Dr. Yimnang Golbuu's involvement in coral reef ecology, education, and conservation is impressive, to say the least. His professional experience includes serving on the Palau National Commission of UNESCO, chairing the Northern Reef Management Planning Team of Palau, serving as board member of the Palau Conservation Society, acting as program leader for the Natural Resource and Environmental Education Division at Palau Community College-Cooperative Research and Extension, and working as the chief researcher and CEO at the Palau International Coral Reef Center. His work on coral reefs has not been limited to Palau, as he has conducted research projects on coral reefs throughout Micronesia, including Yap, Guam, and Pohnpei.
Dr. Golbuu is also the first Palauan citizen to receive his Ph.D. in the marine sciences.
Dr. Golbuu recently joined the Richmond Lab as a post-doctoral research fellow, where he will continue his work on coral reef ecology and devising ways to apply and translate his research to help conservation efforts.
"My current research focuses on how disturbance at multiple scales affects coral reef communities, specifically examining coral bleaching and land-use change and how those affect coral reef communities", explains Dr. Golbuu.
His interest and passion for coral reef ecology stem from his Palauan heritage, where coral reefs play an important role in Palauan culture, serving for thousands of years as a major source of food, materials for tools and construction, and areas for recreation. More recently, the reefs around Palau have provided a substantial source of income for the island through ecotourism. This vital natural resource has become increasingly stressed by global and local threats, such as ocean warming and increasing sedimentation through land-use changes.
Coral reef ecosystems are second only to tropical rain forests when it comes to productivity and species diversity. As such, coral reefs provide numerous valuable resources - including fisheries, coastal protection, and ecotourism - for millions of coastal and island residents. In fact, the estimated total value of goods and services provided by coral reefs each year is $375 billion.
It is no wonder, then, that the noted decline in coral reefs due to natural and human impacts over the past few decades is cause for alarm.
"The biggest human induced threats to coral reefs are climate change, over-fishing, eutrophication, and increased sediment because of land-use change and development", says Dr. Golbuu.
Global warming and increased water temperature anomalies have led to coral beaching and mortality in many reef areas around the world. These human-induced disturbances not only destroy reefs but also impact their ability to recover from natural disturbances.
Land-use changes, resulting in increased erosion and its associated terrestrial discharge into coastal waters, have detrimental effects on the community structure of coral reefs. Increases in sedimentation rates from land run-off results in a decline in coral abundance, coral richness, and coral colony density, and coral recruitment. These changes ultimately affect the viability of various fisheries, the income generated from tourism, and the quality of life for coastal communities.
"By understanding the impacts of, and the differential recovery from, thermal stress and sedimentation on coral-reef communities, we will be better able to predict future heat-stress responses", explains Dr. Golbuu. "The results of my research can be used to aid coral-reef management by identifying areas and processes that require focus, which may lead to reducing local threats, and therefore allow a great chance for the reefs to recover under an increasingly warming ocean."