The 3rd Sharks International Conference took place in Joao Pessoa, Brazil this year. This was the first time that the Manta Pacific Research Foundation was represented at this international venue. This event provided a fantastic opportunity to showcase my research to a multinational audience that has specialized knowledge and expertise on sharks and rays.
While preparing for my trip, some concerning news appeared in the media. Two weeks before the conference the news was full of the economic crises and truck strike in response to increased fuel prices all over Brazil, which literally froze the country: there were reports on no supplies in gas stations and supermarkets because the trucks did not move from the roads and the airports were short on fuel so flights were cancelled or delayed for days. May last trip to Brazil was 15 years ago and it made such a big impression on me that I was committed to endure whatever it took to reach my destination. Luckily, a day before my departure the crisis started to get stabilized and my flights resumed as scheduled and I finally did not experience anything from the crisis.
The conference took place at the beautiful beach town, Joao Pessoa, within Hotel Tambau, the iconic, uniquely round shaped coastal hotel. Prior to my trip people warned me that as a solo female traveler I needed to be especially vigilant about safety, but these warnings were unfounded as the locals were very welcoming and friendly to outsiders. Consequentially I never felt in danger throughout my travels and I found the location of the conference absolutely breathtaking.
Knowing that many leading elasmobranch scientists will be attending this event my anticipation and expectations were very high. The event was everything I expected and more! Nearly 500 shark and ray researchers from 47 countries were present and the science itself was amazingly diverse and of high standards. The Brazilian organizers and student team did a remarkable job to make this conference an unforgettable learning and fun experience.
Luckily my oral presentation on manta ray coloration changes, potential mechanisms and evolutionary significance was scheduled for the first day. I was pleased with the overwhelming interest and feedback following my presentation, many people inquired about the details of my discoveries.
Since parts of my presentation were already published, I could refer people to the peer-reviewed journal articles that detailed the description of the rapid and long term coloration changes in manta rays.
On the second day I presented my poster on manta ray brain MRI, histology and diving physiology, which generated engaging discussions with interested researchers for a continuous 2,5 hours.
It was pleasantly surprising to me that many young investigators in Brazil were involved in manta ray and mobula research and education projects. Probably the best part of the trip was reconnecting with old friends, many whom I had not seen in the last 10-18 years that are considered world experts in shark and ray biology and who largely contributed to the start of my career in this field.
After the scientific program, the Brazilian hosts made sure that every day we were all entertained by introducing us to many cultural elements of their country; they organized performances and parties for us every single night.
The mid conference day-off was a great idea since people could connect and interact with each other without having to worry about missing a talk. We could tour the historic city and went on a sunset boat tour where they had a dance show, while we could chat about our research projects and got to know each other better.
I was pleased to see that research on fresh water stingrays and sawfish got a big emphasis this year and we could learn about some very interesting and promising research on these animals.
The closing banquet was a fantastic bonding experience with amazing food and a crowded dance party with sambaing and caipirinhas until they closed the place at 1am.
I am sure that everybody who had the chance to participate at this conference had the same positive, unforgettable experience. I certainly got many new ideas, made connections for future collaborations and experienced the incredible Brazilian hospitality.
Hope to see you all at the next Sharks International conference in Valencia, Spain, in 2022!