SyngBio 2021- Creatures of Mystery: Global Research on Syngnathidae Fishes

“Wow – what an incredible experience.” These are the first five words that come to mind when I think of SyngBio 2021, the meeting for researchers and other professionals working to understand the unique biology of syngnathid fishes. If I tell you that I attended the meeting via Zoom and that half the sessions were running from midnight to 3 am where I live, you’ll understand just how good the meeting was.

I am sure my sentiment is shared by all who joined us either online or in-person. Over 200 people gathered from around the world to talk about their this magical group of fishes that we collectively love and study – the seahorses, pipefishes and seadragons!! Our last meeting was in Tampa, Florida (USA) in 2017 so this meeting was long anticipated.

While we would have enjoyed the opportunity to gather once again in person, the same warm, friendly, and enthusiastic atmosphere permeated the meeting – even though many of us joined in from our homes and offices around the globe.

Our colleagues at the South China Seas Institute for Oceanology in Guangzhou (Chinese Academy of Sciences), did an incredible job organizing and hosting the fourth SyngBio. It exceeded all our expectations. They did this warmly and eagerly, all while being thrown many unprecedented challenges. All of us at Project Seahorse are proud to have provided support through the preparation phase, although credit for the success of the meeting most certainly belongs to Dr. Lin Qiang-Zsu and his heroic team.

Originally planned for May 2020 in Guangzhou, China, the meeting was postponed to May 2021 due to the global Covid-19 pandemic. Once again the on-going pandemic altered our plans, and quickly our colleagues switched gears and managed to hold a fantastic hybrid meeting – with those in China meeting in-person and the rest of us joining online.

I was happy to see old friends and colleagues and meet new ones from every corner of the world – a truly international meeting with people joining from over 24 different countries. What made this meeting extraordinary was that many people who might not have normally been able to attend in person (eg. from developing countries and students) were able to join online and share their work with the syngnathid community. Indeed, many of student presentations were exceptional and showed us the potential of the next generation of leaders in syngnathid research and conservation.

Covering topics from systemics and evolution, genomics and genetics, aquaculture and environment to biology and behaviour, syngnathid conservation and protection, the audience was blown away by stunning new developments in our understanding of syngnathids.

We heard from researchers who were studying the development of the seahorse brood pouch, the evolution of pregnancy, historical impacts of syngnathid evolution, human impacts on seahorse populations, seahorse trade, syngnathid conservation, monitoring programs for seahorses and seadragons from around the world and so much more. Be sure to watch some of the recorded presentations on YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCb_hMm1MkbQKO-Zr3pFobA/playlists

I was particularly struck by the wonderful presentations from our iSeahorse Trends monitors, Kuda Divers from Cambodia and the Hippocampus Marine Institute from Greece. They both displayed the incredible value of having dedicated, passionate community scientists to monitor and protect our seahorses.  The conservation action they take within their local communities is truly inspirational and illustrates the importance of having local ocean heroes in every corner of the world.

SyngBio has always been a friendly meeting where colleagues meet and exchange ideas, and form lasting friendships. The third SyngBio lead to some amazing collaborations and connections and I am sure that this fourth SyngBio catalyzed similar connections amongst researchers.  Hearty thanks to all who participated so effectively and interestingly.

Despite the hardships of the past year, one thing was absolutely clear… our combined passion for these “Creatures of mystery” and lasting commitment to “Global Research on Syngnathidae fishes”.

Lily Stanton is Project Seahorse’s Syngnathid Research Biologist.