Last week, members of the Conservation Planning group at the CoE Coral Reef Studies left dry Townsville for a 2 days lab retreat in beautiful Mission Beach in Far North Queensland. The Sanctuary Retreat, located in the magnificent rainforest overlooking at the Coral Sea, was an ideal setting to boost our creativity and think outside the box (i.e. the computer).

Mission Beach Cassowary
Mission Beach Cassowary

This year’s retreat focused on stakeholder engagement and policy advocacy as conservation scientists. Jon Day (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority), Meredith Laing (Hunter & Central Coast Regional Environmental Management Strategy) and Joanne Wilson (Sea Solutions), our guest speakers, gave amazing and inspiring talks and helped facilitating discussions around the main theme.

The rainforest wildlife itself was eager to participate to our discussions and debates: Bob’s ideas on avoided loss of biodiversity were approved by a loud rainforest bird who wanted his voice to be heard, and the speed-networking exercise was interrupted by a curious young cassowary!

We also discussed short- and long-term group objectives and how to maximize our impact as a group. Blogging or social networking are a good way to engage the public, stakeholders, politics and other scientists with our science. A direct outcome of these discussions was the creation of this [blog?/website?] to have a flexible and live platform were we could express our ideas and share our research. Dr Mariana Fuentes, Dr Rebecca Weeks and Mélanie Hamel also gave Twitter a go and tweeted the discussions and talks for the first time (#PresseyRetreat2013).

But the purpose of a lab retreat is not all about work. It is about bonding as a team and getting to know each other better. To keep the team happy and relaxed, Dr Tatjana Good (scientist and yoga teacher) gave three beginner yoga classes with great success. The light drizzle on occasions didn’t stop keen adventurers to go walking, running, swimming or playing volleyball on the beach down the track during free time.

This is only the second lab retreat for the team but we can already name it our favourite and most productive get-together of the year. Our recipe for success? A remote location, a relaxed (yet efficient) work environment, a diverse group of enthusiastic scientists, clear discussion themes and objectives, a minimal use of laptops and a few bottles of wine. This is how the magic happens…