Environmental Sustainability Spotlight
International Zebrafish Conference 2022
The 17th International Zebrafish Conference hosted the first ever plenary session and workshop focussing on environmental sustainability. The sessions highlighted the importance of sustainability in research practices and as a research focus in itself. Both sessions had good participation from attendees, both in-person and online, providing clear evidence that this topic is important to the IZFS community. In case you missed them, here are some of the highlights:
- Members of the IZFS Environmental Sustainability Committee and session chairs, Dr Maximilian Breuer and Viviana Vedder, introduced the members, purpose and goals of the committee. They spoke about the committee’s activities and their aims to raise awareness about sustainable practices in research. They also highlighted the impact that people in the scientific community are already making.
- Natasha Tucker from Plastic Oceans, a non-profit organisation tackling plastic pollution worldwide, explained the impact of plastic pollution on aquatic ecosystems and how it is affecting us. They pointed out ways to rethink and reduce our plastic use.
- Incoming IZFS President, Dr Kathleen Whitlock, shared her inspiring experiences raising awareness about the environment in Chile and using aquaponics to reduce water waste in her own lab. Her passionate words and practical advice inspired a lot of thought and discussion among the attendees.
- A series of research talks demonstrated how fish researchers are providing crucial insight into environmental issues:
- Dr Jacob Daane explained how small changes in temperature driven by climate change are impacting the lifecycle of Antarctic fishes. This may have significant implications for the ecological balance of these regions.
- Kennedy Bucci revealed that environmental microplastic pollution disrupts the endocrine system of fathead minnows, resulting in significant developmental abnormalities. She discussed the importance of considering the chemical component of microplastics in addition to physical properties.
- Dr Aaron Schultz shared his findings about the nanotoxicity of different fertilisers on zebrafish development. Such research will be key in regulating fertiliser types in regions where agricultural runoff into aquatic ecosystems is common.
- At the sustainability workshop, organisers Dr Maximilian Breuer and Viviana Vedder provided many ideas about sustainable lab practices, from consumables to water and energy usage. They reviewed common practices based on social media responses and live participants, pointing out how much impact can be achieved through small changes.
- Finally, a panel discussion about key issues was led by Dr Maximilian Breuer, Dr Kathleen Whitlock, Dr Ashley Bruce, Bobbie Bauer (Aquaneering), and Viviana Vedder. Proactive participation from the in-person and online attendees allowed for a stimulating discussion about difficult topics such as financial considerations, sustainability grants, convincing authorities and regulatory bodies, and conference formats.
In addition to the sessions, several successful efforts to make the meeting as a whole more sustainable were made. For example, the option of attending online saved hundreds of attendees from taking long international flights, massively reducing the greenhouse emissions associated with the meeting. Organisers also introduced a policy of “opting-in” to products such as bags, notepads and pens offered to attendees. The majority of people did not opt in, and thus the unnecessary emissions from producing (and disposing of) hundreds of unwanted products were avoided. Also, a large pile of lanyards and name cards were returned by many attendees at the end of the meeting, allowing the organisers to reuse them at another conference.
We anticipate this was the first of many sustainability sessions at zebrafish conferences, with increasing participation and impact! We also hope this will encourage organisers of other major international conferences to place a focus on sustainability in the future.
[Contributed by Sunandan Dhar on behalf of the IZFS Environmental Sustainability Committee]