Small island developing states play an enormous role in marine science and conservation. The waters around these small islands typically exhibit a high degree of biodiversity and play a key role in the state’s society, culture, and way of life. Therefore, it’s important that researchers and policy makers working in these areas create strong collaborative partnerships with the local community. An article published last month in Frontiers in Marine Science outlines four goals marine researchers should strive for when working with small island states to not only get the most out of their research, but to ensure the potential for future collaboration as well.
According to the authors, the first key is to align priorities with the partner island. The entire point of any scientific collaboration is to develop a project or study that benefits all parties involved. In the case of small island communities, they have a unique knowledge of their island’s marine habitats. They also have the best understanding of not only the issues affecting these environments, but how best to prioritize and manage them. In order to create a lasting partnership, many researchers and conservation organizations should listen to what the local community believes are conservation priorities, and then provide their expertise and infrastructure to address these issues. After all, groups are much more likely to accomplish a task if all parties are passionate about the project’s mission.
Second, researchers should focus on building long-term relationships with these island states rather than short-term communications. In smaller communities, developing personal relationships is the best form of networking. From an island state’s point of view, researchers who take the time to foster these lasting relationships are the ones who they will turn to for follow-up projects years down the road. From a researcher’s point of view, long-term communication is essential to maintaining large data sets and future funding opportunities. Businesses have recently been stressing the importance of personal relationships in the workplace, especially in an era dominated by social media and online networking. It’s no different in science and conservation.
The third point the authors make is also probably the most important, and that is that these collaborations should focus on enhancing local capacity. While it’s fantastic to obtain a two-year dataset from an international and collaborative shark-tagging study, you’ve really missed out on a golden opportunity if the local community cannot build on and maintain this dataset going forward. Researchers should want small island states to become scientifically self sufficient, particularly in the absence of large amounts of funding, because this ultimately is how conservation progress will be made in these remote areas. Providing basic SCUBA gear, training citizen scientists in fish identification, and creating easily accessible datasets are all ways that researchers and conservation institutions can work towards enhancing the local capacity of their international partners
Finally, it’s crucial that any products resulting form these collaborative efforts be shared with all parties involved. This ties back into all of the other three suggestions, in that sharing research products (including data) will go a long way towards building positive, long-term relationships, building local capacity, and ensuring that all parties share a common focus. Sharing knowledge and data can also help inform local policy, ensuring that research products have an impact beyond the publication phase.
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