[slideshow] For those of us in the professional workplace, we know all too well that our day-to-day can get overwhelming, disheartening and sometimes banal. Even scientists, as exciting as our research can be, feel this too. At CEI, there is so much going that on that it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture and take for granted this amazing place where we live and the truly interesting work we do. Long hours of fieldwork, scrubbing tanks, struggling through statistical analysis can sometimes can leave asking, “what is this all for?” To alleviate this, we look for “pick me ups”, which for many comes in the form of coffee, or, for the Brits among us, a cupp’a PG Tips. I find that taking a plunge into the ocean or a run around the loop also gets the job done. But these practices are…well, just not sustainable! The trick, I’ve discovered, to really get energized and motivated - I mean really excited about what you’re doing, your job, your day to day - is to attend a conference! Conferences bring like-minded people together to discuss similar topics of interest. They inform, spark dialogue, entice collaboration and get people enthusiastic about their work. I like to call this getting your “conference caffeine.”

Each year the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI, www.gcfi.org) holds a conference to promote the exchange of current information on the use and management of marine resources in the Gulf and Caribbean region. This is a tough task, given that the Caribbean alone is comprised of 28 island nations and over 7,000 individual islands! However, last week GCFI set out again to take charge. CEI Research Manager, Annabelle Brooks and I were fortunate to attend the 64th annual meeting, which was held this year in Puerto Morelos, Mexico, a small fishing village about 20 minutes south of Cancun. We joined government representatives, scientists, students, managers and fisherman for the week-long conference that included presentations on sustainable fisheries, management and socio-economics. Sitting through the sessions, I was excited to see the magnitude of work that other small islands, like Eleuthera, are taking on. Annabelle was invited to present during one of these sessions and did a great job representing CEI with her presentation, “Patch reefs as important habitat for Nassau grouper and Caribbean spiny lobster near Eleuthera, The Bahamas: Implications for MPA development,” which served to summarize and disseminate data that has been collected by Island School students since 2004.  I also had the opportunity to present information about CEI’s Lionfish Research and Education Program during the poster session, which proved to be a great venue to connect one-on-one with interested scientists and students. I was also invited to assist with the two-day Lionfish Collecting and Handling Special Workshop hosted by Lad Akins (REEF, www.reef.org). The workshop provided up-to-date information on this invasive species, lessons learned from areas already invaded and practical instruction in lionfish collecting, handling and monitoring for impacts. It was great to see the interesting and successful work that islands like Grand Cayman and Cuba have enacted to research and manage lionfish. This workshop will help build capacity for countries dealing with the invasion and was especially insightful for countries in the southern Caribbean who have just recently had their first lionfish sighting. I was able to lead a group of snorkelers from Guadeloupe and St. Lucia to experience their first capture of a lionfish. It was amazing to see their excitement when they learned how to use nets to capture the fish and safely handle, dissect and fillet them! It’s easy to feel isolated living on a small island, but working alongside people from other island nations helped remind me that - although we at CEI are nestled on the tiny area of Cow Point - we are part of the larger Caribbean community. The work we are doing is relevant, important and needs to be shared!

By the end of the week, I felt a definite sense of satisfaction and a newfound energy. Stepping off of the plane, I was happy to be back in Eleuthera. I felt reconnected with this island I now call home. I had been reminded of my passion for this place, for my work, and for my role as an environmental steward. GCFI gave me my “conference caffeine” and I’m eager to put this new energy, these new ideas and these connections to work.

By: Skylar Miller, Lionfish Research and Education, Sp ’03 Alum