Marine Science Capacity Building in the Marshall Islands: Marshall Islands Nearshore Training (MINT)

Steven L Colbert1, Martin Romain2, Madeline Cochran2, Karla McDermid1, Diana Melville3 and Max Sudnovsky3,4, (1)University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, Marine Science Department, Hilo, HI, United States, (2)Marshall Islands Conservation Society, Majuro, Marshall Islands, (3)College of the Marshall Islands, Majuro, Marshall Islands, (4)University of Hawaii, Sea Grant College Program, Majuro, Marshall Islands
Despite being an island nation, the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) has a shortage of trained marine scientists to survey, study, and manage threatened marine resources. A collaboration among four entities: University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, College of the Marshall Islands, the non-profit Marshall Islands Conservation Society (MICS), and University of HawaiʻiSeaGrant was developed to train ten undergraduate students in benthic marine field and laboratory methods during an eight-week Marshall Islands Nearshore Training (MINT) program sponsored by the National Science Foundation.To develop a locally-relevant project, marine resource managers (Coastal Marine Advisory Council) were consulted and identified a critical need to explain and mitigate dense macroalgal blooms along urbanized coastal areas.Studies of macroalgae, benthic habitat, and water quality were conducted at eight sites around Majuro and Arno atolls. Communication with community members occurred at field sites and during weekly activities centered on marine conservation. Involvement of marine managers at all stages of the project created strong support for the training and for student opportunities after the training.

From inception to program culmination, the project experienced disruptive turn-over of staff (five different lead scientists at CMI), which made continuity and planning difficult. However, these challenges strengthened the collaboration with MICS, which developed the infrastructure to administer a sub-award in the RMI. Increased planning also allowed greater student preparation by taking more marine science courses before the summer program. Strong local partners were essential to the success of this program, from financial administration, to logistics for transportation, access to field sites, and lab facilities, to management of gear, to mentoring of students. In the RMI, marine education and training opportunities need to be sustained and expanded to include scientific SCUBA diving. The MINT program can serve as an excellent template for similar programs on other Pacific islands and atolls.