The conference was last hosted in Galway ten years ago in 2003, and we were very pleased to co-host the event again this year in association with the Environmental Sciences Association of Ireland (ESAI). The event was very well attended again this year with almost 300 delegates registered over the three days.
The theme of this year’s conference was "Environment: From Ecosystem Functioning to Human Health". Human health and well-being is achieved and maintained through our interactions with the world around us. Clean air, clean drinking water, safe food, good quality soils, and smart land use are essential elements in achieving good health. Delegates were challenged to relate their work to the conference theme, and dedicate a slide from their presentation to the overarching theme.
The conference kicked off on Wednesday morning with four workshops offered to delegates. The first workshop was 'Ecosystems and Health: from Local to Global Issues’ and was delivered by a team from NUI Galway and HSE West [Martin Cormican, Maire Connolly, Diarmuid O’Donovan, Akke Velinga, Maurice Mulcahy and Martina Prendergast]. Two GIS workshops were offered and delivered by Ronan Hennessy, NUI Galway: 'Free GIS in Environmental Science: Sourcing Free GIS Data and Using Free GIS Software’ and 'ArcGIS in Environmental Science: Skills and Thrills’. A forth workshop was offered on 'Promoting Innovation in Research: Communication, Transfer & Application’ by John Gallagher and his team from TCD. I wish to extend a huge big thank you to all the workshop organisers who volunteered and gave up their time for free.
The main conference activity kicked-off on Wednesday evening with a Q&A style panel debate on "Securing Ireland's Energy Future". The event was very well attended with about 120 people present on the evening. Mr. Duncan Stewart, broadcaster and presenter of the RTÉ programme Eco Eye moderated the debate which covered a very wide array of topics such as energy efficiency, renewable energy sources, CO2 emissions, power, heat, transport, fuel imports/energy security, and the creation of energy-related jobs. Members of the panel included Eamon Ryan, leader of the Green Party and former Minister for Energy, Communications and Natural Resources, Brian Barrett, senior executive with Galway County Council, Emeritus Professor Phillip Walton, physicist and member of the Irish pro-nuclear lobby group BENE (Better Environment with Nuclear Energy), and Dr. Eimear Cotter, Senior Manager with EPA’s Climate Change and Environmental Research Unit. The discussion was lively and got quite heated at times, especially when discussing the regulations governing the distance of wind turbines from residential homes.
Our keynote speaker was Mr. Tony Juniper, who is one of the top ten international environmental figures of the last 25 years. Tony is a British campaigner, writer, sustainability advisor and leading environmentalist recognised among other activities for his work as Executive Director of Friends of the Earth, England, Wales and Northern Ireland and Vice Chair of Friends of the Earth International from 2000-2008. His lecture on ‘Nature for Health - Opportunities for People and the Environment’ examined how exposure to good quality green space and the natural environment can improve quality of life. He highlighted the potential economic benefits of working with nature instead of polluting the environment. He gave insights into how nature provides the 'natural services' that keep the economy going, and revealed that these and other services are each year worth about double global GDP. His new book called ‘What has Nature ever done for us?’ was launched in January and he kindly signed copies after he delivered his keynote address. His lecture was stimulating and fascinating and was the highlight of the colloquium.
In total, we received over 150 abstract submissions and over the course of the Thursday and Friday there were 99 oral presentations and 50 posters on display. There were six oral and poster prizes on offer again this year, each worth €250, thanks to the kindness and support of our generous sponsors. The overall winner of the best oral was NUI Galway student Catherine Ludden for her presentation entitled ‘Longitudinal Study of Environmental Contamination with Antimicrobial Resistant Organisms in a Newly Built Nursing Home’. Her prize was sponsored by Lifetime Lab. The winner of the best poster sponsored by Cork City Council was Sarah O’Malley, also of NUI Galway, for her poster entitled ‘Reconnecting children and nature? Mapping the evolution of environmental education in Ireland’.
As well as the main conference activity, this year there were a number of invited speaker sessions. On Thursday afternoon, Prof. Gerard Jennings delivered a lecture remembering, Dr. Tom O’Connor (RIP), who passed away in November 2012. Tom made decades of important contributions to the fields of atmospheric physics, aerosol science, occupational hygiene, and the history of science. Later on Thursday afternoon a workshop on ‘Accessing Research Funding’ took place with senior representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Health Research Board (HRB), Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), Irish Research Council (IRC), Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine (DAFM), and who gave 20 minute presentations on the best strategies to access funding for your research. This session was informative and was unique in having all the funding agencies present at the same event.
The conference dinner got underway on Thursday evening at 8pm in the Radisson Blu hotel. There was a large crowd of over 120 in attendance and we danced the night away to the sounds of our student-by day, DJ-by-night, John Staunton. The food was excellent and a good time was had by all.
This year, for the first time, the conference featured the ENVIRON Career Expo and CV workshop. Attendees met representatives from NGOs, environmental consultancies, research institutes, and semi-state bodies planning to recruit in 2013 to discuss job opportunities; internships; post-doctorate and Ph.D. programmes. Career guidance and CV consultation were provided at the event. The Career Expo was open to the general public, and attracted 80 members of the public. The hard work of Cara Augustenborg and Aoife Delaney made this event a huge success and it is planned to repeat this event at future ENVIRON conferences.
Also, the French artist, Francois Gunning, was our ENVIRON artist-in-residence. He exhibited 20 of his pieces in the foyer and break-out rooms. Francois links art and science and paints pictures and builds sculptures using recycled materials and plastic debris found on the sea shore and along the coast on beaches. He uses his art to educate the public about the value of material that we perceive as waste. He was present during Thursday and Friday to discuss the meaning of his pieces with delegates.
The conference closed on Friday at 2pm with the announcement of next year’s hosts. ENVIRON2014 will be held in Trinity College Dublin on 26th-28th February, 2014. Good luck to Laurence Gill, Brian Broderick and John Gallagher with the plans for the next ENVIRON.
Dr. Martina Prendergast,
ENVIRON2013 Conference Convenor
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