Published On: Tue, Nov 3rd, 2015

Foreign scientists need to collaborate with locals more to save Caribbean coral reefs, researchers say

scientist-on-reefCOCKBURN HARBOUR, Turks and Caicos – Foreign scientists working in small island states need to create better collaborations with local researchers and marine management entities if coral reefs, fish, and other marine resources are to be saved from irreversible degradation, according to a new opinion paper published by researchers from the Caribbean, Canada, the USA, and UK.

In the opinion, published recently in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science, the researchers urge research colleagues, policy-makers, managers, and international funding organizations to put aside personal agendas and engage in actionable, scalable research collaborations.

With most small island states being home to vast oceanic waters, monitoring and management are often supplemented by the activities of international groups. But, as the article states, this assistance is often mired by institutional bureaucracy, limited time frames, insufficient funding, and a lack of local knowledge on the part of foreign researchers.

The authors warn that even well-meaning foreign-led research can actually inhibit, rather than support the creation of the monitoring and management programs critical to ensuring protection of coral reefs and fisheries. They offer four focal areas for improving international scientific collaborations: aligning priorities, building long-term relationships, enhancing local capacity, and sharing research products, with actionable recommendations for each area.

“We wrote this paper to give actionable advice based on our collective expertise – our successes and our failures,” Edd Hind, the article’s lead author, said.

One failure the authors describe is that “local researchers can end up diverting their own valuable research time to foreign-instigated projects that might be intellectually exciting, but that do little to support local conservation efforts.”

The good news is that several international research collaborations are already teaching us lessons about how we can consistently produce the high quality science required to support the future health of the oceans in small island states.

They highlight collaboration in the Bahamas, where researchers from Canada and the USA have worked with Bahamian scientists and citizens to successfully record and respond to an invasion of predatory lionfish causing environmental chaos across Caribbean coral reefs.

“Collaborating simplified the process of conducting research because it allowed team members to draw on each other’s strengths,” says Nicola Smith, contributing author and former Experiment Coordinator for the MTIASIC Project.

“Through the work of our collaborators, we were able to conduct a field experiment at a scale that would never have been feasible by one group alone,” added Stephanie Green, who was based at Simon Fraser University during the project and is currently a Smith Fellow at Oregon State University.

The authors suggest “that when research priorities are aligned, long-term relationships are established, local capacity is enhanced, and research is well communicated, international collaborations are more likely to be successful, resulting in improved ocean conservation and marine resource management in small island states.”

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