On the final day of the conference we had the option of attending one of three workshops.  I opted to attend the biophysical modelling workshop with Dr. Claire Paris and Dr. Christophe Lett. This workshop encompassed an interactive discussion on biophysical modelling and an introduction to 2 dispersal modelling software packages: Icthyop, developed by Dr. Lett and the Connectivity Modelling System (CMS), developed by Dr. Paris. As a largely self-taught modeller, I found the interactive discussion to be invaluable.  This session gave me the opportunity to ask questions that I have not yet had the chance to ask, and to gain a greater understanding of how to interpret the outputs of my models.  

iMarCo is a conference with a friendly relaxed vibe that gave me a fantastic opportunity to meet a wide range of people from different stages in their careers. I believe that the connections I made at this conference will be hugely beneficial to my career post-PhD. Attending this conference has been hugely beneficial to me and will aid me greatly in completing my PhD thesis.  I can’t wait to meet everyone again at the 6th international marine connectivity conference in France. Thank you to the Challenger Society for their generous award that allowed this trip to be possible!

Molly James is a final year PhD student in the Marine Biology and Ecology Research Centre at Plymouth University, UK. Her research utilises a multi-disciplinary approach to better understand planktonic dispersal in marine systems.  Specifically, her work focusses on larval behaviours, and how these are parameterised in models of larval dispersal.  During her PhD she has developed methodologies for inferring larval swimming behaviours from observations made in nature, assessed the influence of environmental drivers of the vertical distribution of larvae, and made comparisons of behavioural parameterisation techniques in terms of their influence on dispersal and connectivity. 

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