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Tickets still available for Mollusks in Peril conference

By Staff | Apr 27, 2016

A fascinating, fun, informational conference exploring mollusks will be held at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum next month featuring a vast array of scientist, who are experts in their field.

Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum Science Director & Curator Dr. Jose H. Leal said the main engine behind the Mollusks in Peril conference came from one of their volunteers, Smoky Payson, who provided the initial funding for the program.

“He is very interested in the subject of the current changes that may be affecting mollusks in general. We decided to come up with this title Mollusks in Peril,” Leal said.

Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum Executive Director Dorrie Hipschman said Mollusks in Peril is going to be amazing.

“It’s an important aspect of our ocean and terrestrial environments that we don’t tend to think about. We think about the dolphins, turtles and the whales. We may lose critical components through them, but the most diverse population of animals we need to care about. We have to look at the smallest components to preserve the largest components,” she said. “One of the important aspects of the conference is many of these animals are an indicator species.”

Hipschman said there are all kinds of free-floating pteropod, sea butterflies, which are micro-mollusks, that are the food source for baleen whales. The graphic, an artist rendering, for Mollusks in Peril is modeled after the pteropod that is dissolving because they do have shells.

“The shells are so small and thin, so they are highly endangered,” she said. “The increased acidification of the ocean is dissolving their shells. When those shells dissolve, those animals die and the food web can potentially crash.”

Discussions will be held concerning local changes affecting, not only mollusks, but anything else leaving the planet right now. Leal said that discussion will include ocean warming, ocean acidification and changes in the natural environment due to development and introduction of species that may harm native species when they first come to a country, or island.

“We will have people in the museum in May talking about marine, freshwater and land mollusks. And even the marine biologists working with some deep sea mollusks. (There are) some threats to very deep sea populations because of the mining of the Chinese. It just goes to show how far and deeply that humans can affect the environment,” Leal said.

Mollusks in Peril will feature almost a dozen speakers, mostly traveling to the island from the United States. They will provide an hour-long presentation followed by panel discussions. Leal said the public is welcome to ask questions and participate.

“Hopefully we will come up with, at the end, some answers to what can be done to help mitigate growths and threats to mollusks,” he said. “It’s a different experience for the museum. It projects the museum in a different light and it fits well with education also.”

The whole idea is to call attention to things that are happening, Leal said through Mollusks in Peril, while at the same time seeing if there are possible, viable solutions to those problems.

The featured speakers include:

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences Research Curator of Aquatic Invertebrates Dr. Arthur Bogan;

University of Washington Professor of Biology Dr. Emily Carrington, who bases her research at the Friday Harbor Laboratories in the San Juan Islands;

Research Professor Dr. Robert Cowie from the University of Hawaii at Manoa Pacific Biosciences Research Center;

Dr. C. Mark Eakin, a coral reef watch coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Center for Satellite Applications and Research;

Howard University Department of Biology Assistant Professor Dr. Kenneth Hayes;

Western Illinois University Professor and Chair of Biological Sciences Dr. Charles Lydeard;

University of South Florida College of Marine Sciences Professor of Biological Oceanography Dr. Brad Seibel;

Queen’s University Marine Laboratory Associate Professor and Associate Director Dr. Julia Sigwart;

Oregon State University College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences Assistant Professor Dr. George Waldbusser;

Bowdoin College Earth and Oceanographic Science Visiting Assistant Professor Dr. Meredith White and

Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum Malacology Researcher Dr. Norine W. Yeung.

“They are all well-known and working on mollusks conservation for many years,” Leal said.

He said one of the speakers is a very prominent coral reef specialist from NOAA, who is very involved in some of the problems coral reefs have with warming.

“They cannot survive with the changes that are happening right now,” he said. “Coral reefs are such big ecosystems and they support so many different diverse species. If something happens to coral reefs, kind of automatically, all of those things will be affected.”

Freshwater oysters, which are one of the animals listed in critical danger, will be discussed by the speakers.

On a local basis, Hipschman said, people are studying what is near and dear to everyone’s heart, Lake Okeechobee. She said there are studies going on regarding the freshwater impact and how many oyster beds it kills.

“Oysters are hyper sensitive to changes in salinity. They live in brackish water. They cannot live in pure ocean water. If the brackish water is too brackish, they cannot stay there,” Leal said.

Hipschman said if water is released that is not in the natural cycle it has many unintended consequences.

“As we loose species we don’t know what research possibilities, new pharmaceuticals, new biomedical . . . I think of those as lost opportunities,” she said. “If the animals don’t exist, that wealth of possibilities also doesn’t exist.”

Mollusks in Peril will kick off with a sunset cruise with Captiva Cruises on Sunday, May 22. The conference will be held Monday, May 23, and continue on Tuesday, May 24, at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum.

“The premise of the forum is not to be doom and gloom,” Hipschman said. “I think the premise is to say we can’t fix it if we don’t know about it. We can’t make change unless you have studied what is now and studied what the best estimates of what we think is coming. If you want people to take action, that action needs to be scientifically based. The premise of a natural history museum is to say whatever conversations we have, and they are difficult conversations in the state of Florida. It is our responsibility as a museum to help ground those conversations in the best possible science from the people that are doing the most current work. Whether the people at the forum agree or disagree with us, at least we are starting from the best possible data.”

Early registration is $100 through Saturday, April 30, and covers cost for continental breakfasts, lunches and breaks. For an additional $25, participants and guests can join the kickoff sunset cruise on Sunday, May 22. To register and for a complete list of presenters and topics, visit www.shellmuseum.org/learn/mollusks-in-peril-forum, or call (239) 395-2233.

“We expect to have a nice audience of local people,” Leal said. “It is open to everyone. It is informational.”

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.