Regional Marine Science Takes Off

I am in Mauritius attending the the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Symposium which opened on Monday this week. This impressive gathering of scientists, mostly from the region but also from other parts of the world, is held very 2 years.

Coral reef fish © Jeff Watson

Hosted by the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) the Symposium has become a much awaited event and is even  more amazing when one considers that WIOMSA is an NGO. This year the Symposium is the largest ever held with 140 scientists, 4 days of parallel presentations of scientific papers and an exhibition of scientific posters. WIOMSA’s partner in Mauritius for the event is the impressive Mauritius Oceanography Institute headed by Professor Mitra Bikhajee.

The presentations are all centered on the central vision of the Symposium which is Contribution of Research in Improving Human Welfare and Poverty Alleviation. This was chosen because in the Region it is important that research leads to practical outcomes especially in bettering the human condition. Countries in this part of the world cannot afford research for its own sake.  The themes of the Symposium sessions range from physical to social sciences. For the first time they include management, governance and participatory processes.

The Seychelles are well represented this year. The Seychelles Fishing Authority and Nature Seychelles were there in force with two and three scientists respectively. The organizations delivered two papers each. SFA spoke on research and resource management of sea cumber and fish spawning aggregations in Seychelles waters. Nature Seychelles’ papers were concerned with management effectiveness of marine protected areas and with translocation of a rare species. Expatriate researchers also made presentations on aspects of coral reefs, seabirds and tuna fisheries in Seychelles.

The most amazing aspect of the Symposium is how far science has advanced in the countries of the region. Research is being undertaken by a host of organizations ranging from Universities to NGOs. The diversity and quality of the scientific work is impressive. It shows that the East African and Western Indian Ocean countries have come far in marine science and technology. However, there is much to be done yet. There are still one or two countries lagging behind.

The Seychelles is one of the few countries of the region whose capacity in science and technology is still underdeveloped. We depend much on expatriate scientists. But it is vital we develop our own skills in science especially in marine and related fields. As the world changes rapidly, it is science and technology that are shaping the future. We must play catch-up before it is too late.

By Nirmal Jivan Shah, published on the People Newspaper, Seychelles, on 1st September 2005

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