Wasting precious money on the conservation-irrelevant

30 07 2008
© Michael H.

© Michael H.

I’ve just attended the Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists held in Montréal, Canada (by the way, if you are ever thinking of staying at Le Centre Sheraton in Montréal, my advice is to make a wide berth – one of the least-satisfying, over-priced, deliberately scrooging hotels I have ever had the displeasure of occupying).

The conference itself was interesting, if not somewhat tangential to most of the major conservation issues facing fish, amphibians and reptiles in the modern context (it is only fair though to state that it wasn’t a ‘conservation’ conference per se). One thing that did astound me though was an open-microphone presentation by someone from the Oceanário de Lisboa in Portugal who described the €100000 operation to release a very large (> 3.5 m wingspan) manta ray (Manta birostris) from its restrictive enclosure. Yes, you read correctly – €100000 to save one individual manta ray. Not even a threatened species (currently classified as ‘Near Threatened’ on the IUCN Red List), these good people at what I am sure is an excellent aquarium spent more money on one animal than most projects spend on the conservation of entire species.

Have these people not heard of ecological (or ‘conservation’) triage? Similar to medical triage in emergency or wartime situations, ecological triage directs finite resources to those species that require the most attention and have the highest chance of long-term persistence. I’m not sure who coined the term (perhaps Holt & Viney 2001), but the concept has been developed by a number of excellent conservation planning researchers over the last few years to become the cornerstone of modern conservation investment strategies (see Possingham et al. 2002; Hobbs & Kristjanson 2003; Wilson et al. 2007). Ecological triage essentially means that immediate conservation action and resources are directed toward populations that are highly threatened but where the probability of persistence is high. The flip side is that we shouldn’t waste our precious resources either on irrelevant and useless actions like the one described above.

Saving one manta ray would not change the species’ long-term persistence probability – full stop. In an age where conservation action and research are suffering from human apathy and stupidity, surely we can spend our money more wisely. For example, that €100000 could have purchased some primary rain forest somewhere and saved literally thousands of species from extinction. What a waste.

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11 responses

19 12 2018
What's the most important environmental problem to focus on? -

[…] releasing a single oversized manta ray from its restrictive cage in a Portugese aquarium (and yes, that actually happened). Or you could spend the same amount of money protecting a rainforest–maybe somewhere […]


7 03 2018

[…] of spending enormous amounts of money on “absurd research” and conservation-irrelevant work, let’s put the dollars towards supporting those living in these bio-diverse hotspots. This […]


13 02 2018
It's time for a more realistic approach to conservation | Development Channel

[…] of spending enormous amounts of money on “absurd research” and conservation-irrelevant work, let’s put the dollars towards supporting those living in these bio-diverse hotspots. This […]


4 03 2014
Blog comments | Rachael Field

[…] I thought that you made valid points concerning where we place our efforts and money in conservation. However I feel that certain species are overlooked even within mammals such as the Addax which is currently listed as critically endangered by the IUCN red list of threatened species. This receives little or no publicity because it’s not as charismatic as other endangered species such as the Giant Panda. I have attached a link to a website which does not agree with spending money on conservation. Although i do not agree with this at all I do believe it brings up some good points about how money could be better spent. https://conservationbytes.com/2008/07/30/wasting-precious-money-on-the-conservation-irrelevant/ […]


24 07 2009
Alex Diment

Looks like Norman Myers first made the link with battlefield triage:

Myers (1983). A priority-ranking strategy for threatened species?
The Environmentalist 3(2) 97-120


24 07 2009

I wrote about ‘triage’ specifically here, but I didn’t realise Myers might have been the first to coin the term. Many thanks for pointing this out.


28 08 2008
Corey Bradshaw

Thank you, Chris. Another one to add to the list. See also BraveNewClimate.com.

CJA Bradshaw


28 08 2008
Chris H.

The ecologists use of (medical) triage ideas has been taken up more recently in the broader climate impacts community. I found a wealth of information at http://www.climatechangetriage.net. I recommend it to you


22 08 2008
Corey Bradshaw

Another great example of potential waste of astronomical proportions – saving a juvenile whale – thankfully averted. I wonder though through the onslaught of ill-deserved media attention (go to Google.com’s News section and type ‘colin’ and ‘whale’ and you’ll see what I mean. Don’t journos have anything better to do? More worryingly, why doesn’t the ‘discerning’ television viewing audience demand coverage of more compelling issues?) , how much money was indeed spent on this?


21 08 2008
Colin the whale » Nature and Animal Conservation » ZooBeat Forums

[…] Personally I think the money it would cost to possibly save it would be much better spent on other conservation programs. No one wants to see it die but in the bigger picture it is the best option. Nature is not kind and possibly the mother abandoned it for a reason. Even if the calf does not have anything wrong with it, it may be its mother with poor mothering instincts. Either way it is likely a benefit not to have this calf’s genes to continue. I think this link is very relevant as it is about the waste of funds to save individual animals instead of habitat or whole populations. Wasting precious money on the conservation-irrelevant ConservationBytes.com […]


1 08 2008
Corey Bradshaw

See also my coverage of captive breeding in the Toothless (https://coreybradshaw.wordpress.com/toothless/) section of ConservationBytes.com

CJA Bradshaw


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