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New research center will be at epicenter of marine biodiversity

Paul Barber photo of Tunicates on a wall in Raja Ampat
Tunicates, sometimes called sea squirts, line a wall in Raja Ampat, an archipelago comprising more than 1,500 small islands, cays and shoals in Indonesia’s West Papua. Photo by Tierny Thys. 
UCLA is developing a biodiversity research center in Bali, Indonesia, that will support research and educational collaboration between UCLA and three universities in Indonesia: Udayana University, Diponegoro University and the State University of Papua, as well as the Smithsonian Institution.
UCLA has been awarded a $650,000 grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development to develop the Indonesian Biodiversity Research Center, which is scheduled to open this June.
“Indonesia is the heart of the ‘Coral Triangle,’ a region that is known as the ‘Amazon of the ocean’ because it is the global epicenter of marine biodiversity,” said Paul Barber, UCLA associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, who will head the center. “Despite this fact, few U.S. scientists work in this region. This center will be a major conduit for U.S. faculty and graduate students to begin working in Indonesia.”
Paul Barber, head of the new biodiversity research center in Bali. Photo by Jeannie Barber-Choi.
The center’s education and research efforts will support the Coral Triangle Initiative, a six-nation agreement among Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Solomon Islands focused on conservation and sustainable development of the marine resources of the Coral Triangle.
“The Coral Triangle is one of the most critically endangered ecosystems on Earth,” Barber said.
The goals of the center, Barber said, are to increase the capacity of Indonesians to understand the biodiversity of their own marine environment and to increase the capacity of U.S. scientists to conduct research in “the most biodiverse marine environment in the world.”
Courses will be taught at the center by U.S. faculty for both U.S. and Indonesian graduate students, who would spend a quarter in Bali. In addition, Barber and his colleagues are in the first stage of developing an international program for UCLA undergraduate students, and perhaps undergraduates from other UC campuses as well.
In his research, Barber uses genetics to try to understand why there are so many marine organisms that live in the Coral Triangle. Learning how the biodiversity in this region evolves can lead to the creation of more effective management plans to conserve this “biodiversity hotspot.”
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