Reducing the Number of Zebrafish Conferences– An Essential Contribution to Limiting the Human Negative Impact on the Planet

In the past 10 years the number of Zebrafish Research Conferences has increased much faster than the size of the community. This brings the crucial question: Do we need so many Zebrafish Conferences? This is a burning issue not only because it may strategically become more important to talk to other research communities than our own to keep high visibility and funding, but most importantly because the health of our planet needs urgent care (1).  Indeed, "anthropogenic climate change is the single greatest challenge facing our planet and our species” (2).  We all recognize the importance of scientific conferences for exchange of ideas, critical feedback on unpublished research, networking, and integrating our trainees to the field. However, each community needs to take actions to improve its impact on pollution. An International Zebrafish Conference of 1000 participants produces an average of 1500 tonnes of CO2 from flights only. We urgently need to discuss how to maximise the benefits of conferences whilst minimising our environmental impact.

We would like to propose for the IZFS to consider taking a formal position, and release a statement about our environmental sustainability and responsibility. As a society of biologists, we could be a leading voice for societal change and state clearly why matters of the environment, plastic waste and habitat/species loss are important. In many ways our scientific community is unique in that we range from clinicians to ecologists, and this gives us a broad basis to see how drastic environmental changes can be detrimental to our lives and the planet. A poignant example was Pete Currie’s comment in the Evo/Devo session that temperature changes around southern Australia means it is becoming harder each year for him to source elephant sharks. Members of our community have raised the issue several times in the past ten years (3).

One action taken for the past 15 years by a few Societies is the creation a carbon offset approaches. A number of Carbon Offset organisations exist (4) that would allow us to offset our conferences carbon footprint systematically. We can also impose standards in reduction/suppression of plastic usage for meals and coffee breaks. However, these measures, although positive and worth adopting, are far from being enough. One of the most effective ways to reduce the carbon footprint of our scientific community is to limit the number of international conferences. In 2016, Nathans and Sterling proposed that all large scientific societies with an annual meeting cut back to one large meeting every other year (2). Since we have many Societies and a substantial number of international meetings, we would like to propose for the Boards of our various societies (IZFS, ZDMS, EUFishBioMed, etc.) to design a strategy that will achieve all of our goals for meetings, but at the same time limit their number. One possibility would be for the ZDM conference and the International Zebrafish Conference to alternate such that the community would still have one major international event per year, while the ZDM and the IZFC would be happening biennially.

Of course there are other possible solutions for scheduling meetings. Importantly, however, an agreed strategic planning from our Societies has the ambition to further everyone’s aims while being considerate to our damaged planet and caring for the future of our children.

Corinne Houart, PhD - King's College, London
Tom Carney, PhD - Lee Kong Chain School of Medicine, Nanyang Technological, University, Singapore
Judith Eisen, PhD - University of Oregon


  2. Nathans J. and Sterling P. How scientists can reduce their carbon footprint. eLife 2016;5:e15928
  3. Kelsh RN, Székely T, Stuart S. Why should biomedical scientists care about biodiversity? Curr Biol. 2011 Mar 22;21(6):R210-1.
  5. Carbon Footprint of Academic Air Travel: A Case Study in Switzerland - Infoscience 

IZFS Environmental Sustainability and Responsibility Statement

Prompted by the letter from Houart et al., IZFS would like to engage its members in a discussion to shape its environmental sustainability and responsibility statement:

Here are some of the steps that IZFS is taking, and others that IZFS is committed to discuss:

  1. Setting up an active Webinar series as a first step towards virtual conferences.
  2. Exploring the various options for the live streaming of conferences and using video links/holography instead of flying speakers in.
  3. Setting up a committee to investigate and move environmental sustainability and responsibility initiatives forward.
  4. Hold conferences in places (countries or states) with a positive environmental sustainability and responsibility policy (eg, countries that have signed the Paris Accord (and have not declared their intention to leave it).
  5. Work with environmentally responsible conference sites (eg, LEED certified sites).
  6. Continue working with other Zebrafish organizations (eg, ZDM) to coordinate meeting (eg, hold partially overlapping meetings).
  7. Keep rotating the meetings between North America, Europe and Asia/Pacific in order to bring the conferences to the largest communities and minimize their travel.
  8. Introduce an environmental fee into the registration costs which would be transferred to a Carbon Offset organization and/or structure registration fees to reward those travelling by train and penalize those travelling by plane or single occupant cars.

Please email your comments and suggestions to

Didier Stainier, Mary Mullins, Phil Ingham

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