No occasion or venue could have been more fitting for celebrating the coming of age of the Aquatic Ecosystem Health and Management Society (AEHMS) than its 10th biennial international conference. It was entitled, The Aquatic Ecosystem Puzzle: Threats, Opportunities & Adaptation. The event, co-organized by Italy's University of Siena and AEHMS, was held at the magnificent Santa Maria della Scale Museum Complex in Siena from 13–15 June 2011.

This brief article is one of three expositions about AEHMS, a society established in 1989 ‘to encourage and promote integrated, ecosystemic, and holistic initiatives for the protection and conservation of global aquatic resources’. Here, I highlight a small selection of the Society's achievements and the value I place on membership, from a marine biologist's and environmental practitioner's eye view.

With so many aquatic and environmental societies in existence, what is so special about AEHMS? For me, its breadth of vision is truly a breath of fresh air, in a world fast becoming more and more disciplinary. That is not to say that scientific specialism is not called for; I have had affiliations with several specialist societies and groups. But with only narrow scientific probing, instead of greater breadth and depth, what matters most about the environment, and what should be done about it, all too easily gets obscured or lost.

To understand what makes AEHMS so unusual, consider first its aspirations. Besides its overall remit already noted, the Society promotes understanding of the structure, function and performance of (healthy and damaged) aquatic ecosystems; environmental health is paramount, because of indisputable links between ecosystem health, human health and wellbeing. Similarly, by inter-linking the scientific and human, AEHMS adopts integrated, multi-disciplinary and sustainable perspectives. Linked to this, and reflected in its journal articles, books and conferences, the Society focuses on integrated approaches to protection, remediation and restoration. Ecosystem maintenance and repair matter increasingly in a world characterized by pressures from industrialization and rising populations. It may be added that the Society also encourages interdisciplinary communication among scientists, managers, universities, governments, industry, and public sector; dialogue and outreach, within and outside members’ normal professional comfort zone, are an integral part of AEHMS's activities.

Lofty aspirations may be one thing, but implementation is more challenging. In my view, AEHMS delivers the goods. For a full grasp of what AEHMS engages in, the reader is encouraged to visit the Society's website (http://www.aehms.org/). Following is just a brief selection:

  • International conferences (biannually), focusing on a particular environmental or management theme, often in relation to a geographical area

  • Aquatic Ecosystem Health and Management (AEHM), a multidisciplinary, quarterly, peer- reviewed journal, which began in 1989 and, since 2007, with a science citation index/ impact factor. There are 42 special issues addressing wide-ranging topics and regions, such as: Ecosystem Health of Lake Baikal, Russia; Resilience and Integrity of Aquatic Ecosystems; The State of the Gulf Ecosystem: Future and Threats; plus many other wide-ranging topics and areas

  • Ecovision World Monograph Series books. These are peer-reviewed groups of original papers in a book on specific topics, regions, concepts or ecosystems. Three of more than the 20 books include: Bioindicators of Environmental Health (1995); The Gulf Ecosystem: Health & Sustainability (2002); Burning Rivers (2010) ∼ also recipient of 2011 Green Book Festival Award, scientific category.

Singling out particular reasons for valuing and maintaining my relationship with AEHMS is difficult when there are so many. But the following perhaps stand out. First, as remarked, the Society embraces an integrated, interdisciplinary ethos – a refreshing change indeed from purely uni-disciplinary and often ‘myopic’ thinking. Second, AEHM's approaches are stimulating and innovative, and manifest in the themes and deliberations of its environmental conferences and other events. I have been fortunate enough to attend and participate in several:

  • International Ecoforum on Resilience in Aquatic Ecosystems. Appenzell, Switzerland (2000)

  • 6th International Conference of AEHMS: Aquatic Ecosystems: Ecotechnology and Environmental Management for the 21st century, Amsterdam, Netherlands (2001)

  • 7th International Conference of AEHMS: Scaling From Local to Global Perspectives, Lyon, France (2003)

  • 10th International Conference of AEHMS: The Aquatic Ecosystem Puzzle: Threats, Opportunities & Adaptation, Siena, Italy (2011)

  • GULF II: An International Conference – The State of the Gulf Ecosystem: Functioning & Services, Kuwait City, Kuwait (2011)

For me, these and less formal events have led to fruitful and exciting collaborations, as well as long-lasting friendships – with both Society members and individuals (as yet) outside it.

The growth and effectiveness of AEHMS very much reflects the Society's robust and resilient leadership; the efforts of Dr. Mohi Munawar (president), and Susan Blunt, Lisa Elder and Jennifer Lorimer (associates) warrant special mention. Locations for events of course matter, too. The Society is to be congratulated on its judicious choice of venues, ranging from Vietnam, Canada, Siena and Kuwait, to many other parts of the globe, such as (but not only) China, Tanzania, France and Canada. These and other settings have contributed to both the success and enjoyment of AEHMS events … In the case of the recent AEHMS 10 in Siena, beside the conference itself, the ‘extra-curricular’ cultural events helped make the occasion so special. My wife and son were also fortunate enough to share the experiences and would not disagree. The architecture of this Tuscan town – itself a World Heritage Site – was an added delight.