Having participated in several conferences about marine science education and ocean literacy in Europe, it was time to tread on new ground. I remember when I met Meghan Marrero, in Sweden, during another work meeting about ocean literacy and the link between the U.S. and Europe. She was later to become my nominator for the Expanded Audiences Audience Scholarship, which I successfully received in May 2015. It was going to be the first time I would attend the Holy Grail of Conferences (for me): the annual NMEA conference in Rhode Island.
Beyond Greece, my work involved networking with marine science educators in Europe, the Transatlantic Ocean Literacy Panel and marine educators throughout the United States and beyond and to experience best practices for marine education and communication, which I could bring to my work in Europe and share through my professional networks.
The timing of the annual NMEA conference was also pretty critical: a few months after the conference, I was putting on a conference of my own: the European Marine Science Education Association (EMSEA) conference, held in Crete. As the Chair of the EMSEA15 Conference, it was important for me to experience an NMEA conference, as EMSEA conferences have largely been based on lessons learned from NMEA.
During the 2015 conference in Newport, I met the conference organizers, I had the opportunity to observe how a successful conference is run, got some tips and fresh ideas on how these tips could be applied to the conference I was responsible for, while one of the ideas stuck with me in the long term and the EMSEA community can be thankful for it now: the auction. It was one of the highlights of the conference for me and it was an idea I later suggested to the EMSEA15 Organizing Committee, as we often hear about our colleagues who are not able to join us in these fruitful conferences due to the increased registration fees and travelling costs. For this reason, we decided to hold the first ever EMSEA fundraising event, in order to raise money for a scholarship for the upcoming EMSEA16 Conference, to be held in Belfast, in October. The event was an Aquarium Bingo, which took place right after the end of the conference. It also served the purpose of building community, getting to know colleagues and sharing fun activities with them while also raising money for an important cause.
The Aquarium Bingo was a successful and fun event, which allowed us to raise more than 600 euros for two bursaries, each worth 300 euros. The money will be used to cover the registration fees of individuals who are not usually able to attend the conference. The event was organized with the help of the HCMR’s Aquarium staff, who have long and solid experience in similar events. Participants paid a small fee to participate in the bingo and then entered the Aquarium in order to identify the various animals they saw in the photographs they had been handed out. Once all animals were identified, the game came to an end. The feedback from the delegates was very positive and everyone was happy to participate in an event held for a good cause. Personally, I think it was probably one of the most important events of the EMSEA15 Conference and I hope it will become a tradition in the coming years at EMSEA conferences. For this, I can only thank NMEA for inspiring me to set up this event.
Being at NMEA15, I had the opportunity to interact with a wide variety of NMEA members and share my ideas about how ocean literacy has spread in Greece and the Mediterranean region, as well as throughout Europe.
The opportunity to present the 2015 EMSEA Conference was highly valuable to me and EMSEA overall, as it is the first time that the EMSEA conference is moving to the south of Europe and it is really important to gain visibility, promote the conference as much as possible and personally invite members of NMEA to attend.
More importantly though, I think my experience can only be measured in the wealth of new friendships and relations that were built during those few days. Personally, and professionally, the benefit of attending such a conference cannot be described in words. I am ever so thankful to have attended NMEA, meet so many education professionals from around the world, while I was thrilled to see my new friends and colleagues at EMSEA15.