Professor Works to Open Research Facility in Indonesia

Professor Works to Open Research Facility in Indonesia

Paul Barber hopes program will increase accessibility to research areas of Coral Triangle, reports The Daily Bruin.

By Jillian Ames for The Daily Bruin

May 14, 2010

Between grading papers, teaching and conducting research, UCLA Professor Paul Barber is also actively involved in the creation of a new biodiversity research facility in Bali, Indonesia.

The new center will teach American and Indonesian students how to conduct research in one of the world's most biodiverse marine areas: the Coral Triangle.

The Coral Triangle region is composed of six countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste.

Barber said the waters of Indonesia are one of the most critically endangered places. One of the main goals of the project is to make researching the Coral Triangle easy and to hopefully stimulate more people to conduct research in the region.

"Although the Coral Triangle is the epicenter of the marine environment, it is one of the least researched places," Barber said.

According to Barber, the lack of research conducted in the Coral Triangle region is the result of its inaccessibility.

He said in locations such as the Great Barrier Reef and the Caribbean, one simply contacts the station manager to work at a specific site, and they take care of the preparation before the experiment is conducted by the research team.

"In Indonesia, it doesn't work that way," Barber said. "There is no station, the lab team does not speak English, and the permitting process can be confusing."

Another main goal of the project is to help raise awareness of the environmental issues the Coral Triangle faces.

"There are clearly impacts of coastal development in Indonesia," Barber said. "Unsustainable techniques such as bomb fishing are still practiced today."

Barber said that because of historical Dutch colonization in Indonesia, the people of Indonesia remain suspicious of Westerners and their suggestions to improve sustainability.

Barber said he hopes the project will train the people of the region to become spokespeople for the conservation of the Coral Triangle.

For the last 12 years of his life, Barber has been conducting genetic research in Indonesia on a group of crustaceans called Mantis Shrimp. Barber said he hopes to understand what makes the Coral Triangle the center of biodiversity and how this biodiversity is evolving.

Last September, the U.S. Agency for International Development issued a call for proposals on improving partnerships between Indonesia and the United States. Barber and his colleagues, who already had an existing partnership between their lab and labs in Indonesia, decided to write a grant for a facility where the two countries could conduct research together.

They later received the grant for $650,000 and began to plan the creation of the facility, Barber said.

Starting this June, the program will begin by training a total of six American and Indonesian students on how to conduct, obtain and interpret research at the facility, said Rita Rachmawati, a first-year UCLA graduate student who has been working closely with Barber to establish the new institution.

The summer program will consist of a series of lectures followed by a research project in which the students are expected to apply the material and techniques discussed in class on a topic of their choice.

"This program is a great opportunity for both graduate and undergraduate students to work in some of the most biodiverse parts of Indonesia with a cutting-edge professor," said Daniel Blumstein, chair of the ecology and evolutionary biology department at UCLA.

Published: Friday, May 14, 2010