He is an American citizen born in 1957, but has spent almost all his professional years living in Kenya and working in the WIO region. He completed his PhD (1990) degree at the University of Florida under the Chairmanship of the world-renowned ecologist Prof. H. T. Odum. Soon after, in 1991 he began his work as Conservation Zoologist initially with the Coral Reef Conservation Project and later under the auspices of the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Since 1992, Dr McClanahan has secured several awards and research grants to the tune of US$ 1.5 million for various programmes in Kenya and WIO. He is interested in the interdisciplinary field of ecology and the sustainable management of coral reef and other fisheries. His greatest strength is the ability to move across sub-disciplines in order to solve broad conservation science issues. In 1997, he initiated a regional internship program that has intensively trained 18 young graduates and government officers from the WIO countries on coral reef field methods. This internship program has developed a young cadre of coral reef field scientists using similar field methods.
Dr McClanahan’s non-teaching role in capacity building including the organization of workshops where he has invited leading investigators to visit the WIO and discuss with managers of various marine resources, for example, during the Workshop on the Coral Reefs of the Western Indian Ocean (1997), Mesoscale effects of Coral Bleaching Workshop (2006) and others..
Through his personal efforts, Dr McClanahan has brought together individuals, institutions and relevant stakeholders for better management of Kenya’s coastal and marine resources. An example is the MOU he instigated and drafted between Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) and Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) in 1993. This MOU has led to greater collaboration between marine researchers and park managers and resulted in a number of joint programs.
In 1995 he also developed a co-management program between Kenya’s Fisheries Department and traditional fisheries leaders in the south coast of Kenya where he regularly collects data on fish catches and ecology and presented these findings to these two groups. This co-management program led to the elimination of seine nets in most study sites and reversed the decline of fish catches since 2000.
Dr McClanahan has surveyed a variety of reefs in WIO including northern Tanzania, Zanzibar, Maldives, Madagascar and Mauritius. This work has described the status of these reefs and the role of management on their ecology and biodiversity. Many of these studies were done both before and after the 1998 coral bleaching event and have produced a view of the Indian Ocean across this disturbance. He has also coordinated a survey of socio-economics in five WIO countries (Tanzania, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles) to examine the effects of disturbances such as coral bleaching on household economics.
His wide experience has won him membership on editorial boards of a number of leading international journals, namely Marine Ecology Progress Series, Ecosystems, Environmental Conservation, Global Change Biology and Aquatic Conservation. He also reviews papers for many journals including the WIOJMS.
Dr McClanahan has published over 100 articles in peer-reviewed journals, twenty book chapters, edited four books, compiled 7 symposium papers and produced 30 other publications including popular articles, editorials and book reviews. He won the Pew Fellows award for the most published fellow in 2002 and, according to an evaluation by the International Scientific Information (ISI) that summarizes the scientific literature, he is the second most cited coral reef scientist in the past 10 years.