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29 Apr 2024

Professor Jamaluddin Jompa: Championing Coral Reef Research and Friendship with Australia

In the effort to preserve the world’s precious marine ecosystems, Professor Jamaluddin Jompa has contributed more than 100 scientific publications in a research career rich in collaboration with Australian scientists and institutions.

The Rector of Hasanuddin University's passion for the ocean began during his junior high school years in Pinrang, South Sulawesi. His insatiable curiosity about the ocean, a fascination that has endured over decades, led him to pursue further education in a closely related discipline. Unable to find a marine science major in 1985, he enrolled in a fisheries major without taking the prerequisite exam.

In 1994, he had the opportunity to take a master's degree at McMaster University in Canada, in Coral Reef Assessment and Monitoring. He subsequently pursued a doctoral program in marine biology at James Cook University, Australia, in 2003.

Today, Professor Jamaluddin serves as the Chairman of the Centre of Excellence for Marine Resilience and Sustainable Development at Hasanuddin University, Sulawesi, and Chairman of the South Sulawesi Australian Alumni Association (Ikatan Alumni Australia Sulawesi Selatan, or IKAMA).

"Marine ecology studies the interactions between living things and their environment and the relationships between various ecosystem components,” said Professor Jamaluddin, popularly known as Prof JJ. “Understanding the science of marine ecology contributes to overcoming the dangerous impacts of environmental change, especially those related to pollution and contamination, and helps formulate sustainable policies."

He gave the example of coral reefs. These ecosystems have many components, such as coral, herbivorous fish that control algae growth, carnivorous fish, crustaceans, and microorganisms such as cyanobacteria. All of these play an essential role in maintaining ecosystem balance.

"When pollution occurs, such as the entry of excessive nutrients such as ammonia, algae growth can become uncontrolled,” Professor Jamaluddin explained. “It can cause coral cover by algae, then destroy homes for fish and other organisms and disrupt energy and material cycles in the ecosystem."

Making Scientific Findings Accessible

Professor Jamaluddin has been published in international journals on topics such as the effects of land-based pollution on reef degradation and coral biodiversity in Indonesia, destructive fishing practices, coral-algal competition and plastic waste associated with disease on coral reefs.

However, he emphasised that research findings must be communicated in a manner that is not only accessible to a broader audience but also relevant to individuals’ everyday experiences.

“For example, if the research shows that global warming causes damage to coral reefs, then explanations to the public must be able to make them realise that damage to coral reefs will impact livelihoods, tourism and the marine ecosystem,” said Professor Jamaluddin.

“It is also important to link the research to the potential losses if no action is taken. For example, by explaining that damage to coral reefs can result in loss of fish habitat, reducing fishermen’s catches, and reducing income from the tourism sector,” Professor Jamaluddin added.

When research is communicated effectively, diverse stakeholders, including entrepreneurs, companies, and governments, can be engaged.

“Prohibiting the careless disposal of waste, especially waste that does not decompose in nature, is one example of a policy based on an understanding of ecological science,” said the former advisor to Indonesia’s Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

Diving into Research on Australia’s Reefs

Professor Jamaluddin’s extensive understanding of coral reefs is connected to his education at James Cook University. Located in Townsville, the university is near the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world's largest coral reef research sites. It has numerous leading research institutions, such as AIMS, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Queensland Aquarium, and the CSIRO, making it a strategic centre for coral reef research.

"When deciding to pursue a PhD, I looked for countries and universities that had the best reputation in coral reef studies," he said.

"Then I applied to James Cook University and was accepted. I was also an associate researcher at AIMS, which gave me access to excellent research facilities at both institutions. I feel very fortunate to have been able to delve into coral reef research at a university and city that is so rich in facilities," said Professor Jamaluddin.

One of the benefits of education in Australia, he said, was the significant emphasis on practical experience. Marine biology students were given diving training and the licence required to operate their own vessels. They could actively participate as researchers, along with acquiring theoretical understanding.

"Almost everything we wanted to learn was not only about theory, but also involved laboratories, simulations, and direct experience in nature," said Professor Jamaluddin.

When Professor Jamaluddin was Dean of the Faculty of Marine Science and Fisheries at Hasanuddin University, from 2013 to 2023, he tried to introduce features of his studies in Australia. "However, the challenge in Indonesia lies in the limited cost of education, which sometimes limits the ability to innovate in the education system and education itself," he said.

Celebrating Productive Diplomatic Relations

In his role with IKAMA, Professor Jamaluddin regularly brings together more than 100 members for public lectures, networking and social events. As Australia and Indonesia celebrate 75 years of diplomatic relations, he reflected on the importance of people-to-people connections in both the diplomatic and scientific fields.

"IKAMA is an example of a loving, dynamic and constructive relationship,” he said. “IKAMA's contribution to society, friends and family in Indonesia is a form of gratitude for our experiences in Australia. The Australian Consulate General in Makassar has strengthened IKAMA's presence in South Sulawesi, making it increasingly interesting and diverse in its many social activities."

The diplomatic relationship was also strengthening in the area of research collaboration, he noted, with continuing knowledge exchange and outreach.

"This partnership has yielded fruitful outcomes, as evidenced by the extensive joint research and joint calls from various funding sources in both countries,” said Jamaluddin. “There are still many opportunities for future cooperation that these two countries can explore. From all this, it can be seen that Indonesia-Australia relations have a strong and proud foundation."

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