Coral Reef Science Severely Lacks Representation for Women and Poorer Nations

By Amy Lupica, ODP Daily Editor

A new paper published in Frontiers on coral reef research has found that gender and geographical disparities among researchers and authors are stark, and countries with some of the world’s most precious coral reefs are underrepresented in scientific discussions. Experts say this lack of diverse perspectives is harming the world’s ability to protect these valuable ecosystems, and that to protect reefs, inclusion must be a priority.


Why This Matters: The world’s reefs play a major role in the health of oceans, ecosystems, and coastal communities, but they’re in dire straits around the world. Samantha Cheng, a scientist at the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History says it best:

Having diverse voices in senior positions of the coral reef science community will help us pursue avenues that might not have been previously considered. This study should galvanize us and our institutions to strategize around the fact that while progress has been made in increasing gender and geographic diversity, there is still much work to be done to support and sustain diverse scientists in the field.


Diverse Perspectives

The authors of this study, representing 15 nations, performed the most comprehensive analysis of gender and geographical disparities to date. They examined 1,677 articles on coral reef science written by 4,485 different authors from 95 different countries to observe distributions in the field. They found that female representation is extremely underrepresented despite its growth from 18% to 33% between 2003 and 2018. They also found that wealthy nations are overrepresented in coral reef science, making up 89% of the authors observed — 68% of which were from Australia and the US alone. 


“Females are constantly pushing against a system that has not done enough to deal with biases, harassment, and toxicity,” said Gabby Ahmadia, the director of marine conservation science at World Wildlife Fund. “Imagine the depth that coral reef science will gain when these barriers are gone.”


Most worrying is that scientists from countries with expansive, and often deteriorating coral reefs were underrepresented as well. This finding leaves those most vulnerable to the consequences of  a collapsed reef ecosystem out in the rain, especially Indigenous communities.


The authors concluded that individuals and institutions can drive change for inclusion by investing resources into building collaborations with nations conducting external research. “Coral reefs are among the most vulnerable marine ecosystems to climate change and human impacts,” said Ahmadia. “The survival of reefs depends on the science community’s ability to harness diverse perspectives, especially local and Indigenous peoples who are most severely impacted by climate change.”

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