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Fostering effective international collaboration for marine science in small island states

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E.J. Hind
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A key element of aligned, long-term scientific collaboration is simply the right people finding each other, maintain the authors in this report. At SIDS Conference 2014 it was proposed that a platform be developed to connect seekers and providers of funding. A similar database linking seekers of marine science expertise (i.e., small island state institutions) with those wanting to apply their marine science expertise in small island states (i.e., foreign scientists) would also permit international marine science collaborations in small island states to be founded on mutual terms, aligning priorities at the very beginning.

Small island states tend to have fewer, smaller, and less well-funded research institutions, yet are responsible for comparatively larger marine territories and face multiple management challenges (Mahon, 2006; Morrison et al., 2013). This heightened vulnerability and limited capacity led to an explicit and urgent call following the 3rd International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS Conference, 2014) to improve the comprehensiveness of marine science in small island states, thus enabling data-based responses to environmental shocks (General Assembly resolution 69/15)3. Specifically, the call asked for a rapid response to marine environmental shocks, to be achieved at least partially through global cooperation and information-sharing.

The researchers report a common mistake of foreign scientists is not understanding the impacts that differences in capacities and resources between the scientific communities within their home territories and those they engage with in small island states have on research collaborations (McConney et al., 2007; Hastings et al., 2015). Restrictions on access to resources and technologies by local vs. foreign researchers can alienate or exclude local scientists. This can be something as fundamental as reliable electricity and Internet access, or even access to a computer outside of the office. Additionally, it is important to be mindful that small island states will unlikely be able to sustain large scientific institutions or expensive technologies in the long-term (Donovan et al., 2013). Funder support for procuring basic core scientific equipment (e.g., SCUBA gear, computers, digital voice recorders, cameras, water quality monitoring equipment) can dramatically increase local capacity for a small investment.

Recommendations were identified through thematic analysis of symposium discussions: (1) aligning priorities; (2) building long-term relationships; (3) enhancing local capacity; and (4) sharing research products.