WCMB 2023

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Meet the Plenary Speakers

Prof. Dato' Dr. Zulfigar Yasin

Universiti Sains Malaysia, Malaysia

Zulfigar Yasin is currently an Honorary Professor at the Centre for Marine and Coastal Studies (CEMACS) in the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM). He also heads the Heritage and Urban Studies (HUS) programme at the Penang Institute, a think tank on policy for the Penang State Government. He heads the Marine Environment Programme for the National Professors Council in Malaysia.

Professor Zulfigar was a Dean at the School of Marine and Environmental Sciences (Universiti Malaysia Terengganu) and later the Director of the Institute of Oceanography (INOS) at the same university.

He headed several scientific expeditions investigating the human and climate change impacts on the marine environment. This includes expeditions to the South China Sea and the Coral Triangle, to Antarctica and the Indian Ocean. In the past decade, he was Malaysia’s representatives and facilitator on various scientific working committees in the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-WESTPAC). The global issues addressed in the working committee include the biodiversity attrition, on the impacts of ocean acidification and marine plastic pollution.

His previous research includes studies into the ecology of coral reefs and benthic ecosystems. Some of these addresses issues at various spatial scales and includes the study on coral skeletal growth; coral and benthic community structure along pH gradients and changes of the seawater carbonate chemistry on marine ecosystems in the Straits of Malacca and South China Sea.

Prof. Zulfigar was instrumental in establishing many of Malaysia’s marine parks and is currently involved in establishing an urban marine sanctuary in the northern Straits of Malacca to provide resiliency for the coming impacts of climate change at the local and regional scale.

Dr. Nicole Yamase

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi

Dr. Nicole Yamase is from the islands of Pohnpei and Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). She just received her PhD in Marine Biology from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa where she studied the ecophysiological responses of native Hawaiian macroalgae. In March 2021, Dr. Yamase became the first Pacific Islander and fourth woman to reach the world’s deepest part of the ocean, Challenger Deep, in the Mariana Trench. She hopes her love for the ocean and expedition will inspire young Pacific Islanders and other minority students to pursue STEM fields.

Currently, she is the Science Advisor for Blue Prosperity Micronesia, which is a partnership between the FSM Government and the Blue Prosperity Coalition under the Waitt Institute. As an indigenous scientist, she provides the team with unique insight by weaving together her culture and science background.

As a passionate advocate for education and her local community, she is the program leader for The Madau Project which is funded by the U.S. Department of State Young Pacific Leaders Small Grants Program. The Madau Project focuses on reconnecting Micronesian high school students in Hawaiʻi to their navigational heritage through canoe activities, community service opportunities, and educational workshops.

Prof. Dr. Mark Costello

Nord University, Norway

An ecologist specialising in biogeography, Marine Protected Areas, and the effects of climate change on biodiversity. He pioneered ‘ocean biodiversity informatics’; leading the establishment of the World Register of Marine Species and Ocean Biodiversity Information System databases on all 240,000 marine species and 108 million distribution records. Related discoveries concern estimates of how many species exist and are not yet named, evidence of global scale climate change effects on latitudinal gradients, and where to best protect marine biodiversity globally.

Mark has 260 peer-reviewed publications, supervised 66 graduate students, and played leading roles in many international organisations, including the International Association for Biological Oceanography (IABO), Marine Biodiversity Observation Network and being a lead author in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 6th global assessment. He convened the 2020 WCMB.

From Ireland, a fascination with wildlife led to studying in Galway, a PhD based in Ireland’s only Marine Reserve (Lough Hyne), post-docs in England and Scotland, a lectureship in Trinity College Dublin, establishing the company EcoServe, and a term as Executive Director of the Huntsman Marine Science Centre in Canada until returning to an academic position in Auckland New Zealand. He is currently a professor at Nord University, Arctic Norway.

Prof. Dr. Frank E. Mueller-Karger

MBON (GEO OBON), University of South Florida

Dr. Frank E. Müller-Karger is a Professor in the College of Marine Science, University of South Florida (USA). As a biological oceanographer, Dr. Müller-Karger’s research focuses on how marine ecosystems change over time. Using time series of observations to study changes in water quality, primary production, and biodiversity in coastal marine environments, he is advancing a broader understating of the impacts of large-scale phenomena such as climate change and human activities on ecosystems, and how these changes in turn affect society. He serves as Co-lead for the Marine Biodiversity Observation Network (MBON) and of the Marine Life 2030 Program under the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030). He has published more than 340 peer-reviewed articles.

Mr. Reza Cockrell

The Habitat Foundation

Reza Cockrell is Group Managing Director of the Pacific Tiger Group, a family office headquartered in Hong Kong which focuses on real restate, food, hospitality and venture capital, with direct investments across Europe and the Asia Pacific region. Through his leadership, PTG has been realigning its business activities to channel energy, resources, and commitment to bringing about positive change. This is especially evident in PTG Food, which is transforming to fulfill the aspiration to produce food in a socially and environmentally sustainable way. In 2016, Reza co-founded The Habitat Penang Hill, a rainforest discovery park in Penang, and The Habitat Foundation which is a nonprofit organization dedicated to biodiversity conservation and environmental sustainability. The Habitat Foundation presently supports coastal and marine conservation initiatives across Malaysia and the Philippines. Reza is also a trustee of WWF Hong Kong.

Reza studied International Studies at Johns Hopkins University to study International Studies and Accounting and Finance at the London School of Economics. He is passionate about the natural world and is a keen scuba diver, sailor and hiker.