I attended my first-ever International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) last June 20-24, 2016 in Honolulu, Hawaii (!!!). Basically, ICRS is the biggest gathering of coral reef and reef fish nerds on the planet. I felt right at home 😀 <3
Here’s me presenting my study Abundance patterns of coral-dependent reef fish in select sites in the Philippines, co-authored with my boss and Denmark [another research assistant]). Fortunately or unfortunately, our session was scheduled in the theater so I presented on a sizable stage with a huge screen and the attendees had stadium seating. Other attendees said it was a plus because people could go in and out of the theater without the presenter noticing. Me, I was mostly concerned about presenting to a noticeably sparsely populated room.
My presentation was scheduled at 9:30 am – not exactly primetime for scientists 😛 Iris (a fellow Filipino who’s based in the National University of Singapore) joked that she thought of attending my talk but opted not to because of the early schedule. Don’t worry Iris, it’s all good 😛 I had two people ask me about the study, though I don’t think the second one counts because she was more interested in the aquarium fish trade rather than the coral reef-reef fish patterns. Referred her to my labmate Jem though 🙂
Before ICRS though, I attended a two-day workshop on coral identification at the Waikiki Aquarium taught by Russell Kelley of BYO Guides. Attending the workshop was more to confirm and shore up my existing coral ID skills rather than learning from scratch. It also showed me how to run a coral ID workshop, which is something I’m likely to use in the future 🙂 Plus it was fun!
ICRS was a great experience. I learned a lot from the different sessions and the sessions reminded me of how much I miss working on corals 😛 The ones that stuck with me the most were the status reports on the 2016 mass bleaching event in the Great Barrier Reef and the update on the West Philippine Sea scenario (the wholesale destruction of the reefs by the Chinese, the illegal extraction of giant clams, sea turtles, and other endangered species, the arbitration case in the Hague, etc.). It was interesting to hear about the case from Dr. Kent Carpenter (he served as an expert witness for the Philippine delegation), whose testimony included citing a paper that showed that the Spratlys may be a significant source of coral larvae (and by reasonable extension, fish larvae) for Palawan and some isolated reefs in the West Philippine Sea. I also thought of looking out for Dr. Morgan Pratchett but decided against it because I couldn’t think of anything intelligent to ask him about butterflyfishes and coral reefs, even though they’re my two favorite things. I did get to interview Dr. Terry Hughes (THE Dr. Terry Hughes!) though for an article about the mass bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef, which will hopefully be done by this week.
No word yet on where ICRS 2020 will be as no one bid to host it. ICRS 2012 was in Cairns, Australia, then 2016 in Hawaii, USA. Maybe somewhere in South America for 2020? Let’s see 🙂
Our fieldwork for Year 1 of our research project started in earnest last January then proceeded nonstop until July. In those seven months, I’ve been to 11 municipalities in nine provinces all over the country. My Philippine map is looking pretty good!
It’s been an exhausting seven months, filled with interviews, focus group discussions, market surveys, fish landing surveys, fishery intercepts, fish visual census, and benthic cover surveys. Oh, and report writing. Can’t forget the dreaded report writing.
A typical conversation with someone I just met:
Me: “I’m a marine biologist.”
New Person: “That’s so cool! So what do you do exactly?”
The last week of January marked the start of our research lab’s field season, AKA the time of year where we spend half the time out on coral reefs, markets, and community groups and the other half preparing for the next trip. Thought it gets exhausting, I love it! 😀
Our first trip of the year took us to Bolinao and Anda in Pangasinan. They’re logical starting points because everybody in MSI does research in Bolinao. Working out of the Bolinao Marine Laboratory is the perfect starting point for a new lab because it provides practically everything we need, thus easing us into the hazy maze of logistics, finances, permission letters, and the myriad other things involved in organizing a trip.
Bolinao and Anda basically served as our training grounds. Our lab head and one of the project’s Project Staff demonstrated how to conduct focus group discussions (FGD) with the local fishermen. Since historical data regarding Philippine fisheries is pretty spotty, we rely on the community’s expertise and historical knowledge to fill in the gaps. And since we don’t want to make coming to the FGD difficult, we go to where is most convenient for the community to gather. Whether it’s the barangay hall:
Or underneath a large mango tree in the Barangay Captain’s backyard, we’re there 😀
After a day of demonstrations, we were on our own. I don’t think we did too badly 😛
This FGD was done in the middle of the road! We couldn’t fit inside the kagawad’s house so we had to bring it outside. We had tricycles passing through our group every now and then. After the FGD, we got to go around and observe the community at work.
There were fishermen and women beating their nets to remove the fish they caught:
And women preparing rabbitfish (Family Siganidae) for drying.
Danggit, or dried rabbitfish, is a popular Filipino dish. The most common rabbitfish in the Bolinao-Anda area is Siganus fuscescens.
We also intercepted fishermen at their landing sites and asked if we could measure and weigh the fish that they caught. The fishers were really nice and allowed us to do this.
We had to wake up before dawn to meet the fishers. We looked pretty happy though.
Aside from the fishermen, we talked to the market vendors too, asking about their prices and where they got their stocks. Two of our labmates used to do this type of work with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) so they were old hands at charming the ladies. It also helped that we were there during the off-peak market hours and that we bought something from practically every seller we interviewed.
Some dried flying fish:
And Bolinao’s famous danggit:
We have several more monitoring stations to go: Lian in Batangas, Sablayan in Occidental Mindoro, Taytay in Palawan, and Samal Island in Davao. Those don’t include the random areas that we’re going to visit only once for the national assessment project. Here’s to more science and how local communities can benefit from scientific research 🙂
The year 2014 was a particularly big year for me – even bigger than 2013 and so big that I barely got to write about it! The irony pains me because I absolutely love writing but writing for fun (AKA this blog) takes up time and effort that I could be using to write for my job. Anyway, this just means that I need better time management skills.
What went down in 2014:
I learned how to surf! Well, maybe learned is too strong a word. Maybe tried out is more appropriate. Haha. My friends and I went to San Juan, La Union and I climbed onto a surfboard for the first time. I finally caught my first wave by the morning of the second day and limited my falls by the morning of the third. Thank you so much Lea and team for your energy and patience! This 2015 means more regular trips to legitimately learn how to surf.
These past few months have been pretty crazy. So these things happened this May and June:
1. Co-organized Nexcon, a f*cking kickass science fiction and fantasy convention
2. Went to Japan for the first time. JAPAN!
3. Helped train DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) personnel in coral reef survey methods
4. Presented at my first international scientific conference: the 3rd Asia-Pacific Coral Reef Symposium (APCRS)
5. Went to Taiwan for the first time to present at APCRS and to explore
The blog posts will not be in chronological order. There. You have been warned 😛
Anyway, this here blog post is about APCRS. The Asia-Pacific Coral Reef Symposium (APCRS) is an international gathering of scientists, policy makers, natural resource managers, and other stakeholders to share research and experience in coral reef biology, ecology, and conservation. I wrote about the conference here.
I wasn’t part of any research project and I didn’t want to ask for money from DOST (because that money always comes with strings attached) so I ended up paying for almost the entire trip out-of-pocket: the conference registration, hotel rooms, plane ticket, everything. I lucked out in that some of my labmates scored funding so they paid for the hostel rooms in Taipei both before and after the conference and since I have valid US and Canadian visas, I was visa-exempt for Taiwan.
We took an 11:00pm flight out of Manila on June 20 and landed in Taipei at 1:30am the next day. Took a cab to the hostel because the airport buses stop running at 12pm and arrived there at around 3am. Note to self: don’t take any more red-eye flights as much as possible. Gyah. June 21 was our lone “full” day in Taipei before taking the High Speed Rail from Taipei to Kaohsiung the next day. From Kaohsiung, it took a 2-hour bus ride to finally get to Pingtung.
This is me at Taipei Main Station killing time before our scheduled train. Since we were taking the HSR from end to end, we could take the express train with fewer stops and cut the travel time to 1 hour and 30 minutes instead of 2 hours.
Pingtung felt like Boracay sans the sand. Not sure why that is, but the Taiwanese don’t build permanent structures on the beach (local zoning laws maybe?). There are hotels, bars, and restaurants that face the beach but all the actual partying takes place on the road behind the hotels, parallel to the beach. I found that an excellent alternative to Boracay’s usual scene as it means less trash on the beach. After registering at the conference hotel, we walked back home and looked around for a place to eat. We met a Filipino waiter who recommended that we NOT enter the restaurant he was promoting because the food was expensive and not that good. Haha. When we asked him why he told us that, he said “E kababayan kayo e” (“You’re Filipino too”).
APCRS was a great experience. I learned a lot of new things from a lot of different people. Funnily enough, I just noticed near the end of APCRS that I ended up meeting a greater proportion of Singaporean, Malaysian, and Hong Kong-Chinese researchers and students because they were working on one of my favorite topics: the impact of pollution and sedimentation on coral reefs. I presented a paper (entitled Spatial Variation of Coral Recovery in the Shallow Water Reefs of Bacuit Bay, El Nido, Palawan one Year After the 2010 Mass Bleaching Event, co-authored with my adviser) during the mini-symposium on coral bleaching and the impacts of climate change on reefs (my other favorite research topic). It was a supremely nerve-wracking experience and despite practicing several times, I still ended up talking a little too fast and ended my presentation with several minutes to spare. Ack. The moderators asked me two questions and three (three!) people told me that my research was interesting. YES! Although fine, one of those was a friend so I suppose that doesn’t count. All of the other COMECO labmates who came to APCRS were fisheries people so I only saw them during the breaks and only one of them attended my presentation. Ah well. The perils of having differing research interests.
Aside from being able to learn from other, more experienced researchers, another thing I loved about APCRS was the chance to catch up with some science friends. I attended a training workshop in Sanya, China in 2011 (read about it here) and I saw many of the same students in APCRS. On the making friends front, I liked the IOC-WESTPAC training better because there were fewer participants (about only 2-3 per university) and and many of them also stayed in the marine station. In our case, we were billeted with the Thai and Malaysian participants, who were given a separate area because of their dietary restrictions. We added each other on Facebook afterwards and kept in touch. After three years of talking online, we finally saw each other again. Lots of hugs and “OMG you’re here!” all around, plus updates on what we’ve each been up to.
This is Mathinee from Thailand. She’s taking her PhD in Japan and the culprit behind the smuggled sake (more on that later). This brilliant lady studies coral diseases.
And this one is Yan from Singapore. She’s taking her PhD in Australia, shifted her research to seagrass (noooo!!!), and became a Whovian because of her Australian friends. Dangly TARDIS earrings!
And this is Eric from Hong Kong. His work focuses on how pollution affects coral reproduction (perfect research topic for Hong Kong, IMHO). We actually saw each other a few months after the training in Sanya when I went to Hong Kong. He also came to El Nido earlier this year but since I wasn’t based there anymore, I asked Virgie to help him out. He and his friends now grace posters promoting stand-up paddleboard tours (not because of Virgie!), but that’s a story for a different day.
He and his labmates from the Chinese University of Hong Kong are campaigning against the construction of a third runway at Hong Kong International Airport because the land reclamation will, among other things, drive out the few Chinese white dolphins still left in the bay. The reclamation will be the second-largest in Hong Kong’s history, only beaten by the reclamation to construct HKIA in the first place. Read more about it here.
No solo photos with Iris but I do have this nice photo of Team Philippines courtesy of Richard 😀 Lots of Filipino scientists at the conference, including those who represented universities outside of the Philippines. Apparently, the National University of Singapore is a popular destination for recent MSI graduates.
I also (sorta) got to make new friends courtesy of the student night. They took all the students who signed up to attend and randomly distributed them around several picnic tables where they could talk while grilling their own food. A noble effort and I did get to talk to the guys in my group but I’m a naturally shy person and don’t make friends easily. Ack. The organizers supplied beer and soda but Mathinee smuggled in some extra-strength sake [rice wine] from Japan that she so generously shared with the other students. I thought I would be prepared for the burn because of the sake-tasting in Japan but I was wrong 😛 The students were also supposed to present a “cultural performance” per country. No one prepared anything serious but I have to give credit to the Thai group for gamely going first and kicking things off with a lovely (and slightly drunken) dance number. Everything else flowed after that. The large amounts of beer probably helped too.
These lovely photos came from Eric. The top one has Dr. Nina Yasuda, me. Rem (my labmate), Yuta (Dr. Yasuda’s student – he studies population genetics), and Eric.
APCRS 2018 will be held in Cebu so I’m really looking forward to it. Let’s hope I get to publish and do more research before then 😛