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Oceans need saving before science is nailed

NOAA_Seahorse

Mohammed Al Momany/NOAA

Don’t just gather data, do something. Scientists need to stop using a lack of knowledge as an excuse for not doing more to protect threatened species, a major gathering of marine conservationists has been warned.

“Science matters deeply, but we can’t let ourselves be trapped by the need to gather more data,” Amanda Vincent, a marine researcher at the University of British Columbia, told delegates at the opening of the International Marine Conservation Congress, which kicked off on 14 August in Glasgow, UK.

Vincent’s work with seahorses has involved fighting for better control of the international trade in these animals, many of which are endangered. Trade in seahorses is now restricted under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). If scientists had waited until they knew everything about every species – or even until they had enough data to propose detailed plans for managing catches in individual countries – this protection would never have arrived, she says.

Vincent told the meeting that every speaker who called for more data on a conservation issue should also be prepared to present a recommendation for something that could actually be done now.

Making an analogy with the medical profession, she told the meeting that doctors use all available evidence when deciding how to treat their patients, but when there is a lack of evidence for a particular condition they don’t generally stand by and do nothing. The oceans are under threat, says Vincent, and “you don’t do research while your patient is dying”.

She warned the gathering of conservation researchers that “we’re a bit weasely sometimes in hiding behind our lack of knowledge” and told them to “just get going”.

Follow the meeting on twitter via @dpcressey and #IMCC3

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