[Coral-List] Utila and data sharing

Jonathan Shrives jonshrives at yahoo.com
Wed Apr 9 15:13:09 EDT 2008

Dear Listers,

Sorry for the delay in this posting, but we've been
having internet problems out here in Cayos Cochinos,
so apologies in advance if some of what I say seems to
be repeating what others have mentioned already:

I've been following the recent threads about Utila and
Data access. I sympathize with a lot of what has been
said. I've been studying the reefs here in Los Cayos
Cochinos (a small archipelago between Utila and
mainland Honduras) for the last six years and
experienced similar problems from both perspectives.
As part of my agreement with the local management
authority, I spend a lot of time and money getting
permits from the Honduran Ministry of Agriculture and
leaving behind 'data rich reports' when I head back to
the UK each winter. However these reports often just
get left on a zip disk or hard drive in their office,
and unless researchers actively ask the management
authority for them, they remain unpublished grey
literature. Prior to starting my PhD investigation out
here in 2005, I used always leave copies of raw data
too. Now I don’t have that luxury, for fear of it
being inadvertently passed on to someone else, before
I can publish it. 

Sarah makes a good point about capacity building; many
of the local scientists I work with, often do not
consider checking out the websites of companies such
as Coral Cay, Operation Wallacea or Biosphere
Expeditions – all of whom conduct surveys in the Bay
islands region. All though these resources are often
there, they are not necessarily actively advertised –
people have to go out and find them. As academic
funding becomes less and less for reef studies, it
seems to me more scientists are working with, and
receiving money from, private research-ecotourism
companies (Sorry! I’m sure some people won’t like that
definition!). Perhaps this could be a good thing, due
to the free access to reports that these private
companies provide, as long as they are at a
publication level of quality, of course! But perhaps
as part of their mandate to work in their host
countries, companies should flyer / contact all local
institutions, dive shops, fishing community
patronados, other N.G.O’s (e.g. WWF, TNC) and all
other interested parties, so that they are aware of
these online repositories? This may be a controversial
comment, but perhaps they could even work
cooperatively on projects? 

Equally I’ve experienced problems from the other side
as a ‘foreign scientist’. It can be quite frustrating
to see other foreign scientists, scoot in to a MPA,
collect samples and data, and scoot out again without
going through the laboured permit application or data
sharing steps that I go through. Is this Bio-piracy?
Often MPA authorities are left a bit toothless to do
anything about this sort of thing. Also access for the
foreign scientist, to data collected by local
Scientists and NGO’s can be hard. Even with the weight
of the mighty Bodleian Library and the British
Library, I struggled to get hold of a copy of a
Revista de Biología Tropical Supplement 4 from Costa
Rica – the only journal that had previous data from
the Smithsonian’s work out here in the 90’s. I finally
managed to get a copy, but only by getting out there
and talking to people directly in Honduras, finally
finding a paper copy, shortly followed by some sneaky

In summary (sorry for the mammoth post!); 

1. Ideally a system that allows data sharing without
fear of data being abused or ‘scooped’ and published
without consent (naively optimistic I know!).
2. An online repository (such as Reefbase)of reports
and publications that is free and accessible to
anyone, but perhaps still peer reviewed and of course
good quality (sorry journals!) without it costing the
authors $3000+!
3. A system for searching above repository without the
need of an academic institution log-on for Web of
Science / Knowledge!
4. Proactive advertising and involvement within study
countries and further cooperation and communication
between everyone!

Unfortunately it seems that the current system relies
upon specific individuals doing ‘the leg work’ to gain
the experience and knowledge, first hand, and thus
every time some one new wants to investigate
something; the wheel has to be reinvented, so to
speak. I believe a system where the onus is not on
individuals but exists as a kind of ‘FAQ’ would be
ideal. At the moment the nearest we have to anything I
have mentioned is the Coral list itself, which is why
I recommend it to anybody, from undergraduate, to post
grad or Honduran scientist, to sign up – it has been
one of the most important and useful networking /
information systems I have come across!

Kind regards,

Jon Shrives

Jonathan Shrives
Tropical Ecology Research Group,
Dept. Zoology,
University of Oxford

Tel: +44 (0)1865 271124
E-mail: jonathan.shrives at zoo.ox.ac.uk

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