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Marine researchers from developing nations have expressed concern over proposals for a global ocean exploration initiative that would encourage open-ended expeditions.

The initiative, which was proposed last week, “may not test a specific hypothesis but would search for new knowledge,” says John Norton Moore, a member of an international panel assembled in Paris by the US National Academy of Sciences.

The panel is keen to promote large-scale explorations, which contrast with the tightly focused studies that characterise current oceanographic research.

While many agreed that ocean exploration should be an international priority, participants from developing countries highlighted concerns over who would benefit from such research.

Muthukamatchi Ravindran, head of India’s National Institute of Ocean Technology pointed out that some are suspicious that richer nations will use exploration as a cover for prospecting for mineral or biological resources, for example.

Full sharing in results of the research and the techniques used is seen as a possible way forward. “Technology transfer will be the key”, says Temel Oguz of the Middle East Technical University in Turkey.

Participants also suggested setting up a formal committee under the auspices of the United Nations, which would set priorities and deal with funding.

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