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I-MarCo 2024 international conference & workshops in Montpellier (France)

Updated: Jun 26

In May 2024 in Montpellier (France), SEA-UNICORN held its last major international event, in the form of the 7th International Conference on Marine Connectivity (I-MarCo 2024), complemented by three applied international workshops on the topic.

This 5-days event of dissemination and co-construction of Science, hosted by the Center for MARine Biodiversity, Exploitation & Conservation (MARBEC), was organized under the umbrella of the UN Ocean Decade, with the help of the French CNRS research network Océans et Mers (OMER, working group O-CONNECT) and the international network OceanKAN affiliated to the UN Ocean Decade Programme Marine Life 2030.  

It brought together 171 participants, from 29 countries (mainly in Europe but also from all other continents), to share the latest advances in the study of Marine Functional Connectivity (MFC), and in its use for the sustainable management of the ocean and its resources.

On the 28, 29 and 30 May, the participants (49% of whom were early career scientists) shared their expertise and latest findings on the topic, through 78 presentations (including 3 keynotes talks) and 38 posters, organized into three sessions:

1 - Multi-disciplinary approaches in MFC research ​​2 - MFC research & the global functioning and health of the Ocean 3 - MFC knowledge use for improved environmental policies & sustainable development

This led to fruitful discussions on how best study the past, current and future patterns of MFC at all scales and their consequences for conservation, marine policy and maritime spatial planning. In particular:

Key methodological improvements to study MFC were presented, including:

  • advances in the methods to assess species distribution and movements, ranging from new tools to track species (e.g. for fish larvae) or improve their detection (e.g. for elusive megafauna or cryptic species) to emerging new markers of lifetime movements and trophic connectivity (e.g. eye lenses composition, community residuals in C an N isotopic signatures),

  • improvements in statistical tools for integrating data from diverse disciplines, in connectivity indices and in the models to identify, visualize and quantify connectivity links (e.g. through better parameterization of biophysical models or the use of network-based community detection algorithms derived from graph theory),

  • innovative multidisciplinary approaches to infer meta-population structure in a wide range of species (e.g. bivalves, corals, sea turtles, marine or anadromous fish) and elucidate connectivity at the community scale (e.g. for benthic shallow, deep-sea habitats, mesophotic zone).

Advances in MFC knowledge were highlighted at a wide diversity of scales and in all areas of the globe, with presentations on past, present and future MFC patterns at:

  • All ecological levels, from that of species' meta-populations (e.g. in seagrasses, tropical and temperate corals, bivalves, lobsters, fish, sea turtles, marine mammals) to that of entire taxa (e.g. for marine pathogens, coastal fishes, deep-sea sponges) or communities (e.g. marine coral reefs, coastal fish assemblages, deep-sea habitats, coastal lagoons, offshore wind farms, Marine Protected Areas),

  • All spatial ranges, from local/regional scales (e.g. around isolated islands in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans and in many estuaries and coastal areas, in Europe and along the shelves of Africa, America, Asia and Australia) to the trans-oceanic one (e.g. between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, or within the Mediterranean, Baltic, Atlantic, Indian and Southern oceans).

The value of MFC for improving ocean policy and management was highlighted at all scales, with a wide variety of presentations on :

  • the recent appearance of MFC in global governance texts (e.g. in the Global Biodiversity Framework, or in the agreement on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction) and the challenges and future avenues for co-designing MFC research and integrating its data in legislation and marine spatial planning at the international scale.

  • effective MFC integration in marine spatial planning at local to regional scales, to:

    • improve local MPA positioning (in many coastal areas worldwide but also in mesophotic and deep-sea environments in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean) or MPA network design at the oceanic basin scale (e.g. in the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, the Pacific or the Southern Ocean),

    • advance species conservation (e.g. of seagrasses in several parts of the world, red coral in the Mediterranean, endemic exploited bivalves in New Zealand and Polynesia, or the Antarctic icefish in the Southern Ocean),

    • improve fisheries management (e.g. of anchovy, sea bass, sole, hake, sardine and red mullet in the NE Atlantic or the Mediterranean, spiny lobsters in the Caribbeans and along the English Channel and East Atlantic coasts, eels in the western Indian Ocean, or groupers on the Great Barrier Reef)

    • limit the spread of invasive species (e.g. of introduced farmed bivalves in the Baltic Sea and the Pacific or of Lessepsian species in the Mediterranean) and the impact of human activities at sea (e.g. wind farm construction),

In short, a very comprehensive and highly instructive 3-day program !

Alongside the conference, applied workshops, round-tables and breakout sessions were held to promote the integration of marine connectivity knowledge into decision-support tools for environmental management and policies.

On May 27th, SEA-UNICORN working groups 1-2 and 2-3 co-organized two applied workshops, gathering 73 participants from 23 countries in total, to discuss how to advance:

  • The use of Marine Trophic Connectivity for seascape conservation & management (for more information, click here).

  • Knowledge on Marine Functional Connectivity in a Changing Climate (for more information, click here).

Finally, to end on a high note, the conference closed on 31 May with a full day dedicated to co-constructing science with stakeholders.

This final side event, entitled Co-Designing Marine Connectivity Science for the Ocean We Want, was organized by SEA-UNICORN working groups 3-4 and the UN Ocean Decade Programme Marine Life 2030, with financial and logistical support from the Fondation de l'Eau Groupama Mediterranée. It brought together 26 key stakeholders from different economic sectors and 51 marine connectivity scientists from all over the world to identify the most pressing societal needs for marine connectivity data and the main barriers that need to be overcome to integrate this knowledge into environmental policy and decision-making at all levels (for more information, click here).

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