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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 last week in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science, the researchers urge research colleagues, policy-makers, managers, and international funding organisations 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 timeframes, 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: (1) aligning priorities, (2) building long-term relationships, (3) enhancing local capacity, and (4) sharing research products, with actionable recommendations for each area.

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


PDF Copies of the published Opinion are available from the website of Frontiers in Marine Science at or by email from Edward Hind.

Edward Hind is a marine scientist, recently employed at the School for Field Studies (SFS) Center for Marine Resource Studies in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

The MTIASIC project helped build capacity in the Caribbean to address the threats posed by invasive species through information sharing and the development of country-specific pilot projects, which focused on early detection and rapid response, control, eradication, or preventative measures for high priority invasive species. As part of the multi-year, regional project, The Bahamas developed a pilot project for the control of Pacific lionfish (Pterois volitans). One component of this project involved training local scientists and managers in coral reef fish survey techniques as well as conducting a field experiment to evaluate the effectiveness of different lionfish culling frequencies in different habitats. The Bahamas Department of Marine Resources was the national implementing agency for the project and worked in collaboration with several local and international organizations from academia, non-governmental organizations, and government organizations, including (in alphabetical order): The Bahamas Environment Science and Technology (BEST) Commission, The Bahamas National Trust (BNT) The Bahamas Reef Environmental Education Foundation (BREEF), The Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI), The Nature Conservancy Northern Caribbean Programme (TNC), Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) – USA, Simon Fraser University (SFU) – BC, Canada.