Over the years, the idea of forming a society specifically for chondrichthyan scientists in Australia and New Zealand had been discussed on many occasions. It would, however, take a group of motivated postgraduate students and few discussions at conferences for a society to be born.
In 1991, Australia hosted the ‘Sharks Down Under’ international conference, yet there was no Australasian shark society for researchers working on chondrichthyan fishes to regularly discuss their work or to represent their needs. Consequently, chondrichthyan scientists presented research at the regular meetings of the American Elasmobranch Society (AES), European Elasmobranch Association (EEA) or local fish based societies, including the Australian Society for Fish Biology (ASFB) or the Australian or New Zealand Marine Science Societies. Additionally, the only broad-brush communications tool for Australian and New Zealand scientists was an unofficial e-mail list ‘the Australian Shark Research Network’ which was created by Andrew Chin following discussions between shark researchers at the AMSA 2001 conference.
In 2005, a new initiative gave southern Queensland shark researchers and students the opportunity to share their work through the launch of the Southeast Queensland Elasmobranch Research Forum (SQERF). This symposia for shark and ray research in southern Queensland was organised by Christine Dudgeon, Peter Kyne and Richard Pillans (all were then students at the University of Queensland) along with Tracey Scott-Holland and Michael Bennett (University of Queensland). During the closing meeting held at the Moreton Bay Research Station on Nth Stradbroke Island, the desire to see the foundation of a regional shark and ray society was explicitly expressed. Coincidently, also in 2005 at an AES meeting in Tampa, Florida, Sarah Irvine (then WA Fisheries) and Cynthia Awruch (then University of Tasmania) discussed the need for a society similar to AES in the Australasian region with a number of prominent shark and ray researchers. Upon return to Australia, further discussions were held with John Stevens (CSIRO) – John had attended the SQERF meeting as a guest speaker and suggested contacting the organisers of SQERF and Andrew Chin (then GBRMPA). During such discussions, an interim committee was appointed to assess the feasibility of an Australasian based society. The interim committee included:
President – Sarah Irvine
Vice President – Andrew Chin
Treasurers – Peter Kyne & Christine Dudgeon (also memberships officer)
Secretaries – Cynthia Awruch & Michelle Treloar
Newsletter editors – Michelle Treloar & Charlie Huveneers
Council members – Malcolm Francis & Clinton Duffy
The name of the society was chosen to reflect the diversity of chondrichthyan species, and our area of focus – Oceania. A lot of work by the founding members saw the creation of the society mission statement and putting in place the legal arrangements that were needed to establish the Oceania Chondrichthyan Society, which was officially incorporated in Western Australia on 11 November 2005 after receiving a small grant from WA Fisheries. A small grant from PADI Project Aware allowed the development of the OCS’s first website and e-mail list (incorporating the old Australian Shark Research Network). PhD student and talented artist, Lindsay Marshall, designed the numerous society logos and the current logo was chosen by the interim committee.
On 10 February 2006, membership was officially opened and publicly announced; within two months the OCS had 54 members. The society released its first newsletter in May 2006, and the edition featured research updates by Will Robbins, Joanna Stead and Kara Yopak.
The first OCS meeting – Hobart
On 20 August 2006, the OCS organised its first meeting at the CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research laboratories in Hobart; the location and time was chosen to compliment the 2006 ASFB conference and CSIRO kindly donated the use of their facility. This small and free event included presentations by invited speakers, namely John Stevens (CSIRO), Malcolm Francis (NIWA), Michelle Heupel (then MOTE Marine Laboratory) and Terry Walker (MaFRI). The inaugural OCS Annual General Meeting was also held and included the election of the OCS’s first formal Executive Council and committee;
President – Sarah Irvine
Vice President – Andrew Chin
Treasurer – Christine Dudgeon (also memberships officer)
Secretary – Charlie Huveneers
Newsletter editor – Shannon Corrigan
Conference organiser – Cynthia Awruch
Council members – Mike Bennett, Clinton Duffy, Malcolm Francis, Kathy Townsend, Michelle Treloar & William White
Word continued to spread and by March 2007, the OCS had almost doubled its membership to nearly 100.
Joining forces with the tourism industry
In February 2007, Andrew Chin (then acting President) and Alan Wallish, Director of the ecotourism company ‘Passions of Paradise’, negotiated a three-year agreement where Passions would provide the OCS with significant financial support to aid student conference travel and research. [NB: As of 2010, Passions had provided up to $15,000 in funding, and the agreement was renewed for a further three years.]
The first OCS conference – Queenscliff Victoria
On 22-24 October 2007, the OCS held its first scientific conference in Queenscliff, hosted by Primary Industries Research Victoria (PIRVic) and organised by Cynthia Awruch and Terry Walker. The conference included: keynote addresses from William White (CSIRO) and Colin Simpfendorfer (James Cook University); 32 oral presentations; a poster session; and a one-day workshop at PIRVic on the reproductive biology and age and growth of chondrichthyan fishes. About 60 delegates attended the first OCS conference at the Vue Grand Hotel (see photo below).
Rui Coelho, Lorenze Frick, Lindsay Marshall and Michelle Treloar won the first Passion of Paradise student awards, while Christine Dudgeon won best student presentation and was awarded a week long dive trip with the Undersea Explorer. Four students were given Passions of Paradise travel grants to attend the conference. At the second AGM, Sarah Irvine stood down and William White was elected as President. Kathy Townsend joined the OCS Council as Treasurer, while Andrew Chin and Charlie Huveneers stayed on in their positions as Vice President and Secretary. Alastair Harry became newsletter editor. Committee members included: Robin Aiello; Cynthia Awruch; Mike Bennett; Shannon Corrigan (Conference officer); Clinton Duffy; Christine Dudgeon; Malcolm Francis; Alastair Harry (newsletter editor); Michelle Heupel; Charlie Huveneers; Sarah Irvine; Kathy Townsend; and Michelle Treloar.
Jessica Gwilliam, Shannon Corrigan, Charlie Huveneers, William White and Pheobe Meagher took on the role of organising the second OCS conference, held at the Australian Museum in Sydney from 22-25 September 2008. Over 70 members attended the event and the AGM saw the election of Charlie Huveneers, Joanna Stead and Clinton Duffy to the Executive Council, and a host of new committee members (see Newsletter 11). The Passions of Paradise student awards went to Carley Bansemer, Christopher Izzo, Ron Shroeder and Lindsay Marshall, and a further six students were given Passions of Paradise travel grants to attend the conference.
2009 and onwards…
The OCS continued to grow further in 2009-2010. Membership grew to 121 members in July 2009 in spite of a lack of conferences in those years (due to the 8th Indo-Pacific Fish Conference at Fremantle in 2009, and Sharks International in Cairns in 2010). The Executive Council welcomed new members to executive roles in the society – Michelle Heupel, Lindsay Marshall and Susan Theiss as Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer respectively. The society made amendments to the constitution, launched a new website and made its first submission to government to support the declaration of the Wenlock River in north Queensland under the Wild River legislation (see Newsletter 15).
In 2010, the OCS had its largest ever social gathering, hosting a society dinner during the Sharks International conference in Cairns in June 2010. This was an excellent opportunity for non-members to learn more about the OCS with large numbers of non-OCS members attending. During the dinner, the OCS named the first Distinguished Fellow and presented the first Lifetime Membership to Dr John Stevens (CSIRO) in recognition of his outstanding contribution to chondrichthyan research.