By Kelly Strzepek

Unlike this trip, the next time I travel to Europe for a conference I shall most definitely allow for at least one day to get over the jet lag. Here I am in Amsterdam, wandering the hotel at 4 in the morning, not because I have been out sampling the delights of this fair city but because that’s when I wake up! Fortunately I am not the only one with irregular sleep patterns and have noticed that all the conference attendees with a southern hemisphere twang appear to be just as tired as me. It’s day 2 of the International Symposium on Deep Sea Coral and I am very much looking forward to today’s talks, if only I can stay awake for them. In particular there is a lady speaking about the association of bacteria with coral and the outcome of this symbiotic relationship. I also need to hunt someone down as I have noticed a poster that discusses the uptake of dissolved organic matter by coral. These are fascinating topics (if you are me) as I have had a  number of theories about coral feeding and what our archives are actually recording, but I work in a department that until recently packaged any biological influence under the banner of “vital effects” and then ignored it as much as possible.

Here however, there are biologists galore. I need to ask all the questions I can before I return to the blank stares I often receive when I discuss my work at home. For this reason it is an interesting meeting to be attending. I live in a world of climate proxies: isotope and elemental ratios that are used to infer physical, chemical or biological phenomenon. Yesterday however, it was all about taxonomy and genetics. It was my turn to stare blankly…..a what terminus codes for who? The geochemists amongst us had a  few difficulties but the taxonomists appeared enthralled. I must admit at times I was more enthralled by the flamingos. The symposium is being held at the Amsterdam zoo, and while it is a small venue it is quite spectacular surroundings, particularly the flamingos.

Amsterdam in general is really quite beautiful and very unique. I’ll be surprised if I make it through the week without being run down by a bike, in part because I keep looking the wrong way, but also due to the sheer volume of pedal power here on the streets. That and I haven’t slept properly in days.