Over the course of 5 days (20-24 September 2021), the iAtlantic project community met to discuss progress, achievements and highlights of the past 15 months since the whole project last met. With COVID still very much an issue for all partners, the meeting was convened as a virtual event, with around 80 participants joining from all over the Atlantic region.
Despite the many challenges that COVID has thrown in our path it was very clear that real and significant scientific progress has been achieved. Every component of the project is now delivering results, and tangible progress is being made against all of iAtlantic’s five main objectives.
The tone for the meeting was set by Ambassador Peter Thomson, the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, who opened the meeting with a video message that highlighted the critical role that iAtlantic has to play in improving management of our ocean: “Ocean science must be the foundation on which achievement of SDG14 will be built.”
iAtlantic Coordinator, Prof. Murray Roberts (University of Edinburgh) commented “The deep and open ocean ecosystems we study in iAtlantic cover most of the planet’s surface, yet we know less about them than anywhere else on Earth. I’m very grateful to Ambassador Peter Thomson for his endorsement of iAtlantic’s partnership approach across national boundaries so we can better understand how these ecosystems are working today, and what we need to do to better manage them in the future. As we approach the UN Climate Conference COP26 and the next stage of the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction negotiations we have to focus on getting our findings straight to those shaping these pivotal discussions. Our timing is perfect. We have to seize the opportunities with both hands.”
Some innovative thinking helped shape the format of this year’s General Assembly. Postponed from its usual late spring slot to allow offshore expeditions like iMirabilis2 and iMAR to be completed, the online format blended pre-meeting preparation and live discussion. iAtlantic scientists presented their work and emerging results via pre-recorded video presentations, which then formed the basis for live (and lively!) plenary discussion sessions centred on the project objectives. A session dedicated to the All Atlantic “sister” projects highlighted synergies between iAtlantic and other projects funded under the EU’s Atlantic Flagship programme, including newcomers OceanTechS and NautilOS.
In the latter half of the week, participants’ attention turned to working groups, planning sessions and targeted discussion, covering topics as diverse as UN Ocean Decade participation, stakeholder engagement, systematic conservation planning, species distribution modelling, data management, and further COVID contingency planning. iAtlantic’s Advisory Board and Science Council members were in attendance for the full week, participating fully in the various discussions as well as meeting to discuss specific feedback to the project, which was presented in plenary on the final day of the meeting.
In an intense week, time was set aside for lighter-hearted activities: the virtual drinks reception (much needed after a long first day!), and the iAtlantic Photo Competition which attracted entries from across the consortium. The judging panel declared winners for three categories:
- Science in Action: Winner Cova Orejas
- Beneath the Waves: Winner Andrew Sweetman
- iAtlantic insider: Winner Babette Gunther
Congratulations also to Cova Orejas (right), who was awarded the much-deserved “iAtlantic Hero” title for her relentless efforts in making the iMirabilis2 expedition a reality earlier this year, despite the many challenges and obstacles thrown in her path.
After five intense days of presentations, discussions, reflection and planning, it is clear that iAtlantic – despite the many challenges of the past 18 months – is in good shape as it advances into its final two years. Much exciting science and collaboration lies ahead, and everyone is keeping their fingers tightly crossed that the global COVID situation will allow us to meet in person again next year. But for now, another successful online General Assembly draws to a close, with sincere thanks to all involved – partners, advisors, collaborators and supporters – for their commitment and dedication to what has been a virtual scientific marathon!