Rob works as a watershed management specialist with NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP). He provides technical assistance to address and lessen the effects of pollution on near-shore coral reef habitats throughout the nation. CRCP provides the science needed to preserve, sustain, and restore coral reef ecosystems. Experts work closely with scientists throughout NOAA and partner with state and territorial governments, academic institutions, non-governmental organizations, and community groups. CRCP is part of NOAA's Office for Coastal Management.
I have served as the Coral Reef Conservation Program’s watershed management specialist for the past twelve years. One of the many hats I wear is that of the land-based sources of pollution pillar lead. In this role, I provide guidance to senior coral program leadership about how we can best support our partners’ watershed management priorities. This work supports CRCP’s National Strategic Plan. I manage marine resource conservation projects across the seven states and territories where coral reefs are located. My role includes developing watershed management plans, installing best practices to improve water quality, assessing how well restoration measures reduce sediment and nutrient loads, and hosting green infrastructure training to strengthen local watershed management capacity.
My love for travel while gaining hands-on field experience has led me to seek opportunities in exciting places. One opportunity I am especially proud of is serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu, working as a coastal resource management advisor. In this role, I assisted local communities in creating management plans to mitigate human impacts on marine resources. I helped to design and establish marine protected areas and trained local villagers in scientifically sound coral reef monitoring methodologies.
As a boy growing up on a lake in a small town in Iowa surrounded by a sea of corn and soybeans, I would spend my summer days on the water, wondering what lies beyond. Over the years, my imagination grew into a sense of wanderlust that drove me, as a young man, to explore the world and experience other cultures. On one such occasion, as an undergraduate finishing up a degree in biology, I interned with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service doing fieldwork in southwest Puerto Rico. I would spend my free time snorkeling, scuba diving, or just sitting on the beach pondering how I could turn my innate connection to the ocean, coupled with my passion for conservation and community engagement, into a career.
During my first month as a coastal resource management advisor in Vanuatu, a small island chain in the South Pacific, I attended a meeting in a dimly lit nakamal, the local chief’s meeting house made of thatch and bamboo. Chief Kaltamat began the discussion by asking, “How will global warming affect our village’s future?” He led the small island of Uluveu, where people sustained themselves upon the crops they grew and the fish they caught. So he knew about the threat and was concerned for the future of his people. It would have been easy for me to give the chief a simple, textbook answer explaining the potential effects of global warming on the islands of Oceania. However, the simple answer was not possible — for he was not only a chief but also my adopted brother. He accepted me and treated me as one of the village. I explained that his ground — a remote, low-lying island that was passed down in his family for generations — was being threatened and possibly reclaimed by the sea. It was heart wrenching. It meant that he had to plan the relocation of his village of 350 people to a distant, strange land where they possess no culturally rich ties.