Russell Rusty E. Brainard, Ph.D.


​Courtesy Professor of Marine Science

Research Interests

​Dr. Rusty Brainard is Chief Environmental Sustainability Officer with The Red Sea Project, striving to establish new global standards for environmentally-sustainable luxury tourism development. The Red Sea Project is committed to carbon neutrality (through 100% renewable power, clean mobility, habitat enhancement, sequestration, and sustainable food production), enhancement of conservation value of 30% by 2040 (as measured by status of biodiversity), zero single-use plastics, alignment with all 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, and many other efforts to ensure sustainability.

Previously, Dr. Brainard was supervisory oceanographer and founding Chief of the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center in Honolulu (2001-2019). Dr. Brainard led CRED's 60-member interdisciplinary, ecosystem-based research program that conducts integrated ecosystem observations, long-term monitoring, and applied research of the coral reefs of the U.S. Pacific Islands to support ecosystem-based management and conservation. Dr. Brainard's team monitored the distribution, abundance, diversity, and condition of fish, corals, other invertebrates, algae, and microbes in the context of their diverse benthic habitats, and changing ocean climate conditions, including ocean warming and ocean acidification.

From 2010-2016, Dr. Brainard served as NOAA's Technical Lead for the US Coral Triangle Initiative's Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM) theme to provide technical assistance and capacity building for the CTI on Coral Reefs, Fisheries, and Food Security, a 6 country ocean governance agreement to address the threats facing the marine resources of the most biologically diverse and ecologically rich regions on earth. In 2010-2011, Dr. Brainard chaired the Biological Review Team in developing a Status Review Report assessing the status of and risk of extinction to 82 species of corals petitioned for listing under the US Endangered Species Act. From 2010-2015, Dr. Brainard served as co-PI of a NOAA-NSF project "Comparative Analysis of Natural and Human Influences on Coral Reef Community Structure, Diversity, and Resilience". He served on the Ocean Carbon & Biogeochemistry Ocean Acidification Subcommittee, whose mission is to study ocean acidification's effects on marine ecosystems and biogeochemistry. From 2005-2010, Dr. Brainard was co-PI of the Census of Coral Reef Ecosystems project of the Census of Marine Life developing tools to systematically monitor the biodiversity of coral reefs. 

Selected Publications

  • Internal tides can provide thermal refugia that will buffer some coral reefs from future global warming 
    C.D. Storlazzi, O.M. Cheriton, R. van Hooidonk, Z. Zhao, R. Brainard
    Scientific Reports 10, Article number: 13435, (2020)
  • The Rarity of Depth Refugia from Coral Bleaching Heat Stress in the Western and Central Pacific Islands 
    Venegas, R.M., Oliver, T., Liu, G. et al.
    Sci Rep 9, 19710, (2019)
  • The 2014–2017 global-scale coral bleaching event: insights and impacts 
    Eakin, C.M., Sweatman, H.P.A. & Brainard, R.E. 
    Coral Reefs 38, 539545, (2019)
  • Densities and drivers of sea turtle populations across Pacific coral reef ecosystems 
    Becker, SL, RE Brainard, KS Van Houtan
    PLoS ONE 14(4): e0214972 , (2019)
  • Repetitive bleaching and different thermal sensitivities of Pacific coral assemblages revealed in skeletal records ... 
    Mollica, NR, AL Cohen, A Alpert, HC Barkley, RE Brainard, et al.
    Coral Reefs 38: 743-757 , (2019)
  • Climate-induced vulnerability of fisheries in the Coral Triangle: skipjack tuna thermal spawning habitats 
    Venegas, R, T Oliver, R Brainard, M Santos, R Geronimo, M Widlansky
    Fisheries Oceanography, 1-14, (2018)
  • Local biomass baselines and the recovery potential for Hawaiian coral reef fish communities 
    Gorospe, K, M Donahue, A Heenan, J Gove, I Williams, R Brainard 
    Front. Mar. Sci., (2018)
  • Environmental drivers of coral reef carbonate production and bioerosion: a multi-scale analysis 
    Silbiger, NJ, MJ Donahue, RE Brainard 
    Ecology, (2017)
  • Long-term monitoring of coral reef fish assemblages in the Western central Pacific 
    Heenan A, ID Williams, T Acoba, A DesRochers, RK Kosaki, T Kanemura, MO Nadon, RE Brainard
    Scientific Data 4, Article number: 170176, (2017)
  • Fishing degrades size structure of coral reef fish communities 
    Robinson JPW, ID Williams, AM Edwards, J McPherson, L Yeager, L Vigliola, RE Brainard, JK ...
    Global Change Biology, (2016)


  • Ph.D., Physical Oceanography, Naval Postgraduate School, CA, USA, 1994
  • Certificate, Project Management, University of Washington, WA, USA, 1993
  • M.Sc., Oceanography, Naval Postgraduate School, CA, USA, 1986
  • B.Sc., Marine Science, Texas A&M University, TX, USA, 1981

Professional Profile

  • Jan 2020 – Present: Courtesy Professor of Marine Science, RSRC, KAUST, KSA
  • Jul 2019 – Present: Chief Environment Officer, The Red Sea Development Company (TRSDC), Riyadh, KSA
  • 2017-2019: Lead, Habitat & Living Marine Resources Program, NOAA, USA
  • 2015-2019: Senior Fellow, Univ. Hawaii Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, HI, USA
  • 2015-2019: Graduate affiliate faculty, Department of Oceanography, University of Hawaii, HI, USA
  • 2002-2019: Supervisory Oceanographer, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, NOAA, HI, USA
  • 2002-2017: Chief - Coral Reef Ecosystem Division, PIFSC-NOAA, HI, USA
  • 1981-2002: NOAA Commissioned Officer (Retired as Commander)
  • 2001-2002: Founding Chief, Coral Reef Ecosystem Investigation, NOAA Honolulu Laboratory, HI, USA
  • 1997-2001: Scientific Research Program Coordinator; NOAA Honolulu Laboratory, HI, USA
  • 1994-1997: Commanding Officer, NOAA Ship Townsend Cromwell, Honolulu, HI, USA
  • 1990-1994: Physical Oceanographer, NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Lab, Seattle, WA, USA
  • 1987-1989: Operations Officer, NOAA Ship Townsend Cromwell, Honolulu, HI, USA
  • 1984-1987: Oceanographer, NOAA Pacific Fisheries Environmental Group, Monterey, CA, USA
  • 1982-1984: Chief – NOAA Geophysical Monitoring for Climate Change South Pole, Antarctica
  • 1981-1982: Navigation Officer, NOAA ship Discoverer, Seattle, WA


  • ​2017: U.S. Department of Commerce Bronze Medal Award 'for superior Federal service for creating the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network, a collaborative international approach to document the progress of ocean acidification.'
  • 2014: U.S. Department of Commerce Bronze Medal Award 'for superior Federal service for an unprecedented, multidisciplinary assessment that supports science-based decisions on listing 82 species under the Endangered Species Act.'
  • 2011: U.S. Department of Commerce Certificate of Appreciation 'for exceptional professionalism as a member of the NOAA Fisheries Service team supporting our response to the Deepwater Horizon Spill, the largest oil spill in U.S. history.'
  • 2009: U.S. Department of Commerce Bronze Medal Award 'for outstanding achievement providing integrated information products to support ecosystem approaches to management of coral reefs in American Samoa'
  • 2000: U.S. Department of Commerce Bronze Medal Award 'for leading NOAA Fisheries participation in the work of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force.'
  • 2000: NOAA Special Achievement Award Medal 'for initiating the development of a long-term program at Honolulu Laboratory to Assess, Monitor, Restore, and Protect Coral Reef Ecosystems of the U.S. Pacific Islands.'

KAUST Affiliations

  • ​Red Sea Research Center (RSRC)
  • Biological and Environmental Science & Engineering Division (BESE) 

Non-KAUST Affiliations

  • The Red Sea Development Company (TRSDC), Riyadh, KSA

Research Interests Keywords

Coral reef ecosystems Climate Change Ocean acidification Fisheries Biodiversity Ecology Natural resource management Sustainability