Guidelines for the Design and Conduct of Research and Monitoring Projects within the Dutch Caribbean Protected Areas
The Dutch Caribbean is home to a wide variety of unique animal and plant species and tropical habitats like coral reefs, mangroves and elfin forest. Nature contributes to the wellbeing of the local people, providing areas used as to generate income, food, recreation and (coastal) protection. Unfortunately, the islands’ natural resources are under pressure, stemming from local, regional and global threats. This combination makes understanding the state of nature through research and monitoring projects crucial for efficient and effective management and protection.
Each island has its own nature conservation (management) organizations tasked with safeguarding these natural areas. Nature conservation (management) organizations’ staff (biologists, rangers) and (citizen) scientists from all over the world provide invaluable support by gathering knowledge about these complex and fragile ecosystems.
The funding for research and monitoring in the Dutch Caribbean comes largely from the European Netherlands but also from other foreign institutions. Some monitoring (and research) projects by the local nature conservation (management) organizations are funded by governments and through park visitors' incomes. Science and research agendas are determined, and essential fieldwork is often directed by large science institutes and universities such as Wageningen University & Research (WUR), Dutch Research Council (NWO), the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ), Naturalis Biodiversity Center and the Smithsonian Institution. Although these institutions have sound scientific expertise and can meet the specific conditions required by international funders, they often lack local knowledge, capacity and infrastructure on the islands to carry out their work. Research topics are often based on knowledge gaps in science and international reporting obligations which do not always match the most pressing conservation issues for managing the protected areas (parks) in the Dutch Caribbean.
Local organizations can play an essential role in ensuring the local context is taken into consideration when doing research on the Dutch Caribbean islands. The (small) local non-governmental conservation organisations are often the only institutions with the capacity to support fieldwork of visiting scientists. They have the staff, local knowledge and necessary infrastructure and/or logistics (e.g. vehicles and laboratories), but their resources and capacity are often limited. One of the principles of 'sound nature management' is to have management choices guided by scientific research ('science-based management'). Unfortunately, this is often impossible on the islands due to a lack of financial resources and personnel, and conservation organizations are frequently forced to conduct annual monitoring with the limited available resources they have ("management-based science").
One of the key roles of the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) is to find ways to build local capacity, improve knowledge sharing and cooperation, and promote efficient networking between different stakeholders, including the nature conservation management organizations on the six Dutch Caribbean islands. To help guide (visiting) researchers, students and funders in their design and implementation of projects within the region, nature conservation management organizations created these Research and Monitoring Guidelines for the protected areas (parks) with the following objectives:
• Support research and monitoring: keep researchers, funders and students well informed about the nature conservation management organizations’ research recommendations and wishes by having this framework updated yearly and published in DCNA’s digital newsletter BioNews and the Dutch Caribbean Biodiversity Database.
• Support local capacity building: encourage (visiting) researchers, students and funders to include local capacity building in their activities to adopt a more sustainable and integrative approach by bridging the worlds of knowledge and action, by not only focusing regionally but emphasizing approaches which are local, place-based, and solution-oriented.
• Encourage ethical practices: provide guidance for conducting research which is carried out in consideration of the local context, practices and sensitivities.
• Make scientific information widely available: request researchers to submit data, reports and publications for upload to the Dutch Caribbean Biodiversity Database where it can be used, amongst others, to guide local policy and management.
• Support science communication and outreach: to promote the sharing of project information to enhance communication and outreach to a diverse group of stakeholders such as other members of the scientific community, local nature conservation organizations, policy makes and the inhabitants of the islands.