Collecting the information needed to establish and implement management of the marine environment and its resources often involves priorities and approaches which differ from those of land-based research programs. Managers are typically required to assess and make plans for areas which are much larger than those usually selected (or even possible) for ecological studies. They also need long term information to document activities, impacts and changes and to assess the effectiveness of management strategies and their implementation.
Like most management activities, the collection of data over very large areas and in long-term programs is costly. Marine conservation research plays a special role in developing and refining approaches to management, methods for assessing the state of managed resources, and the effectiveness of management policies and practice.
Marine conservation research acts as a link between researchers and managers. It may interpret fundamental studies and devise means whereby relevant findings can be applied to improve management. Alternatively, it may interpret the issues and priorities faced by managers so that they may be taken into account in developing and reporting on special research initiatives and other research programs. Further, since many impacts upon marine environments and resources are the direct consequence of land use and management, marine conservation research provides an important information link between terrestrial and marine programs.
Like management, marine conservation is multidisciplinary. The importance of the biological, chemical and physical sciences in describing and understanding marine environments and their resources is matched by the importance of the social and economic sciences in understanding how and why impacts occur and how they can be managed to retain or achieve ecological sustainability.
Training for marine conservation research usually involves postgraduate studies in a relevant discipline or in a multidisciplinary research unit. However, there is a variety of careers for research assistants that do not require postgraduate training. The major employers are government research and management agencies at both the state and federal level, and universities specialising in coastal and marine environmental studies. There is also a growing role, and therefore a growing job market, for consultant marine conservation research to augment the capacity of government agencies, to work with industry in the development of ecologically sustainable practice, and to provide consultant and advisory services overseas.
Photo: A researcher tagging and measuring a hawksbill turtle as part of a research program to help in the conservation of this endangered species.