Marine Science Research at IBER

Brunei is endowed with a rich tropical marine biodiversity occurring in mangrove, mudflat, open seas and coral reef ecosystems. Proper management and conservation of these marine ecosystems are crucial for sustainability of ecosystem services such as artisanal fisheries (and food security), especially in the light of predicted future environment stresses and global climate change. As an example, it is estimated that 60% of the world’s coral reefs are under local threats and the percentage is especially high in Southeast Asia (95%), according to the report by World Resources Institute in 2011. Related to the management of these systems and the reduction of their exploitation is the need to improve alternative approaches to marine food production through aquaculture projects. High quality scientific research underpins both ecosystem conservation - in the light of climate change - and aquaculture.  It is thus, fitting that UBD undertakes initiatives to build capacity in marine environmental and aquaculture research and to train future local marine scientists. To this end, a new Marine Science stream is currently being implemented in the Bachelor of Science degree at UBD.

The three main marine biologists at UBD are Assoc Prof Dr David J. Marshall, Dr Gianluca Polgar and Dr Yasuaki Tanaka. 

Assoc Prof Dr David Marshall

Research focus:

  • Responses of organisms and communities to climate change; particularly concerning the changing ecology of the Sungai Brunei estuarine system (a primary waterway running through the country), acidification of marine waters, and tolerances and responses of marine organisms to climate warming.
  • His research includes (together with Dr Polgar and international researchers) building collections and inventories of the diversity of marine species in Brunei – a current focus has been on mites (Acari), tanaidaceans and gastropods.

Research highlights:

  • His work on gastropods (snails) has shown that major paradigms and theories (the accepted scientific dogma) do not always apply to all taxonomic groups of animals and care should be taken when generalizing about climate responses of animals.
  • In December 2014, under the auspices of IBER and iCUBE, Dr. Marshall hosted an international workshop on climate change and thermal biology of gastropods, which was attended by scientists from ten different countries.
  • Involvement in a seven nation programme to monitor long-term change in environmental temperature in coastal ecosystems across the entire regions of South East Asia and southern China.


Tree-dwelling Pagurid crab

Dr Gianluca Polgar

Research focus:

  • The ecology and evolution of ecological transitions from water to land, with particular reference to tropical coastal wetlands
  • Initially in collaboration with David Marshall on freshwater snail thermal tolerance and adaptation, and on the implications of global warming on tropical animals. His present research focuses on pure and applied marine biology of fishes and crabs.
  • Conduct biodiversity surveys on several marine and wetland taxa, including gobioid fishes (Gobioidei), mangrove and peat swamp crabs (Grapsoidei) and gastropod snails.

Research highlights:

  • His work on the behavioural ecology of mudskippers (a group of amphibious fishes) has revealed novel information about the ecological processes driving adaptation of vertebrates to semi-terrestrial habitats, thus, having important implications for the evolution of vertebrates generally. There are plans to conduct bioacoustic and physiology experiments on these fishes.
  • Another area of research has shown that ghost crabs (Ocypode species) are proving to be useful bioindicators for the impacts and management of sandy beaches in Brunei.
  • Further plans include research into the aquaculture of the mud crab, Scylla.

Two courting mudskippers

Dr Yasuaki Tanaka

Research focus:

  • A coral reef biologist; currently surveying the species found off the coast of Brunei under a research project funded by Brunei Research Council (BRC); a total of 33 species of mushroom coral (Fungiidae, a family of scleractinian corals) has so far been recorded, equating this level of diversity with that found elsewhere in the Coral Triangle and northern Borneo. Transitional zones in marine environments are key to understanding future impacts.
  • Dr. Tanaka is also interested in working on the influence on coral reef systems of terrestrial waters, which usually contains much higher nutrient loads.

Research highlights:

  • His laboratory experiments have shown that nutrient enrichment alters coral physiological status, such as the metabolic balance between photosynthesis and calcification.
  • Most coastal marine ecosystems of Brunei are strongly influenced by local stream and estuarine systems, providing an ideal opportunity to explore further this area of research and make predictions about future impacts on coral reef diversity. 

Scleractinian corals at Pulau Pelong