The XXIII SCAR Biennial meetings and the 2014 Open Science Conference welcomed the largest gathering of Antarctic researchers ever in New Zealand
New Zealand shares a long and rich history with Antarctica, from early exploration to ongoing science and research programmes. Its geographic closeness makes it a gateway for Antarctic operations, while New Zealand's position as a claimant nation and one of the original signatories of the Antarctic treaty make it an excellent fit for the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR).
Director of Gateway Antarctica at the University of Canterbury Professor Bryan Storey became Vice President of SCAR in 2012 and, aware that SCAR's Open Science Conference had never been held in New Zealand, decided to bid to host the biennial meeting.
“New Zealand is a world leader in Antarctic science which is why it is perfect for SCAR. New Zealand is a great place to do Antarctic research as the people understand the effects of the warming world. Antarctica has become very important particularly to an island nation like New Zealand due to the reality of sea levels rising.”
Prof Storey admits he held initial concerns about the cost and distances involved for overseas delegates coming to New Zealand. “However, working with Tourism New Zealand they helped with all of these concerns and supported me through the whole process of bidding for the international conference. Our organising committee worked together with Tourism New Zealand, the local Convention Bureau, our PCO and the venue to put together a bid that showed we are unique in our team approach. The New Zealand government provided letters of endorsement and through the Conference Assistance Programme we accessed funding for a promotional booth and travel support to ensure we had all the expertise on-hand in Buenos Aires when we presented our bid at the 2010 biennial meetings.
“The event was also subsidised by Antarctica New Zealand, and we attracted some commercial sponsorship, which made it reasonable value for money,” he says.
“Tourism New Zealand assured me that delegates always like coming to New Zealand because it is a safe destination, it is accessible, a beautiful country and it has the reputation for welcoming people. They were correct; our delegate numbers exceeded expectations and the conference was voted the best ever.”
The planning wasn't without a hitch, however. The conference was originally scheduled to take place in Christchurch, one of the major gateway cities to Antarctica. Disaster struck in February 2011 when a major earthquake hit Christchurch, destroying a large number of city buildings, including the conference facilities.
SCAR's organising committee did not give up, instead moving the event to Auckland. “The facilities were excellent and we attracted more attendees than we expected.
Usually when travelling to Antarctica most researchers do not get the opportunity to spend time in Auckland except the airport,” Prof Storey says.
In all, 950 delegates from 39 different countries attended the XXXIII SCAR Biennial meetings and the 2014 Open Science Conference, the largest gathering of Antarctic researchers ever in New Zealand. The venue, Sky City Convention Centre, was able to handle 1,000 people with up to nine parallel sessions per day. The diverse programme included world-renowned guest speakers, oral and poster presentations, mini symposia and workshops.
The conference gala dinner was held at Auckland War Memorial Museum, which was an impressive location offering excellent views, Prof Storey said. He also praised Auckland's range of hotels at varying price points, excellent restaurants and evening venues. “The proximity of everything was great and it made doing business there easy.”
Delegates were also invited to venture beyond the official programme, with a list of recommended Auckland tours and additional itineraries for exploring New Zealand made available to all visitors.
The event took place during a busy series of scientific conferences in New Zealand, with SCAR sharing the first day and a half of the Open Science Conference with COMNAP (the Council of Managers of the National Antarctic Programs) before COMNAP moved to Christchurch for its annual meeting. Meanwhile, joint cocktail events were held with the 31st General Assembly of the International Council of Science (ICSU), the parent body of SCAR, which was also meeting in Auckland.
Partnerships between these organisations culminated in a science programme to benefit the wider community, including public outreach events World Science Week, NZ ICEFEST, and a series of public lectures, some on Antarctica. The Museum also hosted Still Life; Inside the Antarctic Huts of Scott and Shackleton on behalf of the New Zealand Heritage Trust.
“We became aware early on the Royal Society were bidding for ICSU and we leveraged one off the other,” Prof Storey said. “World Science Week capitalised on both SCAR and ICSU events happening in the city, leading to some very successful public lectures.”
Overall, Prof Storey said final comments from delegates included: “Beautiful city, excellent facilities, friendly people. It was a very successful conference.”