Working towards a more science-based approach in the management of aquatic resources
Dr. Antonio Di Natale on why he fights every day for a more reasonable approach to caring for the Ocean - a heritage that we have to take care of, because we must preserve it not only for the generations, but also to preserve life on this planet.
Springer Nature: What is the focus of your research work?
Antonio Di Natale: Since many years, I am mostly dealing with the sustainable management of large pelagics, a group of fish without a country, a clear and difficult management challenge. The information on their biology, ecology and ethology is essential for a better understanding of their status. At the same time, I am always interested in several other issues: the protection of the ocean and marine mammals, the effects of climate change on marine species (looking at both opportunities and constraints), the problem of plastics and persistent pollutants in the ocean, the recovery of the past knowledge but also the ethics in science.
What are the short- and long-term goals of your work?
Let’s say: I have a dream!
On the short term, I would like to have a more scientific-based approach in the management of aquatic resources. It is something written and declared by everybody, but in the reality, the situation is not exactly this. Young scientists are not reading papers that are not available on the web and in a language they cannot understand, therefore missing an important part of the existing knowledge. In many meetings, even at a very high level, I often remind to the colleagues papers that are available since decades and sometimes centuries, including the knowledge they need. Several sophisticated provisional models are including scientific biases that are obviously affecting the outputs. Year after year, we are missing scientists having a broad vision and knowledge, able to correlate facts. It is a general problem, a very serious one.
Then, on the long term, I would like to see a more conscious approach of humans to nature. We cannot continue increasing consumption indefinitely. We must change our lifestyle.
How important is societal impact to your research? Why?
During my career, I sometimes faced some important research issues, where the societal pressure was heavy for various reasons. Maybe the worse was the driftnet issue, when it was basic getting and collecting the most neutral and serious information, including the social and economic aspects, for providing them to the managers and decision-makers. Was not easy at all, because the driftnet fishery was not a new technological activity. It was something having ancient and cultural roots, an activity on which several coastal communities based their local economy. Therefore, it was necessary to balance the need for protecting the cetaceans with a ban difficult to be accepted, trying to provide alternatives that I knew were not exactly at the same level from different points of view. But the need to avoid a dangerous environmental impact was much more important and finally, after many discussions and several economic subsidies, it was accepted.
Even for the Atlantic bluefin tuna there was a relevant societal impact on my research activity. At the end of the ‘90s and at the very beginning of the years 2000, it was necessary to find all means and data for demonstrating that the bluefin tuna was overfished (but never close to extinction, as claimed by some NGOs!). The media and the public opinion reacted quite well, making an important pressure. Finally, ICCAT and the various contracting parties adopted very hard and serious management measures, strongly limiting any IUU fishery. The bluefin tuna was also lucky, because the several and unusual warm years helped the recruitment in a substantial manner and therefore it recovered more quickly than everybody thought. But the recovery was possibly too quick for some NGOs and scientists that were planning economic actions based on the problematic situation of this iconic species, supported by a manipulated public opinion and media and we had to demonstrate what was evident from many scientific studies, that the bluefin tuna was not anymore in a problematic situation. So, again, a double-face coin!
Which UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) does your work most closely relate to?
There are several UN SDG fitting my work. Of course, the first one is SDG 14 (Life below water), because I fight every day for having a much more reasonable approach in caring for the Ocean, taking into account its immense biodiversity, both in terms of species and ecosystems. It is a heritage that we have to take care of, because we must preserve it not only for the next human generations, but also for preserving our life on this planet. This first goal is strictly linked to SDG 12 (responsible production and consumption), because there you can find the two complementary approaches: the sustainable use of aquatic resources and the responsible consumption. One is based on a complex management approach, looking not only at the target species or resource but at the general environmental impact of all aquatic extraction activities. The other one is based on the correct information to the public at large, bringing the daily behaviours to a responsible consumption. It is not easy, but it is essential.
Of course, for getting there, it is very useful adopting SDG 17 (Partnership for the goals), because everybody can do something alone, but for many issues it would be very important creating a critical mass with the same objective, either in the research activity or in the daily life.
Personally, I always have a „social“ perspective and I am used to fight for SDG 10 (reducing inequalities), 8 (Decent work and Economic growth) considering the growth non only from an economic point of view, but mostly as a cultural growth based on a more holistic approach, taking into account the Nature, and of course SDG 5 (Gender equality) because it should be always implicit in our actions.
What do you think is the most relevant way to measure success against the SDG(s) in your field?
It would be not easy to measure success against the SDGs in my field, but all positive changes departing from the current situation will be steps to the SDGs. The selection of the most significant indices will provide measurable progress.
How, if at all, has your research shifted given the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic? What are the trends you’ve noticed within your field?
As in many other fields, the major impact of the pandemic was concerning the travels, including both those necessary for the field research activities and those related to meetings. The latter was partly solved using the facilities provided by the web, but it is not exactly the same of a face-to-face meeting. Everybody is missing the opportunity to look the other participants in the eyes, to perceive the body language, or the discussions aside the meeting that are sometimes more important than the meeting itself. For the field activities, I had to cancel some important researches in far areas, because it was impossible reaching many countries.
Working with funders and publishers
Should the funding of research be more strongly tied to demonstrable societal impact? Why?
I personally believe also in the basic research and in research for improving anyway our scientific knowledge. Of course, applied research is always more attractive for a funder and research having a societal impact is very similar. Even if I understand the visibility motivation for a funder and the opportunity to use these funds not only for research but also for personal image and subtle advertising, I always hope that it is possible to find foundations, companies, entities or individuals who are ready to sponsor a research or an idea which will simply improve our knowledge or understanding, without necessarely have a societal impact.
What do you see as the role of publishers when it comes to addressing the SDGs? How can they best support researchers?
Surely, the publishers can play an important role for reaching the SDGs in several fields. They can develop a publication policy providing a preferential road for papers and books that can be directly linked to at least one of the SDGs and then insert the logo of the SDG somewhere close to the title on in the last part of the cover. They could provide better contracts for these papers or books, supporting these researchers. They can also advertise all these works in a different way, showing their engagement for the planet.