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International Coral Reef Symposium Experience In Bremen, Germany

International Coral Reef Symposium Experience in Bremen, Germany

The 15th annual International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) was held in Bremen, Germany from 3-8 July, 2022. The ICRS conference was initially set to commence two years prior, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic it was delayed in 2020 and 2021. The plenary sessions and a handful of presentations supported a hybrid-format where participants could either attend the event or view it from their hotel room.

The ICRS conference was attended by 1,300 people face to face and another 1,000 people virtually, spanning many countries around the globe. For the first time, 70% of the ICRS attendees were women. The conference provided child-care at no cost to the participants which allowed for our educational specialist to participate at the event.

Our group included seven participants representing Palau Community College (PCC), Northern Marianas College (NMC) and the University of Hawaii at Manoa (UH). Specifically, the PCC group included Vernice Yuzi (science faculty) and her STEM students, Kesiil Thomas, Delmel Francisco, and Koteb Aulerio. The NMC group included Denise Myers (science faculty) and her students, Eloise Lopez and John Sablan. Lauren Wetzell, the project’s Education Specialist, represented UH. Other affiliated participants from our group included Dr. Robert Richmond, UH Professor and Principal Investigator for the NSF-ATE grant, who attended virtually, and Dr. Yimnang Goldbuu, CEO of the Palau International Coral Reef Center, PICRC. The trip was made possible through a supplemental opportunity via the NSF-ATE grant project. Two NSF-ATE abstracts were accepted by ICRS: (1) a poster presentation which highlighted regional accomplishments of the NSF-ATE program, and (2) an oral presentation on a climate change curriculum.

The ICRS provided participants with fifteen themes ranging from research and technology to education and outreach in coral conservation. Our group attended a variety of the themes and found coral disease and coral management of particular interest. Our faculty and students were encouraged to independently attend sessions and speak to the presenters. They also toured the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence.

On July 5th, Dr. Richmond virtually-chaired the session, “What can molecular approaches contribute to determining sublethal stressor effects on coral reefs and evaluating the effectiveness of management interventions?” as well as virtually presented on “Proteomics as a tool for accurately assessing specific stressor effects on corals and determining the effectiveness of management interventions”. The following evening at a well-attended event, our group presented their poster on the NSF-ATE outcomes. On July 8th, Ms. Wetzell gave a talk on “Climate change curriculum for higher education in the US affiliated Pacific Islands”. 

Two student-reporters from the University of Bremen were interested in learning about our students’ lived experiences in the Pacific Islands pertaining to their culture, way of life, and changes they have seen in the coral reef environments. Our group was interviewed for their video project. During this session, our faculty reconnected with Serena Hackerott, a former Marine Science Instructor from the College of the Marshall Islands and discussed future grant opportunities for students.

The initial plan was for faculty and students to spend two weeks in Bremen, Germany, attending the ICRS conference and network with other research groups in higher education in the region. Our group was to meet with: (1) Dr. Christian Wild, Director of the Marine Ecology program at the University of Bremen and his graduate students, (2) Drs. Annette Breckwoldt and Sebastian Ferse,Senior Scientists at the Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT), (3) Mr. Sunia, Pacific Islands Curator for the Ubersee Museum, (4) Dr. Wulf Köpke, Ambassador of Palau for Germany, and (5) Dr. Peter Schuup, Professor of Ecology at the University of Oldenburg and former Director of University of Guam Marine Laboratory. The purpose of the meetings were to create new opportunities for students and explore research. Unfortunately, the majority of the meetings were postponed due to the spread of the Covid-19 virus and will resume virtually in the near future. 

Alternatively, the group visited three museums, Klimahaus Bremerhaven, Übersee-Museum, and Universem Bremen, and reflected on these experiences both personally and academically.

In conclusion, the students gained a greater awareness for how climate change impacts the world, people, and cultures differently than in Palau and Saipan. They were impressed by the global concerns for and effort to protect coral reef ecosystems. They also recognized a need to have increased indigenous representation in all places where research, management, and policy are taking place. Students returned home motivated to conduct research in marine science and present their findings at a professional conference. Partnerships with the University of Bremen were established and discussions of a student exchange program are underway.

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