World expert
on coral reefs
joins UH staff

Bob Richmond comes to the
islands after 20 years at the
University of Guam's marine lab

A world leader in coral reef conservation has joined the University of Hawaii-Manoa's Kewalo Marine Laboratory as a research professor.

Bob Richmond comes from the University of Guam Marine Lab with a prestigious award, announced last week. He is one of 20 outstanding academic environmental scientists from the United States and Guam selected as Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellows for 2004.

The Fellows will receive intensive communications and leadership training in two programs this year to help convey scientific information to nonscientists, especially policy-makers, business leaders, the media and the public.

Richmond was at the University of Guam's Marine Lab for 20 years, developing it into one of the world's best coral reef research facilities.

"On environmental issues, it is not just academic interest, it's passion for me," he said.

Working extensively throughout the Pacific over the years, including Hawaii, he said he could see how people's lives were affected by the environment.

"Quality of life is tied in with quality environment," he said.

He finds it frustrating that people feel it is either environment or the economy.

"One of the lessons in the Pacific islands," he said, "is good environmental policy is good economic policy."

Richmond is noted for helping Pacific islands deal with marine resources and conservation issues, but he said he is "not as diplomatic as people would like me to be."

He said he is hoping that through the Leopold fellowship training, he will "learn how to be more effective."

He feels comfortable, he said, in island settings, working with tribal chiefs, community organizations and resource managers, but it is a big challenge to deal with policy and funding authorities.

He said there is "somewhat of a disconnect," either perceived or real, between academic research and development of good policy recommendations and results.

"I've struggled with it for 20 years. Doing research, answering scientific questions, is the easy part. The frustrating part is how to apply the research to reverse the trend of coral reef degradation," he said.

Michael Hadfield, director of the Kewalo Marine Laboratory, Pacific Biomedical Research Center, said Richmond is "one of five or six people who have taken the lead internationally in coral reef conservation issues.

"It's a major big topic worldwide these days because the reefs are vanishing at a fantastic rate."

Richmond is scientific advisor to the All-Islands Group of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force and was a council member for the International Society for Reef Studies.

Hadfield, who has taught and traveled with Richmond throughout Micronesia, said he was impressed that Richmond worked all the way across the region to protect the coral reef.

He said Richmond has raised a lot of money, with big grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Commerce, and spread it around the area.

"Often," he said, "what happens, a university gets its hands on money and tends to spend it within. What Bob has done is make sure that money went where action was really needed and into the hands of those people."

Richmond also has a "rare trait" in making sure Pacific islanders go to meetings and speak for themselves about their needs and how things should be approached, Hadfield said.


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