Prototype this! Scientists get money to apply research in the Western Indian Ocean

Nature Seychelles’ Reef Rescuers – proof of concept

“You scientists are always doing more research on the same things. Why don’t you solve all these problems that we have here?” a venture capitalist in Kenya grumbled to me last week.

I was in Mombasa, Kenya last week for the Inception and Partnership meeting organized by WIOMSA, the organization of which I am the President. The meeting was to launch WIOMSA’s brand new Marine and Coastal Science for Management program.

My friend the businessman would have been pleased if he had been present because this new 5 year program aims to fund research that will lead to demonstration on the ground. In other words making a workable prototype of whatever the research comes up with.

For over a decade WIOMSA – the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association – has been funding research that leads to management outcomes. WIOMSA’s MASMA program, Marine Science for Management, has funded groundbreaking and internationally important research that has had a regional span from South Africa to Tanzania and the island states.

For the first 6 years of the program I was the chairperson of the committee that managed MASMA. We funded natural and social science research in sustainable fisheries, ecosystem research, pollution hot spots, sustainable tourism, monitoring, databases and many more. Each research grant to an individual or team was given on a competitive basis for a maximum of three years and had to be regional in scope

Results have led to changes in thinking, behavior and policy. Much of the research has been intended for use by agencies that manage natural resources such as fisheries authorities, marine protected area agencies, coastal zone authorities and more.

The new program intends to go even further. Institutions are targeted for the first time rather than individual scientists. Secondly, the criteria for the grants have been re-structured to encourage co-funding from other sources. Most importantly a move from information generation to ‘proof of concept’ approach is now a must. Past MASMA projects have concentrated on filling information gaps. As these gaps have been filled, other realities have emerged which suggest that the most effective way for research results to be adopted and used is to implement projects which test innovative concepts.

The thematic areas that are to be addressed under the new funding are Vulnerability, Resilience and Adaptation; Governance; Coastal Livelihoods; and Cross Cutting Issues such as the services that ecosystems provide to society. At WIOMSA we hope that institutions in this region will rise to the challenge. They now must collaborate with people like my friend the venture capitalist to prove that their research has practical applications and also to acquire co-funding. Hopefully, a full cycle of Research and Development will now be  established in the region.

Author: Dr. Nirmal Shah

Nirmal is a well-known and a passionate personality in the Seychelles environmental and sustainability scene having an encyclopedic knowledge of Seychelles biodiversity as well as a wealth of experience in environment management. He has worked in senior positions in the parastatal, government, private and NGO sectors and consulted for international organizations such as the World Bank, IUCN, UNEP, Sida and UNESCO. He has appeared on CNN, BBC, Radio France, PBS, NBC, ABC, SABC and others

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