Sien van der Plank
So as strangers we gathered on Monday 13thJuly, having had little opportunity for physical meetings within or between partner institutions since March. This annual consortium meeting, our first, was fated to be virtual. I have only met in person with three out of the twenty plus team that forms the heart of SARTRAC, but by the close of the ACM I could more confidently say that I do now know the >18 others.
As virtual meetings go, especially those lasting 4 days, this one went smoothly. Technological issues were rife, but minor; timings were changeable, but the closing time was constant. And what an impressive level of internal expertise does SARTRAC house: marine biology, physical oceanography, remote sensing, adaptation, policy, stakeholder engagement – the list goes on.
Really, it isn’t only in-house expertise I refer to, but on-the-ground knowledge and experience. I arrived to the sargassum scene having never knowingly seen sargassum of any species. It was therefore good to hear that many of my partners have experience dating back to 2011, with years of work already conducted by CERMES on sargassum management and by Mona Webber on its biology.
Going further, wow what energy flowed through the computers and laptops connecting us across oceans and continents. Yes, I refer to more than the electricity alone. We are now months into the virtual working environment that dominates many workplaces and I can’t be the only one who sometimes grows weary of days spent 100% behind the computer…
And it was therefore brilliant to still be able to feel SARTRAC members’ and external parties’ enthusiasm for this field of research, as well as share the progress made in the work packages I am part of. When I pointed out the relative absence but high importance of ground-truthing data for the remote sensing work WP2 is carrying out, the response was not “oh what a pity” but: “great, we’ve got some” (UWI Jamaica), or “get in contact and I might be able to help you out” (external observer).
So although I state above that SARTRAC is full of incredible expertise, that is not to discount the incredibly interconnected nature of Sargassum and the way this challenge crosses people, projects, places, disciplines, time, languages, and industries – to name just a few areas of interconnectedness.
So to hear of the work being completed by WP1 to explore large scale drivers and movement of sargassum, of WP2 to better be able to identify, track and manage near-shore sargassum arrival, of WP3 to develop opportunities from sargassum once onshore, and of WP4 to analyse existing management strategies and engage stakeholders throughout the project; well, to my still relatively ignorant and much-to-learn ears, that sounds like the right kind of project approach for tackling a challenge so geographically widespread.
Unfortunately, to balance this blog, I feel compelled to include a point for improvement in future virtual teamwork. Although I do now know my colleagues professionally – what they do, what they are experts in – I still know little on who is a dog person and who a cat person, who prefers the mountains or the beach. Perhaps we can encourage and arrange the odd informal session within SARTRAC to foster relationships that allow us to be both researchers and individual persons?
My conclusion on ACM1? It was always going to be a challenge. To host a meeting across partners across continents and bring them together at one time and one place. On the one hand, perhaps, going virtual eased that: lessened the greenhouse emissions impact and the overall travel, transit and residency times for participants and planet. And actually, on the other hand, going virtual also wasn’t the nightmare it could have been: we got through the planned content, we figured out what the next 12 months should be, and I have now seen everyone’s face at least once! Here’s to the next year of successful SARTRAC work and progress.