University lecturer calls for scientists to save coral reefs

10 November 2015

A recent research paper published by Michael Sweet, Lecturer in Invertebrate Biology at the University of Derby, has found that in order to save coral reefs and fisheries, scientists must improve their collaborations in small island states.

Michael is part of a group of researchers from the Caribbean, Canada, the USA, and UK who are currently undergoing research in Barbuda.

The paper published by the group of researchers titled ‘Fostering effective international collaboration for marine science in small island states’ explains how overfishing, climate change, pollution and habitat destruction are large and growing threats to ocean ecosystems. Coupled with the limited scientific capacity of most small island states, it makes science-based management not only imperative, but also challenging.

The study also highlights the need for foreign scientists working in small island states 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.

The researchers are urging research colleagues, policy-makers, managers, and international funding organisations to engage in actionable and scalable research collaborations.

Michael Sweet swimming in beautiful waters

Most small island states are home to vast oceanic waters, so monitoring and management are often supplemented by the activities of international groups. Assistance is often mired by institutional bureaucracy, limited timeframes, insufficient funding, and a lack of local knowledge on the part of foreign researchers.

The authors further warn that even well-meaning foreign-led research can actually inhibit, rather than support, the creation of the monitoring and management programs which are critical to ensuring the protection of coral reefs and fisheries.

Michael said: “We believe that this paper will facilitate many discussions and hopefully assist those who are keen to start up new collaborations or continue those already in existence.

“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.”

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

One failure the authors describe is how 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.

“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.