Does marine conservation need a 'Hippocratic Oath'? UBC researcher says yes

A UBC researcher says it's time marine conservationists adopted a code of conduct, or "Hippocratic Oath for conservation" in order to balance the needs of conservation with the material needs of humanity.

Nathan Bennett says code of conduct would improve conservation

In this Jan. 26, 2015 photo, pieces of thawing ice are scattered along the beachshore at Punta Hanna, Livingston Island, in Antarctica. The countries that decide the fate of Antarctica agreed then to create the world's largest marine protected area in the ocean next to the frozen continent. (Natacha Pisarenko/The Associated Press)

A University of British Columbia researcher says it's time marine conservationists adopted a code of conduct, or  "Hippocratic Oath for conservation"  in order to balance the needs of conservation with the material needs of humanity.

Nathan Bennett is the lead author of a paper in the journal Marine Policy calling for such a code.

He says as international bodies work towards protecting 10 per cent of the world's oceans from human exploitation, the impacts those protections will have on coastal communities needs to be recognized.

"As we're trying to meet these targets, marine conservation around the world is really ramping up," he said.

"When we're moving quickly in these processes, sometimes mistakes can be made. Around the world, we've seen places where people's rights have not been respected or due process has not been protected in the creation of marine protected areas."

Bennett says when these situations arise, they can create local opposition and resistance to the idea of ecologically protected oceans.

He thinks a code of conduct could prevent some of these situations from occurring in the future.

'There is a better way'

Bennett says such a code should guide governance of the oceans, provide social justice for communities impacted by conservation efforts and increase accountability for conservationists.

He says it would act to protect Indigenous rights, food security and livelihoods for impacted communities while also improving conservation.

He cites a case in Thailand as an example of the wrong way to do things.

A marine protected area was proposed for an area off the county's Andaman Coast where local people relied on fishing for their livelihoods.

He says because they did not feel their rights were respected, they were able to hamper conservation efforts.

"When things are done wrong, or poorly, people come out against marine conservation," he said. "There is a better way of working that is more ethical and will improve marine conservation."

Bennett says the article in Marine Policy is meant as a starting point for discussion of a code, and the implementation of any code would require the involvement of several international bodies.

With files from Steve Zhang