[Coral-List] Capacity building in Latin America

Sarah Frias-Torres sfrias_torres at hotmail.com
Mon Apr 7 11:19:24 EDT 2008

Dear Coral-listers,
following on a recent message on coral reef conservation in Honduras, I would like to point out, and based on my experience,  that capacity building in the Spanish speaking Caribbean, and the ability for local communities to monitor their own resources is still limited. This is in spite of the presence of local scientists that are doing great research and an amazing job in their own countries. Simply put, there is no money for it.
Now, what follows may seem a commercial, but I do have a point. So be patient. I collaborate with a small NGO based in Miami, the Instituto Latinoamericano de Ciencias Marinas y del Ambiente (ILCMA, or Latin American Institute of Marine Sciences and the Environment). We specialize in capacity building, teaching methods for coral reef (and associated habitats) conservation, monitoring, and environmental evaluation to local communities in the Spanish speaking Caribbean. I call it the "translation of science" because it is done in Spanish, by Hispanic research scientists, and it is also done with the minimum scientific jargon required, in a user-friendly way.
We will be talking about our experiences at the ICRS in Fort Lauderdale (poster session... wow! quite a plug there). Very briefly, our goal has always been to put every cent of our funding into the actual capacity building, and we have received in the past a small amount of funds from the NOAA Coral Reef Consevation Program for a workshop on coral reef conservation in the Mexican Caribbean. However, securing funds for new and ongoing projects is indeed a nightmare. We literally must wait for hell to freeze over before we get a chance to run new projects. Despite the amount of work it takes to bring this kind of training to where it is needed, I'm always amazed at the energy, and enthusiasm of the local communities we work with, and their thirst for knowledge, from the humble Mayan fisherman, to the lawyer and hotel owner that also step into our training.
Needless to say all these efforts do not bring us any high impact factors or promotion points in our publish or perish scientific careers. But I have this wild idea that we, researchers, should allocate a percentage of our research budget into running a short capacity building course for the local community (at least a 2-3 day workshop with field time included) every time we go out there and collect our data.   This way, we will empower the people that actually live from the coral reef to be critical and observant of what is going on in their backyards. 
You are welcome to contact me directly if you have any thoughts or to have a chat during ICRS.

Sarah Frias-Torres, Ph.D. 
Marine Conservation Biologist
MRAG Americas, St. Petersburg, Florida USA

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