Making connections

By James Hehre

The first three days here at the IMCC have been absolutely crazy. My time has been divided between volunteering at the conference, helping out at our Project Seahorse booth, and dashing between a variety of different focus groups and lectures. Like most delegates, I took the time to find the talks related to my own research.

Yet it seems the best connections I’ve made here have come from random introductions and talks I hadn’t planned to attend. For instance, yesterday evening I dropped in to a discussions about plant species that have invaded Hawaii’s coral reefs. What at first seemed unrelated to my own work was in fact relevant in unexpected ways. Researchers from the Nature Conservancy are investigating how plant-eating fish can be used to manage invasive algae that are threatening to consume a reef off the coast of Maui. 

My project looks at how seaweed farming in the Philippines may actually be subsidizing the diet of rabbitfish, an algae-eating reef fish. I plan to use stable isotopes to find out if the fish are eating farmed seaweed and if so, how much. It sounds complicated but it’s actually relatively straightforward: certain types of elements called isotopes are distributed differently throughout the environment and by measuring them in the muscles of the fish, we can tell whether they have been eating the seaweed. The isotopes act like a natural dye marker.

And then I find myself in a room with scientists who are working investigating seaweed, seaweed-eating fish, and are using stable isotopes. The acquaintances I’ve made here will probably be very important to my project.

It’s these surprising, unexpected connections that make conferences such as the IMCC so worthwhile.

James Hehre is a Ph.D student with Project Seahorse.