Around the Philippines in 7 months

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.

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So what does a marine biologist do, exactly?

A typical conversation with someone I just met:

New Person: “So, what do you do?”
Me: “I’m a marine biologist.”
New Person: “That’s so cool! So what do you do exactly?”
That question always stumps me for a moment or two. How does one condense one’s job/career into one sentence? In the end, I usually go with “I go diving and count fish”, which doesn’t really help all that much. After six months of relatively intensive fieldwork, I now have enough visual aids to answer that question with! (Thank you to my awesome teammates for the photos. Whee!)
So, what does a marine biologist do, exactly? In my case, being a marine biologist involves:
Diving and counting fish using fish visual census. We then use the census data to estimate the total fish biomass in the area. We also use the list of fish species found to see if the area is overfished or not. Still learning to identify my fish but I’m getting there. The Philippines has over 1,800 species of marine fish so cut me some slack πŸ˜› Photo by Jem Baldisimo
fish visual census

Continue reading “So what does a marine biologist do, exactly?”

And so field season starts.

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! πŸ˜€

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:

00 fishers at FGD

Or underneath a large mango tree in the Barangay Captain’s backyard, we’re there πŸ˜€

01 fishers at Pilar FGD

After a day of demonstrations, we were on our own. I don’t think we did too badly πŸ˜›

03 Carot, Anda_Jan 2015_FGD_001_small

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:

05 fisherwoman_small

And women preparing rabbitfish (Family Siganidae) for drying.

06 preparing danggit_small

Danggit, or dried rabbitfish, is a popular Filipino dish. The most common rabbitfish in the Bolinao-Anda area is Siganus fuscescens.

04 Siganus fuscescens danggit

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.

09 Siganus guttatus caught

We had to wake up before dawn to meet the fishers. We looked pretty happy though.

06 team at sunrise

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.

04 market survey

Some dried flying fish:

08 dried fish

And Bolinao’s famous danggit:

07 danggit in market

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 πŸ™‚

 

On our way back to BML! #work #sunshine

A photo posted by Macy (@theislandergirl) on

2014 in review

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.

04 April 03_small

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It is done.

After 5.5 years in graduate school – three years of full-time study (attending classes, writing papers, and doing the initial research and fieldwork for my thesis), two years in El Nido (some catch-up fieldwork, going back to full-time work because I ran out of scholarship money, writing my thesis in the evenings, and taking two months off work to hammer out the first complete draft of the thesis), and half a year back in MSI to finalize everything and actually defend my thesis – I finally earned my MS Marine Science, major in Marine Biology degree from the Marine Science Institute, University of the Philippines-Diliman last April 26, 2014. It’s the biggest accomplishment of my life to date.

2 MSI grads
Eight graduates from MSI! The awesomest professors on the right are Dr. Malou McGlone and Dr. Gil Jacinto (chemical oceanography)

05 cs medal
All graduate students get the College of Science medal. One of my mother’s gripes about my undergraduate graduation was that she didn’t get to go up on stage because I didn’t have any honors. So there Mom! You happy now? πŸ˜› #AsianMoms

So… what happens next? Well, I’m hoping to work again in corporate social responsibility because I enjoyed it so much the first time around. Another option is diving headfirst into research. I was offered a spot on the Benham Rise survey team but had to turn it down because it would coincide with a previously planned trip to Japan (*sob*). In the meantime, I’m thoroughly enjoying being a science writer for GMA News Online. I love science and I love sharing science with people (YouTube videos anyone?), so what better way than to get involved in science media? But whatever happens next, bring it on!

The famous sunflowers of the University of the Philippines-Diliman.
The famous sunflowers of the University of the Philippines-Diliman.

Ten lessons about writing that every scientist should learn (via Alternative Hypothesis)

I’m going to say something and it’s going to hurt: sometimes, scientists are not the greatest communicators. There, I said it. I’ve watched scientists I look up to give seminars on the importance of coral reef fish and throw around words like “pomacentrids”, “acanthurids”, and “scarids” (damselfishes, surgeonfishes, and parrotfishes to the non-science nerds) when their audience consisted of tourist guides, waiters, and cooks. This was a lost opportunity as their audience was genuinely interested in what they had to say. The goals of science (for me at least) are to 1) figure out how the world works, and 2) to share that information with everybody.

The post I’m reblogging is a list of 10 tips that scientists need to remember when writing. After all, our writing is a failure if no one can understand what we’re trying to say.

Ten lessons about writing that every scientist should learn... Yesterday, I spent the day at the horse races, taking in the pomp and pageantry of the biggest stakes card of the year. I find the racetrack fascinating, and not just in that girlish horse-crazy sense. For starters, it’s the only place I know where it is normal to see small men wearing outrageous colors and women wearing birds on their heads. Second, I love the wordplay of the racing form, with horse names like Two Horn Unicorn, Tiny Giant, We Ta … Read More

via Alternative Hypothesis