The last TREC superstop of 2023 was hosted by CIIMAR in Porto and, despite the adverse weather conditions, included many scientific and public engagement activities
After travelling for eight months across 16 countries on a tight schedule, the TREC expedition encountered its first real weather challenge in Portugal. Heavy rain, wind, and high waves required a continuous change of schedule, both for the sampling activities on land and sea, and for the public engagement programme. ‘Flexibility’ quickly became the motto of TREC’s first stop in Portugal!
It was thanks to the determination of the scientists and the invaluable support of the local partner institute – the Interdisciplinary Centre of Marine and Environmental Research of the University of Porto (CIIMAR-UP) – that Porto was not only the last superstop of the TREC expedition in 2023, but a very memorable one.
To celebrate the arrival of TREC in Portugal, scientists from CIIMAR, EMBL, and the Tara Ocean Foundation, as well as representatives of the Portuguese scientific community gathered for a reception on 27 October 2023. Speakers from the three organisations traced the history of the expedition, outlined its objectives, and shared their excitement for the expected outcomes. The reception was chaired by Isabel Sousa Pinto, Head of the Aquatic Biodiversity and Conservation group at CIIMAR and a member of its Board of Directors. She said: “This project is very interesting since it combines the knowledge of the marine research centres towards their local ecosystems with the systematic and standardised sampling and analysis procedures implemented by the TREC scientists.”
The TREC stop in Porto was also an opportunity to establish new collaborations and to further strengthen the relationship with Portugal – an EMBL member state since 1998. Portuguese scientists are very active users of EMBL services and training programmes. “I am very happy to see the development of EMBL’s new Programme ‘Molecules to Ecosystems’, and I was really thrilled to learn that the TREC expedition was going to stop in Porto,” said Claudio Sunkel, head of the Molecular Genetics Group at the University of Porto and EMBL Council Delegate. “Collaboration with member states is key for the implementation of EMBL’s scientific Programme.”
The public engagement programme offered a rich list of activities for schools and the general public. The program kicked off with guided tours for school groups to CIIMAR, the Tara schooner, and EMBL’s Advanced Mobile Laboratory. During the weekend of 28–29 October, CIIMAR scientists ran a science workshop at the Natural History and Science Museum of the University of Porto, while the travelling exhibition ‘TREC in the City’ was hosted at the Mercado do Bolhão and Norte shopping centre.
On Saturday evening, ‘Science on Tour’ at a local cafè brought together TREC scientists with members of the public to discuss scientific topics related to the expedition. Finally, on Monday 30 October, CIIMAR opened its doors again to school students to run the Nexus Island workshop and experimental activities on ocean acidification.
After Porto, TREC scientists continued their sampling activity in Faro in southern Portugal, and then Cadiz in Spain, where the expedition temporarily stopped until February 2024. After eight months ‘on the road’, one can’t help but notice that the people involved in the project have become one big family: they share the satisfaction with the work done so far, and the reward of seeing this long-dreamed-of project turning into an exciting reality. But collectively they are ready for a short break after so many months of travelling – at sea or on land – and to start again next year even more energised!