Dunedin is cementing a reputation as the wildlife and scientific capital of New Zealand, with the 9th World Congress of Herpetology (the study of reptiles and amphibians) in 2020 the city’s latest successful conference win.

The event will be hosted by University of Otago’s Department of Zoology, and Professor Phil Bishop says: “This is a fantastic win, not just for New Zealand, but specifically for Dunedin and the University of Otago. We will have the opportunity to showcase our university and city to hundreds of international biologists, as the wildlife and scientific capital of New Zealand.

“I think it’s going to be a tremendous boost to the university’s reputation internationally, and it’s a good chance for our students and those working on amphibian and reptile research around New Zealand to interact with an international audience.”

Moreover, the event is expected to attract up to 1,000 delegates to the city, translating to up to 6,000 room nights, bringing an estimated $2.1 million to the local economy.

The win follows Dunedin’s successful bid for the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC) & Taxonomic Databases Working Group (TDWG) Joint Conference in 2018 – the first-ever meeting of the world’s leading researchers responsible for the care of natural history collections in the Southern Hemisphere. The inaugural joint conference will take place at the Otago Museum and neighbouring University of Otago, reflecting the city’s first-class knowledge in this field. It is expected to attract 350 delegates, bringing an estimated economic value $630,000 to the city.

Enterprise Dunedin’s Business Events Tourism Advisor Bree Jones says: “This continued success in attracting international conferences has shown that there is an appetite for the unique offerings Dunedin has as a conference destination. These international conferences will showcase Dunedin’s strengths in scientific research out of the University of Otago, and highlight our world renowned natural environment, ecotourism experiences and unparalleled wildlife to the influential delegates who will be attending.”

Jones said the conferences and applications had come in the period since Enterprise Dunedin and Tourism New Zealand met University of Otago representatives to explain government funding available to help attract conferences: “It shows there is a really strong appetite and willingness from academics and thought leaders to put themselves, the university and the city on a global stage, which is really exciting.”

Dunedin’s World Congress of Herpetology win beat other bids from countries including Kenya, Hungary, Morocco and Australia. Bishop said that conference delegates were particularly excited about New Zealand’s unique fauna. “While our Australian counterparts have hundreds of species of reptiles and amphibians, we have a much smaller number in New Zealand – but what we lack in quantity we make up for in quality. The species we do have are iconic, unique, and very unusual. Scientists like to tick things off their list. Tuatara is an order of reptiles that you cannot see anywhere else in the world and we also have amazing geckos, skinks and native frogs.

Robert Morris, Director of Collections, Research & Education at Otago Museum and the man behind the TDWG and SPNHC bid, added that this event was another real coup for Dunedin, with workshops and field trips making the most of Dunedin’s unique features including the Royal Albatross Centre, and Orokonui Ecosanctuary, home to native flora, fauna and endangered species.

“New Zealand is quite unique, we have very few native land mammals, a large number of marine animals, and amazing ornithology form kakapo to ancient moas.

“This conference exposes the university research and activity to the wider world as well, plus there’s the opportunity to learn from the experts coming from abroad. It will have benefits all round, really. Our work is about drawing upon our natural science collections to inform us about species distribution in space and time and how such research might inform climate change and environmental management practices in the future.

“It’s likely that, by hosting this conference, we could end up with an Oceania chapter for both bodies. We have shared concerns like rising seas, and islands at risk of flooding in the Pacific. If this leads to collaboration and assistance on issues like that, it’s a really good thing.”

(via University of Otago, Otago Daily Times)


Featured image: The tuatara can only be found in New Zealand