“Think out of the box, because you’ll never know what’s install for you.”


It has been four days since the end of the 4th Asia-Pacific Coral Reef Symposium (4th APCRS) at Cebu City, Philippines. The week went by rather quickly, after hugging old friends and talking (almost) non-stop for the entire week. Taking place once every four years (something like the upcoming World Cup), the region’s marine scientists gathers for this week-long meeting to share about their work, as well as to catch up with old friends. This 4th APCRS conference is my third one, having previously attended the 2010 in Phuket, Thailand and 2014 in Taiwan. Based on my previous experiences, it was always a conference unlike any others that I have attended before. More fondly, the 2018 one holds many firsts for my career.

My first time… chairing a session at the conference!

Together with my mentors/colleagues, we submitted a proposal to chair this session at the 4th APCRS – Bringing back the giants: Best Practices, Management and Conservation Research on the Giant Clam.

I still remember my struggles to find a relevant session to submit my Abstracts in the last two APCRS! >_< Being a relatively young scientist then, I also felt slightly upset that maybe I just didn’t fit in with coral reef scientists. Yes, giant clam is part of the coral reef ecosystem, but in many of such conferences, the emphasis has usually been on the corals. There were a number of reasons that propelled me to organise this session:

  • It was to uphold a promise that I had made with my PhD supervisor and post-doc advisor then, Peter Todd, that we will chair a giant clam session together.
  • I had known Prof Edgardo Gomez for a while, and REALLY wanted him to be part of this session. The last known session/workshop on giant clams at any conference was back in 1992!
  • I felt ready to take on a more active role in seeking for collaborators and fellow giant clam enthusiasts.
  • I wanted to take this opportunity to build up a network of scientists who are keen on giant clam science.
  • I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight the giant clams in this dedicated session.

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I am very grateful to my collaborators, colleagues and friends who came down to support the session as presenters or audience participation. I am also heartened to see the varied work that has been done, and the desire to further their work in the years to come. To those whom have spoken positively of the session, and that it was an eye-opener to see so much work done or being done for these animals, I am very happy to hear that! The post-presentation discussion had also stimulated people’s interests in keeping the science going, and it was super awesome to hear that.

My first time… meeting BOTH my ‘idols’ at the same time!

I had my moment of fan-girling my science idols. As a student, I read widely on whatever giant clam papers that I could get my hands on, and all I knew about the scientists were their names and work in a specific region. When I finally saw Professor Emeritus Edgardo Gomez in 2009 at the East Asian Seas Congress – I was so painfully shy to tell him about how his pioneering giant clam work was the foundation of my current research. It was later in 2012 that he broke the ice, when he came by to Singapore to consult on a project. He had asked me if I was the one studying and publishing the giant clam papers in Singapore, and that’s how we got to be email pen pals exchanging notes on giant clam work.

L to R: Professor Emeritus Angel Alcala (Silliman University), Professor Emeritus Edgardo Gomez, and me!

This year, I met with other giants – Professor Emeritus Angel Alcala, Professor Hilly Roa-Quaoit, Professor Marc Kochzius, and many others. I was totally star-struck – you can ask my friends. It was even more amazing to have them sitting in the audience listening to my talk – AHHHH!

Professor Emeritus Edgardo Gomez honoured as ‘Sentinel of the Reefs’ during Recognition Dinner at the 4th APCRS.

My first time… going for a conference where I knew more people beforehand!

The moment I had stepped foot into the hotel lobby, I was greeted with familiar friendly faces. The days went by with a flurry of bear hugs and greetings with my old and new friends – it felt like a family reunion! I felt very proud of myself for ‘stepping out of my shells’ to meet new people in the past four years, and I know that this is a HUGE achievement for me because I have previously shunned away from people at conferences. (Because I feel small and intimidated by the larger group of scientists at such conferences!) Good job on me!

Cheeky faces with my Sensei Jamie and Pete at Recognition Dinner!

My first time… seeing myself as being a part of this bigger picture in the region.

This conference was particularly inspiring and hopeful… Many of the speakers acknowledged the degradation of coral reefs but also showed that they can rebound and recover to near-original state. They held much optimism that everyone can contribute towards science (as citizen scientists) and make difference through community actions.

Many of us embarking on this journey of scientific research would tell yourself that you want to make a difference for the coral reefs and/or oceans. I am just like that too – I want to give a voice to the giant clam, coral reef, oceans, etc… so that more people learn about them and want to protect what they know better. For a brief moment, I felt like I had made a small impact in this field of science through new knowledge and communication. And it makes me feel more empowered and determined to keep on moving things along, believing that someday the world will be a better place…

I was told that I am an ‘idealist’ who wants to save the world. Well, who knows? I might really be able to do so in my not-so-super-powers way… 😉