Friday, July 29, 2011

A Sunny Farewell

A pale sun finally peaked out from behind the clouds on Friday morning, washing the city of Halifax in a warm, dull glow. Spirits were high as we reconvened for the last time at the convention center, caffeinated and rejuvenated after last night's festivities.

The morning talks covered the socio-economic factors affecting mercury exposure and risk, a dynamic group of speakers working in different regions around the world to explore the connections between human development and seafood consumption. Each of the presentations touched on the importance of 'underlying processes' when trying to establish a cause and effect relationship between consumption and health. Researchers must consider a range of dietary factors such as how much, how often and what species of seafood is consumed, and where that particular species comes from (wild caught? farmed? local? imported?). Beyond seafood-specific data, researchers must also collect information on the subject's entire diet, as well as social, economic and environmental factors to determine and reduce potential exposure pathways.

The dialogue later progressed into the future applications of dietary research. When trying to determine the most appropriate outreach strategy to educate a particular audience, communicators must consider cultural, social, economic and political dimensions to best understand behavioral patterns and frame the message for the audience. The ultimate goal is not to dissuade people from eating seafood, rather to provide guidance on which options will enhance the health benefits (omega-3s, lean protein) while minimizing the health risks (neurotoxicity).

After an informative, exciting four days in Halifax, we are all looking forward to reading the new research coming out of the conference. Check SeaWeb's Marine Science Review for a thematic review of the latest papers to come out about marine science.

Until the next mercury conference, see you in Scotland!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Presentations, Posters and Parties

The fourth and final full day at the conference was packed with presentations, posters, and parties!

The morning special session focused on mercury in fish. The presentations addressed the importance of ecological and physiological characteristics in determining mercury concentrations. Factors such as habitat, growth rate, and trophic level may explain the variation in mercury levels in and among species. For example, mercury concentrations are influenced by the physical environment and where a particular species is found on the food chain. The findings are consistent with the current thinking behind consumption advisories that recommend eating smaller fish like sardines and anchovies that are found lower in the food chain.

Following the morning session was the first 'poster hour' of the day. KidSafe Seafood was featured among the posters addressing socio-economic factors affecting mercury exposure and risk (S19). Many people were eager to weigh in on the consumption debate, discussing the many challenges and benefits to creating comprehensive guidelines. KidSafe Seafood received several accolades for our three-pronged approach, combining contaminant, environmental and health interests in our recommendations. Whereas many of the posters presented purely scientific research, KidSafe Seafood provided an applied approach, using the scientific information to provide public health guidance. As such, the poster attracted much interest, and praise, from the attendees.

After a quick lunch, we all hustled back to catch the afternoon special session. The health effects of mercury series was a two hour crash course in biogeochemistry! Each of the presentations addressed the complex interactions that go on in and between individuals (i.e. between mother and fetus/nursing child). Mercury, a known neurotoxin, disrupts normal body function, creating several health risks. Furthermore, the environment in which we live and our genetics play a significant role in how we respond to mercury exposure.

Later that night, the entire conference hung up their thinking caps for the evening for a gala at the historic citadel overlooking downtown Halifax. We were treated to a demonstration by the citadel guards, dressed head to toe in traditional uniform. The conversations continued as we loaded up our plates with tasty treats and filled our glasses. The sun slowly fell below the horizon as the night wore on, fueled by good company, good food, and lively conversation.

Keep reading to find out what exciting adventures are in store for the final day of the conference!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

As the fog rolled in, hundreds of scientists rolled out of bed and into the World Trade & Convention Center in downtown Halifax for the third day of the International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant. Despite the drizzly weather and early hour, the 8:30 am session was packed to the gills with standing room only!

The morning 'special session' addressed the fate of mercury in
ecosystems, from sources to consumers (S14). The eight presentations looked at global trends in mercury deposition and how those different sources (both natural and man made) influence local exposure risks.
The discussions continued with a more detailed look at regional implications for estuaries in the northeastern U.S., the Gulf coast, the Gulf of Maine, the Mediterranean and the San Francisco Bay.

Following the hard hitting science presentations, the discussion turned to more practical applications, translating toxicological and environmental data into human health risks and consumption advisories. We learned about the many complexities and challenges of creating consumption advice for at risk populations like women and children. The last presentation even mentioned the KidSafe Seafood program among their review of current seafood advisories in the U.S.!

The session concluded with a provocative discussion about where the burden lies when it comes to responsible consumption. In other words, should it be the government's responsibility to monitor/reduce contaminant levels (like mercury) and ensure sustainable fishing practices, or should the consumer be responsible for selecting healthy, environmentally friendly options? What do you think?

Click here for additional information on the session, presenters, and their affiliations.

Keep reading for more updates from the conference!

Monday, July 25, 2011

KidSafe Seafood is headed to Canada!

SeaWeb's KidSafe Seafood program is going to Halifax, Nova Scotia from July 26-July 29 for the 10th International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant (ICMGP). The conference will explore the linkages between the transport and sources of mercury to the environment, and the health risks associated with mercury exposure among humans and wildlife.

Look out for our poster on Thursday, July 28 in the exhibit hall as part of the Special Session S19 series: Socio-economic factors affecting mercury exposure and risk

S19 – Socio-economic factors affecting mercury exposure and risk
PRINCIPAL ORGANIZER: Marc Lucotte, Université du Québec à Montréal
This special session will bring together scientists and science uAdd Image
sers to discuss the most effective ways to reach vulnerable populations exposed to Hg throughout the world and to help them adopt long-lasting healthy behaviour and practices considering their socio-economical realities. Particular attention will be given to neglected populations that are amongst the most exposed populations in the world.

With over 900 registered participants and a schedule packed with relevant, interesting sessions KidSafe Seafood is looking forward to learning about the most recent and important advances in mercury research.

Stay tuned for more information from the conference!