The 5th World Conference on Marine Biodiversity: on schedule and online

In this guest post, PeerJ Life & Environment Editor Mark Costello wraps up the recent World Conference on Marine Biodiversity – including moving the conference online for the first time! WCMB presenters and attendees can still submit their research on topics discussed at the conference to be part of the upcoming PeerJ/WCMB Collection (see our previous announcement for details).

Early Career presentation awards were sponsored by PeerJ Life and Environment and, for the first time, the WCMB organised a marine biodiversity photograph competition, the winners of which can be seen below.

Arctic amphipod. Anne Tandberg, Solvin Zankl

After much debate by the Scientific Committee in early 2019 with regard to the effects of the covid-19 pandemic, it was decided to proceed with the 5th World Conference on Marine Biodiversity (WCMB), hosted by the University of Auckland in New Zealand, as a hybrid or online-only event. The reason to proceed was because it was felt that the science needed to adapt and continue. Furthermore, to postpone it may just postpone having to make the same decision later. This seems to have been the right decision because it does not look like travel will be back to normal in 2021 either.

The battlefront. Ohad Peleg

Although travel within New Zealand relaxed during 2020, there were budget restrictions at New Zealand universities preventing non-essential travel. This would prevent many local researchers attending in person. Also, because the timetable would need to accommodate different time zones around the world as much as possible and thus start early and end late in New Zealand, local researchers preferred to watch it online from the comfort of home than have to get up very early for an in-person event. We also realised that running a “hybrid event” with parallel in-person and online attendees nearly doubled the organisation involved and associated costs and complexity. Thus, the idea of a hybrid event was abandoned and the 5th WCMB was online only.

Eunice deep-sea worm. Karlotta Kürzel

Organising a conference did not get any easier with going online. In addition to the 24-person Scientific and 9-person Early Career committees, juries were also formed for the photograph competition and early-career presentations awards.

Deep sea shark bioluminescence. Jerome Mallefet

The WCMB began with a traditional Maori welcome and messages from the Minister of Environment of New Zealand and a sponsor. There were 395 delegates from 45 countries. Presentations comprised 8 plenary keynotes, 108 long (12 minute) talks, 35 short (5 min) talks, 129 posters and 38 sessions across 3 days, with a cost of NZ$60,000 to host. It involved my handling some 6,000 emails and much more by the superb university Event Services staff who handled registrations, the website and conference hosting platform.


Plenary speakers:

  • Aulani Wilhelm who showed how Pacific Island nations lead the world in creating very large, and well regulated, Marine Protected Areas (MPA) occupying their entire Exclusive Economic Zone in some cases. 
  • Madeline van Oppen presented exciting research on how to help corals adapt to bleaching due to climate warming. 
  • Graham Edgar explained the necessity of having standardised data to detect trends in marine biodiversity, and how this can be achieved by nationally and globally coordinated surveys engaging citizen scientists (e.g. the Reef Life Survey). 
  • Steve Gaines described a prioritisation of where to best locate MPA to protect species, food security from fisheries and aid carbon sequestration. 
  • Maria Dornelas showed how mapping in marine biodiversity over time, at regional and global scales, showed change, but whether this could be considered good or bad demanded closer scrutiny. 
  • Steve Hawkins took a local and regional perspective on how climate, fishing and ecological interactions influenced changes in fish populations and rocky seashore communities around Britain.
  • Moriaki Yasuhara had a much longer perspective using fossils in marine sediment cores, showing how climate had been altering marine biodiversity from global to ocean scales for thousands of years.  
  • Robert Poulin explained how parasites are more important than their visibility indicates, both in terms of moderating host abundance and overall biomass in an ecosystem.

The 5th WCMB convenor, Mark Costello, located in Arctic Norway, passes the Carlo Heip award to the 2019 winner, Graham Edgar, located in Tasmania, Australia.

At every WCMB, the over 50-year old world academic organisation for marine biology – the International Association for Biological Oceanography ( – has held its General Meetings and organised sponsorship for scientists to attend from Developing Countries through the Scientific Committee on Ocean Research (SCOR). At this 5th WCMB, 24 scientists from 14 Developing Countries had their registration fees paid by SCOR on behalf of IABO: Algeria, Argentina, Mexico, Bangladesh, Brazil, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Ecuador, India, Kenya, Malaysia, Morocco, South Africa.

In 2018, IABO established the leading award for a marine biodiversity scientist, named after the co-organiser of the 1st WCMB, Carlo Heip. The winners of the 2019 and 2020 Carlo Heip Awards, Graham Edgar and Steve Hawkins, made plenary presentations at the WCMB and were virtually presented with their (posted) awards – a bronze sculpture of a clam shell –  after their keynote talks. There is now a call for nominations for 2021 and 2022 on the IABO website.

The 5th WCMB was sponsored by NIWA (National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, New Zealand), Lifewatch ERIC, ECO Magazine, and PyroScience Technology. The 6th WCMB will be hosted by the Centre for Marine & Coastal Studies (CEMACS) of Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang, Malaysia, and the 7th WCMB by Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) in Ghent, Belgium (see the IABO website for details).


Mark John Costello. School of Environment, University of Auckland, New Zealand, and Faculty of Biosciences and Aquaculture, Nord University, Norway. 



We thank the many people who helped the conference organisation.

Scientific Committee: Marti Anderson, Philippe Archambault, Scott Baker, Amanda E Bates, Angelika Brandt, Roberto Danovaro, Michael Donoghue, Graham Edgar, Nathan Fedrizzi, Olive Andrews, Lucy Jacob, Emma Johnston, Alison MacDiarmid, Tina N. Molodtsova, David Paterson, Siew Moi Phang, Robert Poulin, James Reimer, Suchana Chavanich, David Schiel, Nick Shears, Yoshihisa Shirayama, Martin Solan, Moriaki Yasuhara.

Early Career Committee: Emilee Benjamin, Ariadna Celina Nocera, Mariana Rocha de Souza, Priscila Salloum, Georgia Sarafidou, Erin Satterthwaite,Jasmin Schuster, Elin Thomas, Trevyn Toone.

Early Career Presentation Awards Jury: Tina Molodstova (Chair), Neus Campanyà-llovet, Maxine Cutracc, Christine Figgener, Frederic Sinniger, Zhiyuan Shi, Abe Woo.

Photograph Competition Jury: Mark Erdmann (Chair), Suchand (Apple) Chavanich, Gilbert Petersen, Tina Molodtsova, Graham Edgar.

Chairs of symposia and sessions: Marti Anderson, Eva Aylagas, Susan Carvalho, Suchana Chavanich, Malcolm Clark, Tasman Crowe, Ruth Erkisen, Nate Fedrezzi, Rachel Hale, Luke Holman, Tamlin Jefferson, Lucy Jacob, Libby Liggins, Edgardo Londono, Paula Pappalardo, Ashley Rowden, Kareen Schnabel, Trevyn Toone, Owen Wangensteen, Anastasija Zaiko.

University of Auckland Event Services Team: Melissa Burnett, Samantha Barrett, Emma Porritt, Christine McGonigal.


Other WCMB Content at PeerJ

Navigating Early Careers as Women in Marine Science: A WCMB panel discussion

Navigating paths through science as early career researchers: A WCMB panel discussion

PeerJ partners with 5th World Conference on Marine Biodiversity for forthcoming collection

PeerJ Awards Winners at the 5th World Conference on Marine Biodiversity


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