Oceans Past VII

Bremerhaven, 22 - 26 October 2018

Tracing human interactions with marine ecosystems through deep time: implications for policy and management

Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) & the German Maritime Museum, Bremerhaven, Germany

The Oceans Past 7 Conference was held in Bremerhaven (Germany), with the local support and organization of the AWI and the German Maritime Museum, between 22 and 26 October. Around 100 participants from 24 different nationalities were present during the six days of talks and meetings. Current research was showcased and the exciting final results of the EU COST Action OPP - Oceans Past Platform - were presented. A general assembly for the constitution of OPI - Oceans Past Initiative - was also held, and the Scientific Board of OPI was elected. The Board for the next couple of years is composed of Poul Holm, Alison Macdiarmid, Gesche Krausse, Ben Fitzhugh, Ruth Thurstand and Cristina Brito. The next Oceans Past Conference will take place in 2020 in Belgium.

Keynote Speakers

Professor Ben Fitzhugh & the Palaeoecology of Subarctic Seas Working Group (Department of Anthropology, University of Washington)

Historical Ecology at the Basin Scale: Marine Ecodynamics and Teleconnected Subarctic Communities 

What does it mean to think of areas as large as the expansive North Pacific or North Atlantic as historical regions in human and ecological terms? In recent centuries, these basins have been integrated by colonial voyaging, contacts, conquests, and the extraction and consumption of vast natural resources such as fur bearing sea mammals, whales, and now, fish. In deeper time, communities living around these regions have been integrated in various, and sometimes more subtle, ways. Trade, travel, and--we will argue—a mutual interdependence on climate, oceanographic and ecological processes conditioned livelihoods in coordinated ways at scales beyond those of regular human experience. In this talk, I will explore these issues using insights drawn from recent synthetic efforts of the Paleoecology of Subarctic and Arctic Seas (PESAS) working group. My case study will focus on relationships between the subsistence-oriented communities of the North Pacific at points through the Holocene. I will present evidence suggesting large scale relationships between human demography and ecological dynamics from southern Alaska to Hokkaido Japan. I will briefly examine the hypothesized climate-ocean relationships and the archaeological evidence for and against human vulnerability to synoptic oceanographic dynamics. If we understand the mechanisms correctly, the North Pacific story—and the archaeological record that helps record it—encodes important lessons for fisheries management under conditions of rapid change. I will turn towards the end to reflect on opportunities to explore similar cases in the North Atlantic and Arctic Ocean, and fit these efforts into the broader PESAS framework, inviting the Ocean’s Past community to join the ongoing effort to explore the dynamic relationship between human history and maritime variability over large and long time scales."

Professor Iain McCalman (Department of History, University of Sydney)

Living in Reef Country. European Castaways and Indigenous Maritime Societies of the Great Barrier Reef, 1770–1923.

One casualty of the European “discovery” and subsequent relentless British colonization of Australia from the late eighteenth century through the nineteenth century is the meagre historical evidence of the ways of life of the numerous clans of Indigenous maritime peoples who had inhabited the coasts and islands of Australia’s immense north-eastern Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait Island region for thousands of years. This region was massive by any standards. As well as being the planet’s largest organism, the giant ribbon of coral off the north-east coastline of Australia encloses an area of lagoon, island, beach and littoral that is larger than England and Ireland put together. The Great Barrier Reef stretches for 2,300-kilometres and encompasses three thousand individual reefs and nine hundred islands. 

Here, I propose to explore the accounts of four castaways whose experiences with Indigenous Reef peoples spanned a period from prior to European contact up to the subsequent dispossession and colonization of the Reef’s maritime clans. I will argue that despite the diversity of age, gender, social origin and circumstance of these castaways, their stories can offer unparalleled insights into the cultures and ecologies of the Indigenous maritime clans who inhabited, cherished and managed this unique stretch of reef country.

Professor Ingo Heidbrink (Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia)

Marine environmental vs fisheries history - just two names or two different methods to catch the past?

Marine environmental history and fisheries history are two terms that are often used as interchangeable terms despite of a number of substantial differences in research methodology and interest that directly influence the usability of the respective research results in the context of fields like fisheries management, marine governance, coastal community/society development etc.

The paper will provide an overview of methods and key questions of the two disciplines and explain why and how the two fields are not exclusive but complimentary to each other.

In addition it will be argued that both fields are inter-/transdisciplinary by nature and the combined skill sets of marine and or fisheries scientists and economic historians are required for both.

Finally, recent research projects of both fields will be introduced to demonstrate that a real holistic understanding of the Oceans’ Past can only be reached by combining the research results of marine environmental history with fisheries history.

Have a look at the wonderful group of conference delegates, with many thanks to all for their contributions and discussions all week long!

Please access here:

the overview TIMETABLE,